"Democracy becomes meaningless when women who out number men, not only in Asia, but also worldwide, are unable to influence their destinies," was the general consensus that emerged among 200 participants from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
"The Silent Majority," they said cannot be left out. "An urgent policy change is required to bring more women into democratic governance."
Several speakers referred to the violence that females aspiring for political office have to encounter. "Women unlike men are not strong enough to counter the threats and violence directed at them. But this ceases to be a problem once they are elected."
The Summit, with specific reference to Sri Lanka, called for a change in the present electoral system. "The district as the electorate is too large for politicians, especially women to interact with their voters. Reintroduction of the earlier ward system will bring politicians closer to the people."
Turning the search light inwards, the Summit called on all womens organizations to work together in achieving their common objectives. "We also need to change the attitude of women who do not like to vote for women candidates. The perception in certain quarters that politics is not for womenis another area that needs to be addressed."
The Chief Guest, Housing and Common Amenities Minister Ferial Ashraff said that she was surviving in politics despite the violence. "I am a woman and I act like a woman. A woman needs to use all her God given abilities including charm. This I suppose helps me survive in a man’s world."
Thanking South Asia Partnership International (SAPI) and South Asia Partnership Sri Lanka(SAPSRI), the organisers of the Summit for inviting her, Ashraff said that it had been a great learning experience for her. "Some people tend to think that once they have reached a certain level in life, there is nothing more to learn. But that is not correct. Listening to the participants today, helped me broaden my horizons."
Executive Director of SAPSRI, Padma Ratnayake said that the outcome of their deliberations would be submitted to the heads of SAARC countries participating in the 15th SAARC Summit, to be held in Colombo, from July 27 to August 3.
The resource persons panel comprised SAP International Executive Director - Dr. Rohit K. Nepali, former Director of Womens Studies, New Delhi University- Dr. Susheela Kaushik, Manager Advocacy and Networking, SAP Pakistan- Zakia Arshad, Founder of Democracy Watch Bangladesh- Taleya Rehman and Emeritus Law Professor, Colombo University –Savithri Gunasekera.
The open forum was moderated by Sharmini Boyle, who is a Board member of SAPI and SAPSRI.