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Sunday, 25 April 2010

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More the women greater the say


Minister Sumedha G. Jayasena Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi

Women comprise half of Sri Lankan population and today that population is represented in the Parliament by 13 woman parliamentarians. The country enjoys an excellent record on women's health, education and life expectancy in the South Asian region, where women play a very an active and supportive role, irrespective of party differences.

The percentage of women members in Parliament has remained the same since the grant of universal franchise as less than 5% in any given Parliament.

At the local government level, more shockingly, this statistic seems to be less than 1%. Yet in grass roots level support group, women take the lead. During election time women play a major role being the backbone of those campaign organisations.

Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa Thalatha
Athukorale
Chandrani Bandara Dr. Sudarshanee Fernandopulle

Considering the 225 political representatives who took oath last Tuesday as Members of Parliament, elected as well as nominated, only 13 were women. Being in the Parliament nearly 21 years Minister Sumedha G. Jayasena is the most senior woman MP among the elected members.

Her name first appeared in the MP list in the Second Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka hailing from Moneragala from the SLFP ticket.

Under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime she held the post of Child Development and Women Empowerment Minister.

It was first in 1994 Sumedha Jayasena became the Deputy Minister of Buddhist Affairs which she held till 1999. She was the Minister of Women's Affairs from 1999 - 2000 and from 2004 - 2005 was the Minister of Social Welfare.

Rosy Senanayake Malini Fonseka Vijeyakala Maheswaran Kamala Ranathunga Upeksha Swarnamali

In 2004 she was given the Ministerial post as Women Empowerment. She received 45,837 preferential votes under the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) from the Moneragala district Sumedha P Jayasena took oaths as a Cabinet Minister last Friday and sworn in as the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs.

The other woman parliamentarian who secured a ministerial portfolio is Pavithra Devi Wanniarachchi. She secured 110,220 preferential Votes from the Ratnapura district wining the second highest position from the UPFA. Her name first entered in the Minister list in 1994 where she held the position of Deputy of Minister of health and Social Services till 1998.

Then from 1998 - 2000 she held the post of Deputy Minister of Health and Indigenous Medicine and in 2000 - 2001 she was appointed as a Minister responsible for Land and Plan Implementation.

From 2004 to 2007 Pavithra Wanniarachchi was the Minister for Samurdhi and Poverty Alleviation and under Mahinda Rajapaksa regime she was the Minister of Youth Affairs. Last Friday she was sworn in as a Cabinet Minister and was appointed as the Minister for National Heritage and Cultural Affairs.

Most of these women hail from political families, with their fathers, brothers or husbands having engaged in politics. Of the two ministers Sumedha G. Jayasena entered politics following her husband's assassination and Pavithra Wanniarachchi hails from a highly influential political family her father being a strong politician Dharmadasa Wanniarachchi.

Three are former MPs - Nirupama Rajapaksa from the UPFA, Chandrani Bandara and Thalatha Athukorale from the United National Front (UNF). Two new MPs, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle (UPFA) and Vijayakala Maheswaran (UNF) have taken to politics following the assassination of their husbands and are entered the Parliament for the first time.

Rosy Senanayake, though not a new political figure also entered Parliament for the first time. She was the Opposition Leader of the Western Provincial Council and was a strong UNP member for a long time. The former Mrs Sri Lanka who held Good Will Ambassador Post is backed with a financially and socially strong family. Upeksha Swarnamali (UNF) is a complete newcomer to politics and was an upcoming actress in mega tele dramas.

Out of the lot, Nirupama Rajapaksa hails from the Hambantota district was former Deputy Minister and a Minister. From 1994 - 1999 Nirupama held the Tourism and Aviation Minister post from 2000 to 2001 she held the Deputy Minister post for Womens' Affairs. From 1999 to 2000 she was the Minister of Plan Implementation. Today in the new Parliament she is Deputy Minister of Water Supply and Drainage.

From the National list of the UPFA internationally acclaimed actress and queen of the silver screen Malini Fonseka and a veteran women's activist of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Kamala Ranathunga enter the Legislature for the first time as MPs.

Malini Fonseka could be well recognised for her many feats and the international recognition she gained has for the Sri Lankan cinema.

Kamala Ranatunga is armed with a very convincing record of long and prestigious service in the fields of women's politics as well as promotion of women's right through the Women's Organisation of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Introduced to SLFP politics by SWRD Bandaranaike n 1957, she contested elections from the SLFP ticket and was elected as a SLFP women's representative to the Western Provincial Council.

Since President Mahinda Rajapaksa took over the leadership of the SLFP, she has been a strong activist in the SLFP Women's Organisation.

Due to her oratorical skills, in verse and prose and being involved in politics, she was most sought after speakers on SLFP platforms for her fearless political journey of nearly 53 years. Political rivals had subjected her to violence on numerous occasions, and she was even remanded following bogus complaints during UNP regimes.

Worldwide, we have seen such political wives and daughters take centre stage. It also gives voters a sense of familiarity and continuity, which a completely new candidate cannot muster.

On March 08 this year, President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the celebration held to mark the international Women's day at Hambantota said his government had focused attention to increase the women's representation in the Parliament.

It should not be just smiling sweet faces. Now it is time to change this culture and make more space for women with academic, professional and social qualifications to get into politics.

Women at grass-roots level could influence their political representatives to select more women from village level to undergo political baptism.

They should raise their powerful voice for this cause. Having more women in local bodies will give them a greater say in local affairs - development, social welfare, poverty alleviation. They can go up the ladder gradually as they accumulate political experience.

The existing Proportional Representation (PR) system leads to intense rivalry among the candidates of the same political party which sometimes ends in violence and this is not an environment that most women like to face.

It is therefore heartening to note that the next General Election will probably be not held under the PR system.

The massive cost of election propaganda is another negative factor. It is very difficult to gain votes from all parts of a district without an effective and costly propaganda. Not many women candidates, especially those from outside the 'system' can afford the vast sums required to campaign. However, the real change will come only if women enter politics in large numbers. Because they will bring with them experience, energy and enthusiasm as well as an alternative viewpoint when dealing with some of the major problems the country face.

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