O Woman! In our hours of ease,

Uncertain, coy and hard to please…..

When pain and anguish wring the brow

A ministering angel thou!

Sir Walter Scott.

I have never been a women’s activist but pride myself on being a liberated woman of our time, even though I grew up in a world dominated by men, particularly, by male chauvinists! Therefore, I have always believed that anything men can do, women can do as well, or better! At long last it seems women are in the fore here in Sri Lanka, with the law that every list for any election, be it local government, provincial or Parliament should have 25 % reserved for women candidates. The local government election held recently saw many women coming forward from all parties and being elected. So, there is hope for us all that in all spheres of decision making, there will be a chance and a forum for women to freely express their views, given a hearing, and the opportunity to play a prominent role in decision making.

We, in Sri Lanka were fortunate in that, we got the right to vote at the same time as men. This wasn’t so in other more developed countries, including England, where the Mother of all Parliaments reigns supreme. In delving into history, we have to bow our heads in thankful prayer for the initial steps taken to secure the vote for women and other rights in England, and remember those responsible for it, who courageously fought on all possible fronts, time and time again, against all odds, to make their objective a reality. Emmeline Pankhurst was one of the first who did so, and joined the suffragette movement at the tender age of 14. She was a political activist who fought hard and long to secure the vote for women and was a leader of the suffragette movement in its initial stage. She boldly led women to march and hold meetings for this cause. Another was Emily Davies who threw herself in front of the King’s Horse, to get the voice of women heard and recognized as a force to be reckoned with.

We in Sri Lanka, have had some women politicians who have left their footprints firmly and surely, in the sands of time, in the annals of our history. Lady Adeline Molamure was the first woman Senator, and another doughty fighter for women was Miss Cissy Cooray. We have produced the world’s first woman Prime Minister, the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike and later on, her daughter Chandrika, became the first woman President here. From the recently concluded local government elections, the leader of the UNP group, Rosy Senanayake will soon be Colombo’s first woman Mayor. She comes with a great deal of goodwill, as she proved herself while being a Minister doing much for women, including, giving pregnant women a nutrition pack worth Rs 20,000 and other numerous benefits. Housewives, who have to keep home fires burning, will at long last have a woman Mayor in Colombo, one who will understand their countless problems which men usually brush aside as unimportant. She is competent, and has both feeling and sympathy; she understands their plight, much more than a man in her position would. Thus, she will be able to reach out in a special way to solve their problems. We have many women of high achievement in other interests and activity ,who have risen to the heights in their specific fields. Sumitra Peiris , film director, Irangani Serasinghe, Queen of stage and screen as an actress, Shirani Bandaranayake,the first woman Chief Justice, the late Dr Stella de Silva, lawyers Surya WIckremesinghe and Manouri Muttetuwegama, Educationist, Nirmali Wickremesinghe and many other women who have played a significant role, as leaders in their respective professions. I salute them all for their contribution to the country’s progress and development.

But, there is still a visible void and women must continue to fight to be recognized on the same level as men, for gender equality to become a reality in more ways than one. Women must fight for glass ceilings to disappear forever. The 25% representation for women was the brainchild of Prime Minisiter Ranil Wickremesinghe, who at a committee of women, asked them for their views and wrote the document himself in a matter of minutes, as his brain invariably works ten times faster than most others. But, women must be recognized more, both, in the public and private sectors, as a decisive force in all spheres of interest, playing a major role in decision making. The abuse of women in various forms, domestic, at workplace, in public transport, still go on and women in authority in all fields, must fight and use their influence, to stop this abuse where more often than not, the perpetrators get off scot free. There have to be more awareness programs, to make women who are victims of these offences become aware of their rights and protect themselves.

They must be instilled with courage to come forward and name their perpetrators, and continue to fight till they are punished for these most heinous crimes.

In this respect, it’s doubly important that women work together for our cause, seeing far beyond the narrow political and other peripheries that divide us.

We form a considerable portion of the population, women wage earners go abroad and earn foreign exchange for the country. We bring up our children instilling in them the right values and principles which will make them responsible citizens of the future, to be the Leaders of tomorrow and take the country forward.