The Sunday Leader

Women Clamour For More Representation In Parliament

By Waruni Karunarathne

The women’s organisations in the country have been struggling to get some provisions to increase women’s representation in parliament through special measures in the constitutional amendment. Even though the 20th Amendment to the Constitution on electoral reforms is at its final stage of being presented to parliament, women have not been able to include provisions up to the level of their expectation.  After many discussions and convincing, the committee that was involved in drafting the proposals to the 20A has been able to include three recommendations which the President has taken up to be included in the final draft to the Amendment. However, many women’s organisations were not quite content with some recommendations considered in the current draft as those measures will not help enhancing the women’s representation in parliament. Despite, Sri Lanka being the country that elected the first female prime minister and being the first country in Asia to give enfranchisement to women, Sri Lanka has continuously failed to give equitable representation to women in politics – historically discriminating women.

Executive Director of CaFFE Keerthi Tennakoon who was part of the committee that was involved in drafting the proposals on the electoral reforms told The Sunday Leader that three recommendations have been made to increase women’s representation in parliament after considering proposals made by civil society members and women’s groups. He added that Sri Lanka has the lowest representation of women in parliament and under the exiting preferential electoral system a less number of women are given nomination by political parties due to violence in political system.

“The first recommendation is that if any party contests in between 3 to 7 districts, they should give at least 5% of nominations to women – if a party contests in more than 7 districts, that party should give not less than 10% nominations to women to contest the election,” he added. According to him, the second recommendation was that one third of women should be appointed by every party under the district list to parliament in which every 3rd name would be a woman. As the third recommendation, the committee has suggested in the national list 1/3 of the appointee to the parliament should be women – where every send name of the list would be a woman. Thennakoon stated that this way, women will be able to at least get 10% to 15% representation in parliament. “It is twice as what we have right now. Even though we are also of the view that women’s representation in parliament should be increased at least up to 25%, at this point it is a very difficult task. We have to improve this gradually and this is a good start,” he said. Thennakoon insisted that under the first-past-the post system there is a better chance for women to get nominated and therefore the need is now to make the constitutional reforms.


Women not satisfied

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Kumudini Samuel, the founder of the Women and Media Collectives said that the women’s groups are not satisfied with certain provisions recommended to increase women’s representation in the latest draft to the 20A. Some women’s groups called for a media brief last week to seek support of political parties to further enhance the provisions for women’s representation in parliament.

Samuel said that they content with one recommendation where the committee has suggested one third of the National List nominees to be women – in which every second appointee from the national list will be a woman. “This way every send seat in the national list will be given to a woman. We are perfectly happy with that recommendation,” she added.

She noted that according to the second recommendation, every third appointee from the district list should be a woman. “According to what we understand, from the District List, even the bigger parties will get more or less 2 appointees for most districts. In that context, having a third appointee a woman does not actually make sense. What we had asked was that if there are two appointees from the district list one should be a woman. We do not want that to be the third appointee,” she insisted.

She pointed out that under the first past the post list, nominations have to be given to candidates from the political parties for at least 150 or 155 seats – accordingly one candidate per electorate will get to go to the parliament by contesting the election. “The suggestion in the current draft is that political parties who contest in 3 to 7 districts – should give 5% of nomination to women to contest in those districts – and political parties who contest in more than 7 districts, 10% of their nominees should be women. We assume this is a legally binding provision. However our concerns as things stand today is that specifically the main stream political parties already nominate only between 4% and 6% of women to contest the parliamentary election – with that amount we have only managed to get maximum 6% in the parliament.  Therefore, this recommended provision will not enhance the number of women in parliament – especially because these seats are contested seats,” she pointed out.

Samuel noted that their recommendation was to get the political parties nominate at least 30% of women to contest the first past the post seats or electorate. According to her, the main reason why we are asking this is that this will hold political parties accountable to their promise to increase women’s representation by 25%. She reminded that this was the promise made in the election manifesto but no political party has actually said how it will be implemented.


Allow women a better chance

She complained that the government has accommodated enough discussions as to how representation can be made more equitable to minor parties, ethnic minority parties and mainstream political parties – whereas no serious consideration has been given to redress the under representation of women. “Women should be at least given the opportunity to contest. If they are saying that they are giving women between 5% and 10% nominations it conversely means that they are giving men 90% to 95 % nominations. This continues the discriminatory practices. Thus through a constitutional amendment, they are binding parties to a very minimal requirement. This is totally unacceptable,” she objected.

Samuel insisted that political parties should look at this issue more responsibly and they should allow women a much better chance to contest – and larger the number of nominations given to women, they stand a better chance to win more seats. She requested at least 30% nomination for women to contest the first past the post seats.

Samueal also raised the question about addressing internal party democracy. She added that many political parties are reluctant to give nominations for women but they have to be more democratic in the process of giving nominations to both men and women equitably. He pointed out that they cannot being unreasonable arguments about women not being suitable to be nominated as women have proven capability and have experience in politics.  “Their political experience and capabilities should be the things that should be considered in giving nominations to both men and women,” she added. According to Samuel, the system of giving nominations to make friends and relatives also should be done away in the name of good governance. She further suggested in related to internal party democracy that amending appreciate legislations  as the Election Commissioner has been talking about  - that is for the parties to appoint 30% of women to decision making committees within political parties  - thus the parties will be able to identify good women to contest elections.

Shanthi Sachithanandam a women’s rights activist also said that they are too greatly disappointed as there has not been meaningful response to increasing women’s representation in the parliament which they have been demanding for over many years. She pointed out that according to the suggestions made to the 20A current draft there will only be about 10% women’s represented in parliament whereas their demand has been at least to increase it up to 25% to 30%. “Women in this country who are about 52% of the populations are the majority of the voters. Women have to be meaningfully represented in parliament,” she insisted.

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