Why settle for less?

The Women and Media Collective has demanded that women’s representation in political institutions be increased substantially. It wants one electorate in each district allocated to female candidates, inter alia, at future general elections. All right thinking people will endorse its call. In fact, that is something long overdue. But, the question is why they should settle for less.

Women account for more than one half of the country’s population. There has been a much advertised offer to increase women’s representation up to 25%. This percentage is ludicrously low. They must strive to get at least 50 percent of seats in all elected bodies, especially Parliament, where out of 225 members only 13 are women. The situation is equally bad in local government bodies and provincial councils, the percentages of female members therein being 2 and 4 respectively. If women want to get an inch from this male dominated society they must ask for at least one kilometre, so to speak.

Sri Lanka’s economy is sustained mostly by women. They keep their nose to the grindstone in the garment and plantation sectors and slave away in West Asia, from where quite a number of them return in coffins. It is their sweat and tears that fuel the country’s dollar hungry economy. Unfortunately, the migrant workers, both men and women, have been deprived of their right to vote. Other countries allow their expatriate workers to exercise their franchise. Politicians will never care to look after their interests so long as they cannot cast their votes. This is a grave injustice in that the people who help keep the economy afloat through their remittances are discriminated against.

Good governance, the virtues of which the present government is extolling ad nauseam, consists in meaningful and inclusive political participation with people having a say in all of the decisions which shape their lives. So, the yahapalana champions will only make a mockery of their mission if they do not take action to ensure that migrant workers are allowed to vote.

Women can easily turn the tables on men as regards representation if they get their act together. The elephant (not the political one) is believed to be unaware of its actual size and that is said to be the reason why it suffers at the hands of bipeds without much resistance. The same may be said about women and their collective strength. To win their rights they do not need to take up rolling pins or pestles; they can achieve that objective with ease. The only thing they need is a pen or a pencil. At the next general election they can cast their votes for female candidates. Such action will also help cleanse politics dominated by cattle thieves, pickpockets, racketeers, rapists, drug dealers and other dregs.

President Maithripala Sirisena, while he was the Health Minister, took up the cudgels for women’s rights. We editorially backed his progressive moves such as the setting up of a special unit called Mituru Piyasa at every state-run hospital to treat and counsel women and girls who became victims of sexual harassment though the leaders of the then government sought to discount his efforts. Now that he wields executive powers he ought to do his utmost to make good his promise to improve women’s lot. We suggest that the government take into consideration the current sex ratio in increasing women’s representation.

This country takes pride in the fact that it produced the world’s first prime minister. It must also take steps to ensure that women have representation in keeping with their numerical strength.


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