More the women greater the say
Sumedha G. Jayasena
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
The percentage of women members in Parliament has remained the same
since the grant of universal franchise as less than 5% in any given
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.