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Not Taken Seriously:
A Quota Is Not Enough, No Matter Where Women Politicians Come From

Although Sri Lanka has a compulsory quota to include women in politics, female candidates still had a tough time in recent elections, as both Sinhalese and Tamil journalists report.

27.02.2018  |  
Sri Lankan women are on their way up, on the political scene.

Although Sri Lanka was the home of the first female prime minister in the world and although the country has rules about a mandatory quota for female representatives, – 25 percent – women in the country still have a tough time getting into politics.

Even now when an estate woman picks tea leaves, a male stands near her.

“The 25 percent quota for women in the local government welcome,” says Indumathi Hariharathamodaran, a project manager at the Viluthu Centre for Human Resource Development. “But there are still too few enthusiastic and motived women in the parties’ selection of candidates. In some places they even placed well qualified women in the list for proportional representation when they have the capability to run as a party candidate.”

There had been criticism that some political parties had nominated female candidates in districts that they couldn’t win and that male candidates had been given precedence in those areas. For example, Tamil female politicians were running in areas that were not 100 percent Tamil, yet male candidates were. Or Muslim female candidates were nominated in areas that were not mostly Muslim. This is a serious disadvantage given the language and ethnic barriers to voters’ favours. The female candidates did not do very well.

“The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress nominated me to an area where there are only Tamil voters. Due to my willingness to contest the local council elections, I consented” said Nagoor Safiya Umma, a candidate for Koralaipatru Pradeshiya Sabha.

Being nominated in areas where the electoral race is tougher also means that campaigning can be more dangerous and difficult.

“During the campaign we were threatened. It was very difficult to carry out our campaign activities,” adds Meersahib Ayisha Umma, a candidate for the United National Party in Manjanthoduvai.

“Just including women in governing bodies is not enough,” argues Balakrishnarajah Madana, a list candidate for the United National Party competing for a seat on a regional Batticaloa council. “We also need women to be the decision makers,” she explains, saying how that would help change the situation such as those described above.

As the elections showed, the quota might be there but the candidates were not taken sufficiently seriously. “It is time to shed patriarchal thinking and to make women genuine partners in politics,” another candidate adds.


Source: Women and Media Collective

More people working on Sri Lanka’s tea estates also voted than ever before, says Nadesan Suresh, the head of the Uva Shakthi Foundation, who is also an activist among the estate workers, as they are known in Sri Lanka.

“The people wanted to experiment with the new election system,” Suresh explains. Estate workers remained loyal to representatives from among their peer group and many of the candidates, who represented their interests, were able to gain positions in local authorities.

Female candidates from the tea-grower estates also had an opportunity to stand as candidates but, as Suresh says, this was a little more difficult for women. Male candidates are still given priority, he says.

“Even now when an estate woman picks tea leaves, a male stands near her,” Suresh explains. “Those are the traditional attitudes. Of course, some young women have broken through these traditional attitudes and moved forward. But what we need now is to ensure that these women are not overlooked. The organisers should be questioned if unsuitable people have been nominated,” he notes.  

Over all, Suresh believes the increased participation of the estate workers is a positive for Sri Lanka as a whole.  “Democratic participation is a major factor in working towards reconciliation,” he concludes.