Low Representation of Women in Politics
Why Women Can’t Win Elections
“It’s not easy for women to get into politics without giving up our rights, we must use it wisely…” says Shrin Abdul Zaroor, a feminist and human rights activist.
“It’s not easy for women to get into politics without giving up our rights, we must use it wisely…” says Shrin Abdul Zaroor, a feminist and human rights activist. She made these comments in an interview with The Catamaran on contemporary politics, the upcoming presidential election and current issues.
THE CATAMARAN: The people of Sri Lanka are going to face their next election. No major party has announced a female candidates while women make up 52% of the country’s population. As a feminist activist what’s your opinion in this regard?
Zaroor: A woman has come forward while not through a big party. How much public support she has is a question. Family politics is a norm in this country. Sirimavo Bandaranaike succeeded because of the death of her husband and Chandrika Kumaratunga also received sympathy votes. Only those who are guilty of crimes are in a position to enter politics. Otherwise, they must at least be fundamentalists or communalists; this is the prevailing culture. It’s not easy for women to break into this political framework and get into politics. Women work according to principle. That is why they will not succeed. As a woman, Chandrika tried to make change, but even she had to accept the situation and follow the norm.
THE CATAMARAN: Do you mean people with good intentions cannot win elections?
Zaroor: My view is that it’s not possible in this present context. However, the rally held by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) at Galle Face was a catalyst. It could be observed, that a vast crowd of people gathered because that party is in the habit of questioning and criticizing wrongdoings in Parliament. I see this as a change. So, there seems to be a change in policy. The JVP has committed many mistakes in the past and I’m not denying that.
THE CATAMARAN: What measures can civil society organizations and women’s organizations take to increase women’s participation in politics?
Zaroor: Women’s organizations have struggled since independence to bring about a 25% quota. Patriarchal politics is not only a matter of voting choice, but of establishment. There are no women holding higher positions in any party. There are just one or two people in major parties. But even they have said they are in these positions for namesake.
Earlier this year, in the Local Government elections, only 23.8% of the 25% quota was able to win. We have provided a way for women politicians to come up. At the same time, women cannot be pushed into politics merely for the quota. First of all, they have to do a lot of work to change the political culture. Bribery, corruption and injustice should be questioned at every level. Elements preventing women from entering politics have to be cleansed of such political cultures and women should be brought into politics. It is our responsibility not only to give due place for women but it’s also our continued commitment to the cause.
THE CATAMARAN: What measures can the government take to increase women’s participation?
Zaroor: This 25% quota alone is not enough. There must be a structural change at all levels of government. The most important body for this is the Elections Commission. There are no women anywhere except one person who is the Assistant Commissioner of one district. When we question this, we are told that the structure does not allow women due to because it is connected with violence. If there is violence, the police should be brought in to quell the situation and women should be allowed to be involved in politics. Instead of suppressing the perpetrators of violence, we suppress women. State and state structures must create a conducive environment for women to enter politics.
THE CATAMARAN: The contribution of civil society organizations to the incumbent government has been considerable. In this case, it is alleged that the government has not achieved anything in these four and a half years.
Zaroor: I would not say that nothing has been achieved. This government is a little better than the last government. The reason why we, as a civil society, wanted to bring in a common candidate, in the latter part of 2014 was not to support the UNP (United National Party) but to somehow send home the anarchists.
Now, the media operate freely and there is no restriction for protest demonstrations, people are going on processions against the government. This is democracy, I would say. There is freedom to do all these. The Right to Information Act is a progressive one. Creation of commissions is a sign of good governance. Many now seek the Commission of Bribery and Corruption and the power of the president has been reduced through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. These are welcome actions of the present government.
However; the government’s methods of dealing with terrorism are not satisfactory. A year before the Easter Sunday attack, they knew that extremism was growing. Why couldn’t the government take action against this?
THE CATAMARAN: As far as the Tamil people are concerned, the government has not fulfilled any of the promises made to them. What’s your opinion about this?
Zaroor: Yes, they said they would soon address the issues related to Tamils. They pledged this to the international community. We too believed it. But it was the Tamil people, who were affected by the internal rift between the Prime Minister and the President.
Offices for the missing have been opened. The first was in Mannar but there was no one there. They also opened one in Jaffna, but no one went to it. This is because the government has frustrated the aspirations and struggles of the mothers of the missing persons. The government has been consistently defending war criminals. One recent experience was the appointment of the Military Commander. The mothers of the disappeared point their finger at him as the prime suspect.
THE CATAMARAN: As a women’s rights and human rights activist, what are your demands in this election?
Zaroor: We must look back at history. Mistakes should not be repeated. ‘Look back at the path that has passed. That is the wrong path’. That history has hurt us a lot. Not only the minority it has affected the majority also. Nearly six hundred thousand youth are going to vote. What message do the candidates have to attract them?
Next, the people who value democracy should not allow alleged war criminals to win elections. It is not enough to avoid voting for such people. We must use our ballots against them. Without giving up our rights, we must use it wisely, to franchise in the election.