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1. Women’s Representation in Politics and Administration of Sri Lanka 2. Protection of Women’s rights through the laws and Constitution of Sri Lanka 3. Societal barriers to women’s participation in politics and public affairs in Sri Lanka
Women’s Representation in Politics and Administration of Sri Lanka.
By Sajeewani Abeykoon, LL.B. (Colombo), Attorney-at-Law
Women’s political participation is a key component of democracy. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said “It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race.”1 Participation in politics is a fundamental and milestone right of women that has been stated in the United Nations’ Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and many other international documents.
Studies show that higher numbers of women in Parliament generally contribute to stronger attention to women’s issues. Women’s political participation is a fundamental prerequisite for gender equality and genuine democracy. It facilitates women’s direct engagement in public decision-making and is a means of ensuring better ‘accountability’ to women. 2 Despite this significance of female representation in governance, the progress in such representation has been quite disappointing. The existing studies show that, globally, women's representation in the legislative, ministerial, sub-ministerial, and managerial positions has remained limited.3 Reflecting this global trend, female representation in governance has been quite poor in most Asian countries. In Sri Lanka too, the political arena is largely dominated by the male. The first part of this study explains relevant key concepts and reviews previous literature relevant to the topic. This is followed by a brief discussion about benefits that can accrue by way of
Gender Equality Action Plan 2007-2009: making faster progress to gender equality. UNIFEM, UNIFEM is the women’s fund at the United Nations. 3 Division for the Advancement of Women , "Women 2000: Women and Decision- Making," United Nations, New York, 1996 (http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/ w2oct97.htm): Neft and Levine, Where Women Stand.
women’s participation in politics. The second part considers relevant international standards. The third part is a study of existing mechanisms and proposals in Sri Lanka relating to women’s participation in politics. This part traces the history of female participation in political affairs in Sri Lanka. It identifies factors which act as deterrents to female politics in the country. This is followed with an exploration into comparative international experiences in promoting informed dialogues to formulate strategies for promoting women’s political participation. Finally, this study presents some suggestions for formulating recommendations and steps to be taken to achieve this goal.
Relevant Key Concepts
Democracy and Women
In a democracy, citizens participate in political and social activities that build communities and shape the nation and all citizens have equal access to power through participation and voting. All citizens enjoy political and civil rights including universal voting rights. As a responsibility, all citizens must engage in civic participation in order to ensure the continuing life of the democracy. 4 These activities can take place in government, places of worship or voluntary associations. This kind of civic responsibility creates productive, responsible, caring and contributing members of a democracy. Alongside the institutionalization of the rule of law and democratic procedures, a balanced political participation and representation in a society constitutes a fundamental prerequisite for a vibrant democracy. Gender equality, in fact, is an essential ingredient of good democratic Practice. It cannot be a participatory democracy when decisions are taken by some on behalf of others. According to the United Nations, “the achievement of democracy presupposes a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of the affairs of society in which they work in equality and complementarity, drawing mutual enrichment from their differences.”5 Furthermore, “the inclusion of women in decision-making is a fundamental human right and an issue of social justice. Only when women have full access to decision-making positions will laws,
Civic Participation is Democracy in Action, Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association, 2009. Universal Declaration on Democracy, Declaration adopted without a vote by the Inter-Parliamentary Council at its 161st session (Cairo, 16 September 1997).
policies, and budgets reflect the needs of all citizens and support women’s rights.6 World leaders meeting at the World Social Summit (2005) agreed that promoting increased women’s representation in government decision-making bodies is essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. A democracy cannot be effective unless it is characterized by: 7 Meaningful participation of women in politics and Elections, Gender-sensitive legislation and policies, Women's participation in peace-building processes.
Inclusive democracy implies the participation of all social actors, including women, in public policy dialogue and decision-making. Moreover, it requires the active participation of women as decision-makers in all branches of State. However, having a larger proportion of women in government does not in and of itself guarantee a more inclusive or participatory governance, for women as well as men are bearers of discriminatory attitudes and behaviours. This includes providing gender-aware and gender-sensitive advice on electoral design, political party law and other aspects of electoral management.
Making politics more accountable to women is not only about bringing women into positions of political power, but also involves reforming the structures and culture of political institutions. Reform measures likely to benefit women or girls (e.g., increases in government budget for reproductive health and education; public expenditure management likely to improve basic service delivery to women, reform of discriminatory laws on land ownership, land titling and other assets; anti-discriminatory laws, laws to promote women's security (domestic violence and anti-rape laws), introduction of changes in public sector hiring and employment practices to facilitate women’s recruitment, retention and promotion), usually in a program or sector development loan.
Making Democracy Work for Women: Initial Experiences from 10 UNDEF Funded Projects, UNIFEM, 2008. Making Democracy Work for Women: Initial Experiences from 10 UNDEF Funded Projects, UNIFEM, 2008.
Quotas and reservations are a first step in increasing women’s participation. In recent years, electoral gender quotas have been introduced in number of countries all over the world. Hence, some consider quotas to be a form of discrimination and a violation of the principle of fairness, while others view them as compensation for structural barriers that prevent fair competition. It is better to use ‘affirmative action’ or ‘equality measures,’ and to emphasize that quotas are not a form of discrimination but rather compensation for structural discrimination. By introducing requirements for a minimum number of women on electoral lists, or gender balance, quotas give voters the ‘real equality of opportunity’ to choose among men and women. Thus, quotas are instrumental in overcoming the significant exclusionary barriers present in political parties. Quotas are important because they give women access to power structures. Some argued that the ‘equality of results,’ whereby quotas guarantee women’s presence in parliament, is not sufficient, but should lead to a different way of doing politics. Others argued quotas are a temporary measure. It may take decades, though, before all social, cultural and political barriers preventing equal representation of women are eradicated. Women’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society actors consistently promote the quota as a positive action measure to achieve a more equitable gender balance in representative bodies. They help to generate political support for the quota system. Presently, electoral gender quotas are being introduced in nations where women have been almost entirely excluded from politics, as well as in societies with a long history of female involvement in the labour market and in political life, such as the Scandinavian countries using voluntary party quotas.8 In the last one and a half decade, 50 countries have introduced legal quotas, i.e. quota rules inscribed in the country’s constitution or electoral law. In other countries, major political parties have introduced gender quotas for their list at public elections, i.e. voluntary party quotas.9
Different Quota Systems
The electoral quota for women may be constitutional (like in Burkina Faso, Nepal, the Philippines and Uganda), legislative (as in many parts of Latin America, as well as, for example, in Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Sudan) or it may take the form of voluntary
Gender, Governance and Democracy: Women in Politics, Isis Monograph Series 2005, Issue No. 1, Vol. 1. Ibid.
party quotas. In some countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Germany, Italy, Norway and Sweden, a number of political parties have some type of quota.
‘Reserved seats’ are a different kind of quota, whereby a specific number of seats are set aside for women as in Uganda, where a number of regional seats are reserved for women. Most quotas aim to increase women’s representation, since, typically, the problem to be addressed is the under representation of women. Properly implemented quotas might contribute to a more gender balanced society. Quotas work differently under different electoral systems. Quotas are most easily introduced in proportional representation (PR) systems. 10 Most of the countries with the highest women’s representation elect their representatives under the PR system. 11
Empowerment of women
The benefits accrued by way of women’s empowerment, rather than profiting only the lives of women, will have such far-reaching impacts as to strengthen the society as a whole. Empowerment of women is one of the four essential components of the human development paradigm, the others being productivity, equity and sustainability. The Beijing Declaration emphasizes, “Women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace.” 12
Empowerment is defined as people fully participating in decision-making and the processes that shape their lives. Women’s empowerment not only comprises gaining access to decision-making, but also to the processes that lead women to perceive themselves as being able and entitled to representation in the decision-making space. The Government, the Parliament, political parties and organizations, trade unions, NGOs as well as the media could contribute to this process. Efforts to promote the empowerment of women should concentrate on encouraging the participation of women in policy and decision-making processes and bodies; establishing incomegenerating programmes for women; and providing women with access to education and all kinds of training.
The Implementation of Quotas: European Experiences ,Quota Report Series, 2005. Gender, Governance and Democracy: Women in Politics, Isis Monograph Series 2005 Issue No. 1, Vol. 1. 12 Beijing Declaration, 1995 (Para 13)
Participation of Women in Executive Bodies
Equal participation of women in government should be one of the rules of democracy. All governments that are committed to the principle of shared political responsibility should include a certain number of women in all government structures. Men and women are equally competent to serve in government or to work in any of its sectors. Women, therefore, should not be confined to special sectors, but should rather be present in every area, including finance, foreign affairs and defense.
From the origins of Western political theory, theorists have carved society into two domains: a “public” domain, the domain of political authority and contestation, and a “private” realm, associated with family and the home. British feminist Carole Pateman observed that classical social contract theories divide the sphere of civil society into public and private domains. Women and the family are located in the private domain, which is not seen as politically relevant. The public realm cannot be fully understood in the absence of the private sphere. (Pateman, Carole 1989: 121)
“Personal is Political”
The feminist slogan that the ‘personal is political’ was a protest against sexual injustice, and a challenge to the main obstacles feminists had encountered in removing it. It was a protest against the violence, exploitation and humiliation that characterized so much of women’s lives not only in the workplace, or as members of political organizations and movements, but in the home and, more broadly, in their sexual and domestic relations with men. This implies not only that women are victims of injustice, but also that these injustices have political causes, consequences and remedies, and should be treated as such.
This is a prerequisite for gender justice. Essentially this means an individual’s “ability to take a decision based on one’s own rationality” and choice, free from any external pressure, threat or ‘conditioned preference.’ In his writings on human development and freedom, economist Amartya Sen argues, “There are strong links between agency and freedom, especially relevant in the lives of women” (Sen 2001: 172). The idea is especially useful to understand in what capacity
and freedom women exercise their rights. In Sri Lanka, most women lack sufficient economical and social empowerment and are too dependent on males. Consequently, a majority of women are unable to make their own decisions about their political participation.
Is Women’s Subordination a Biological Truth or a Construction of Society?
Feminist political theorist Simone de Beauvoir observes: “women are not born but made.” This clearly shows that feminists view gender as a “political construct.” Patriarchal societies differentiate and “stereotype feminine and masculine roles.” Knowledge and thought prevailing in such societies reflect men’s views of the “natural and social world.” Various mechanisms including political and legal ones have been used to develop and maintain this standpoint, which is “socially constructed.” In reference to all these ideas, we can argue that gender-based discrimination and inequalities are also socially constructed. In other words, they are ‘social structures’ or ‘social system.’
Feminists’ Critique of Citizenship
Feminists argue that the concept of citizenship is “gender-blind.” By focusing on “uniform and equal application” it fails to recognize the fact that “many societies are still shaped by patriarchal traditions” which support male domination and privileges; under those circumstances equality remains a “façade,” and policies that work within the framework of “formal equality” are in effect used to sustain the inequality. (Roy, Anupama 2005:28)
Basic Income Theory
Pateman has strongly advocated the idea of a 'basic income' which would, for the first time, give women an independent income. While modest in that it would only allow for a comfortable means of support, it would increase freedom since women would then be free not only to consent to marriage, as they have been officially for centuries, but they would also be free not to consent as well. It would increase women’s overall freedom. (Pateman, Carole 2004:90)
Review of Previous Literature
Women's political participation and representation at decision-making levels are two different issues. Participation is a necessary but insufficient condition for representation because representation does not flow automatically from participation. Women all over the world have participated widely in political movements in times of crisis but, once the crisis is over, they are relegated again to the domestic arena.13 Some gender activists have tried to appraise affirmative action as a suitable strategy to enhance women’s political participation. Arguably, in order to make a political agenda more gender sensitive, affirmative action is crucial so as to achieve a critical mass of women in decision making (Kitunga and Mosha 2003). Moreover, “the larger the numbers of participants, the more possibilities exist to make a difference.” (Karl 1995: 70) On the other hand, others see it as not effective and sufficient strategy. Arguably, in politics there are other associated factors such as interest of political parties, capacity of the candidates, cultural issues as well as negative attitude of the people that perpetuate gender inequalities in politics (Sabuni 2003, Rai 1995, Reardon 1995, World Bank 2001). A study14 undertaken by the Centre for Women’s Research Sri Lanka, (CENWOR) has identified “gender inequality in family relations caused by male dominance and resulting in physical immobility as well as an unequal gender division of labour within the household and consequent time constraints to participation in activities outside the home” as constraints. Women’s responsibilities towards the family and caring for children take up much of their time. Another constraint that has been identified in the study is the “gender role assumptions that allocate political and community affairs to men and exclude women from what are perceived to be unsuitable activities for women.”15
Important Sri Lankan literature on this subject can be summarized as follows:
Sri Lankan feminist writer Selvi Thiruchandran in her article “The Politics of Practice and the Practice of Politics” “One of the main reasons for the lack of participation of women in politics
Barbara Nelson and Najma Chaudhary, Women and Politics Worldwide. New Haven, Yale University, 1994.
Centre for Women’s Research – Sri Lanka. Women, Political Empowerment and Decision Making, Study Series No. 8-1994 15 Ibid.
is based on a culture which has assigned to women the charge of domestic sphere and with it the domestic chores and related concerns. This denies woman the space and time in the ‘public’ world. Another reason for the lack of women’s participation in politics is that politics in many countries and particularly in Sri Lanka has indeed become a dangerous game – so much so that with entry into politics there arises a constant, gripping fear for one’s life.”
Pioneer Sri Lankan feminist Kumari Jayawardena expresses a similar idea: “Women, seen as the symbolic ‘Mothers of the Nation,’ were its actual biological reproducers, also playing a key part in socializing children into their traditional ethnic and religious roles. Women were, moreover, cultural carriers in terms of dress, adornment, behaviour and ritual. Drawing distinctions between ‘purity’ and ‘pollution,’ women’s responsibilities were to ensure the unblemished continuity of ethnic, religious and cast identities.” (Jayawardena 2007: 252)16
Thiruchandran further explains, “Despite laws which give freedom to the woman to enter politics, she is prevented from doing so because support systems of the society in which she lives have not been provided for women in many countries. The Scandinavian countries are an exception.”17 She emphasizes, “There is a historical subordination of women and extra efforts have to be devoted to equalize opportunities, to struggle against injustice and deeply rooted discriminatory practices and exclusion of women from politics. The quota system is felt to be very effective in introducing and encouraging women into politics. Under this policy a certain percentage of all candidates for a position or selection have to come from women.”18
Kishali Pinto Jayawardena and Chulani Kodikara, criticizing the present status of women’s rights in Sri Lanka, note that “The impact of the State on the lives of women had been extremely complicated. On the one hand, internally (through its Constitution) and internationally (through its ratification of international instruments), the State has been obliged to subscribe to principles and policies that preserve and protect women’s rights. On the other hand, injustices done to women by gender discriminatory laws and practices continue to be condoned by the State within
Jayawardena, Kumari. Erasure of the Euro-Asian, recovering early radicalism and feminism in South Asia, Social Scientists’ Association 2007. 17 Thiruchandran, Selvi. “The Politics of Practice and the Practice of Politics” in Nivedini, a journal on gender studies, Women’s Education and Research Centre 1998. 18 Ibid.
its inflexible sanctioning of the authority of men over women in all spheres of decisionmaking.”19
In her article, ‘Gender Representation in the Peace Process’ Dilrukshi Fonseka focuses on another aspect of women’s participation. “Although women make significant contributions to peace processes at the community and civil society levels, their representation at the official level is negligible. Their under-representation at the official level is directly related to their lack of access to political power and political decision-making. The political nature of most peace processes often excludes civil society, including women’s groups.”20
In her book ‘The Politics of Gender and Women’s Agency in Post-Colonial Sri Lanka’ Selvi Thiruchandran criticizes, “In Sri Lanka the State had no specific policy directed towards women till the UN declared 1975-1985 as the Decade of Women. An Attitudinal and structural complacency existed in Sri Lanka which explains State Inactivity thus: the women of Sri Lanka are already liberated thanks to various historical events.” She further observes, “Women in Sri Lanka, it should be noted, are divided ethnically and politically. Though caste and class should form the real basis of analysis, the ethnic division is more pronounced and ethnic identities have been co-opted in order to perpetuate patriarchal values. By subscribing to what are broadly termed as national politics, women are hopelessly divided along ethnic lines.”21
What Benefits Can Accrue When Women Participate In Politics?
According to Madeleine K. Albright, the first woman to become a United States Secretary of State (1997- 2001), 20th United States Ambassador to the United Nations (1993–1997) and Chairman, National Democratic Institution (NDI):
Jayawardena, Kishali and Chulani Kodikara, Women and Governance in Sri Lanka, International Centre for Ethnic Studies 2003 20 Fonseka, Dilrukshi. Gender Representation in the Peace Process, in Nivedini, Journal of Gender Studies, Women’s Education and Research Centre 2006 21 Thiruchandran, Selvi. The Politics of Gender and Women’s Agency in Post-Colonial Sri Lanka, Women’s Education and Research Centre 1997.
Women’s political participation makes democracy more inclusive as they make up over 50% of the population in most countries. Over half of the population must not be kept uninvolved in shaping their future. Women bring with them a different perspective. More women in politics mean better policies for women and children as well as everyone else. Electing women decreases corruption in government as women tend to be more honest and less corrupt than their male counterparts. Empowering women benefits societies as women are consumers, breadwinners, mothers, teachers and social service providers among other things, and so have long-lasting, dramatic effects on their families. Educated women, for example, are significantly more likely to make sure that their children go to school, receive proper health care and nutrition, and grow up in financially stable homes. Women help build peaceful and stable societies. Women work better for their people in their constituencies. Women are a valuable, relatively untapped resource.
International Standards to Women’s Participation in Politics and Administration
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which came into force in 1979 is a landmark treaty which incorporates the norm against genderbased discrimination and moves beyond the standard guarantees of equality before the law and protection under the law found in earlier instruments. “...the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields.”22 The CEDAW provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men by ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life, including the right to vote and to stand for election. Governments agreed to take all appropriate measures including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979
Articles 7 and 8 of CEDAW explicitly cover the right of women to non-discrimination in a country’s public and political spheres, as well as their right to equality with men with regard to the following: the right to vote; the right to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies; the right to participate in the formulation of government policy and its implementation; the right to hold public office and to perform all public functions at all levels of government; the right to participate in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country; and the right to represent the national government at the international level and to participate in the work of international organizations. In addition, the preamble of the Convention links the ‘full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace’ with the need for the ‘maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields,’ implicitly including the public and political realms.
General Recommendation No. 5 (Seventh Session, 1988) – Temporary Special Measures made by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women “The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, taking note that the reports, the introductory remarks and the replies by States parties reveal that while significant progress has been achieved in regard to repealing or modifying discriminatory laws, there is still a need for action to be taken to implement fully the Convention by introducing measures to promote de facto equality between men and women, recalling article 4.1 of the Convention, recommends that States Parties make more use of temporary special measures such as positive action, preferential treatment or quota systems to advance women's integration into education, the economy, politics and employment.”23
At the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW, Beijing 1995), there took place a global consensus around women’s advancement in the public sphere through the institutionalization of national machineries for women, as well as the affirmation of the gender quota in policy and decision-making spaces. Further it recognized the many "gender specific impacts of conflict and
war on women and girls"24 and noted with concern the under-representation of women in peace building and post-conflict processes, urging all member states to incorporate gender mainstreaming in peace negotiations and reconstruction.
When they signed this document, governments agreed to take measures to ensure women’s equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making; and increase women’s capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership. Also in adopting the Beijing Platform for Action, governments have undertaken a commitment to a strategy of mainstreaming gender perspectives throughout policy and planning processes. The major component of the "mainstreaming paragraph" included in each major section of the Platform for Action is as follows: “Governments and other actors should promote an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective in all policies and programmes so that, before decisions are taken, an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, respectively.”25
The Outcome Document of the Beijing + 5 conference in 2000 summarizes achievements regarding the full participation of women in decision making and power positions at all levels and in all forums made through ‘affirmative action and positive action policies, including quota systems or voluntary agreements and measurable goals and targets.’ It also refers to the enabling conditions (training programmes, and programmes to reconcile family duties with work responsibilities) that facilitate such accomplishments. The document, though, concludes that, despite the progress made in some countries, ‘the actual participation of women at the highest levels of national and international decision-making has not significantly changed since 1995.’26 In 2000, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325, acknowledging “that peace cannot be sustained unless women have an equal and active role in formulating political, economic and social policy and that without women's full participation in peace processes there can be no justice or sustainable peace and development in the reconstruction of societies." The Resolution also addressed the need for social protection for women in conflict situations. Further,
http://www.international-alert.org/women/coneres.paf Para 189 and 202, of the Declaration and Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, China 1995). 26 United Nations. 2001. Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with the Beijing+5 Political Declaration and Outcome Document. New York: United Nations. pp. 111–113
Resolution 1325 tasked the UN system and its Member States to ensure that gender considerations are thoroughly integrated into all aspects of the UN’s peace and security work from conflict prevention to post-conflict reconstruction, including in establishing and developing the rule of law. 27
In response to this mandate, the European Union passed a strongly worded resolution which calls on its members to promote the equal participation of women in diplomatic conflict resolutions, ensure that women fill at least 40 per cent of all peace mediation posts, and support the creation and strengthening of NGOs (including women organizations) that focus on conflict prevention, peace building and post-conflict resolution. 28
During its discussion of States parties’ reports and in its Concluding Comments, the CEDAW Committee always refers to the application of temporary special measures, including quota systems in public and political life (and in other areas), either in a laudatory way, when they are being applied by the state party, or by recommending their application.29
From February 27 to March 10, 2006 the Fiftieth Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, focused on women’s participation in decision-making and development. Transition and development processes in the Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States (ECIS) region have proceeded without the full participation of women, thus weakening their position in political and socio-economic lives. 30 In 2008, a Declaration was made in the 2nd South Asian Regional Conference on Violence against Women in Politics: Revisiting Policies, Politics and Participation, which emphasizes: “There are inherent structural impediments that prevent and discourage women from participation in decision-making processes which consequently perpetuates violence, both visible and invisible against women. There is overwhelming consensus amongst the people of South Asia to ensure human rights, human dignity, equality, justice and human security. We strongly condemn and reject the existing paradigm of power politics that is
http://www.ukun.org/articles Considerations on Women, Peace and Security in the Americas, 2004. 29 A survey of CEDAW Committee practice up to 2000 can be found in CEDAW/C/2001/II/5. 30 “Enhancing Women’s Political Participation: A Policy Note for Europe and CIS” 2009
inherently violent, corrupt and patriarchal. We believe in redefining of politics based on participation, inclusivity, justice, transparency and democracy.” The Declaration also demands, “zero tolerance towards violence against women in politics in order to enhance a meaningful participation of women in political governance, irrespective of the system of elections, there should be a minimum of 33 per cent quotas for women for elected positions at all levels of governance.”31
Women’s Participation in Politics and Administration of Sri Lanka
Women play a dual role in politics as voters and political representatives in Sri Lanka. On the voting front, though adult franchise was granted in 1931, it was the progressive spirit that pervaded the making of the constitution that made it a reality. Although women constitute nearly half of the population of the country, women's representation within administrative and legislative bodies is still very low in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s Constitution guarantees equal rights without discrimination on grounds of sex and provides for affirmative action to ensure equal rights.32 Sri Lanka adopted a “Women’s Charter” in 1993 to give local expression to the goals envisaged in the CEDAW to which Sri Lanka is a party and as a measure to provide policy coherence on women’s issues. With a view to implementing, the Charter adopted a National Plan of Action on Women with collaborative effort of the government and NGOs. Although legal equality is recognized in the Constitution, women are largely under-represented at most levels of government, especially in Ministerial and other executive bodies, and have made little progress in attaining political power in legislative bodies. Women are under-represented in the Judiciary, Corporate Boards and State Boards.(See Annexure 1, Country Gender Profile, Sri Lanka)
“There are no constraints for Sri Lankan women to reach the heights of political power. However, as a percentage, only 5% of our Members of Parliament are women and only
2nd South Asian Regional Conference on Violence against Women in Politics: Revisiting Policies, Politics and Participation, 16 – 18 November 2008, Kathmandu, Nepal. 32 12(1), 12 (2) and 12(4) of Chapter 3, Constitution of Sri Lanka1978.
3% of the Members of our local authorities are women. The reasons for low participation are complex including socio-cultural norms in some communities.”33 The status of women in Sri Lanka has advanced in important respects during the past decades, but women continue to be under-represented and marginalized from legislative and decision-making processes. However, women’s full participation and representation in legislative processes are fundamental to equality, development and peace in Sri Lanka. Affirmative action in other South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, has enabled large numbers of women to enter politics. The concluding comments of the CEDAW committee on Sri Lanka’s third and fourth periodic report submitted to the CEDAW urges the Government to take all necessary measures to increase representation of women in politics and public life at local, provincial and national levels, including through the implementation of temporary special measures in accordance with article 4, paragraph 1 of the CEDAW Convention. 34 In Sri Lanka, although there are no legal impediments to the participation of women in politics or government, the patriarchal social norms in communities limit women's activities outside the home, and the percentage of women in government and politics does not correspond to their percentage in the population. In November 1994, a woman was elected President for the first time; she was re-elected in December 1999 for a second term. Eleven women held seats in the Parliament that completed its term in August 2000. In addition to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Women's Affairs, and the Minister of Social Services, a number of women held posts as Deputy Ministers in the parliament. Of the 5,000 candidates for the October 2000 parliamentary elections, 116 were women and 7 of them won seats. Only one woman (Minister of Women's Affairs) was appointed to the cabinet. At the 2004 General Election there are only 4.8% women in parliament and according to 1997 statistics, there were a mere 3.4%, 2.6% and 1.7% women representatives respectively in Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya
Sri Lanka Statement by Dr. Palitha Kohona, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations and Head of Delegation, 54th Session of the Commission on the Statues of Women, United Nations, New York, 05th March 2010. 34 Article 4 (1) CEDAW Adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination as defined in the present Convention, but shall in no way entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate standards; these measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved.
Sabhas.35 In Parliament, there has been a decline from 4.8% in 1994 to 4% in 2000, and a small rise to 4.1% in 2001 and to 4.8% in 2004.36
In Sri Lanka’s General Election 2010 women’s nominations as candidates by political parties was extremely low. Nominations for women from these parties did not exceed 6% of the total nominations given by them. Of a total of 262 nominations given by each of these parties, the UPFA and UNP gave nominations to 15 women each and the DNA to 9 women. The TNA did not give nomination to a single woman. 37 The representation of women in 2010 in the last Parliament was at 5.3%, the only consolation being that the UPFA has selected two women Members on their National List while the UNF has one. In contrast, representation by women at elections in several neighboring countries is seen at significantly higher proportions. In 2008, there was 33.2% representation at elections in Nepal. While Bangladesh indicated 18.6% representation by women, Pakistan had 22% representation in its Lower House and 17% in the Upper House. The 2009 elections in India resulted in 10.8% and 9.0% women’s representation in the Lower house (Lok Sabha) and the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) respectively. In Maldives, there is 6.5% women’s representation.38 “The Sri Lankan experience thus reflects the truth that PR (Proportional Representation) cannot, in isolation, work for the betterment of women in politics. Its beneficial effects are heavily dependent on the type of political and the social and cultural ethos within which it works itself out. Thus, although in countries sharing similar political cultures such as Germany and Australia, PR has resulted in 3 to 4 times more women being elected.”39 In 1997 Sri Lanka's Government proposed a constitutional reform, which contained a 25% reservation for women at the local government level. However, little progress has been made and the provision was not even stated in the August 2000 constitutional reform. The reason given by the Government was that the Muslim and Tamil parties felt that they would not be able to find sufficient women candidates.
http://www.onlinewomeninpolitics.org Women’s Manifesto, Social Scientists’ Association 8th March, 2010. 37 Sri Lanka: Can a Man be the Minister of Women’s Empowerment? Cat's Eye, May 9, 2010, www.wluml.org/node 38 Women in national parliaments, World Classification, 31 May 2010, www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm. 39 Jayawardena, Kishali and Chulani Kodikara, Women and Governance in Sri Lanka, International Centre for Ethnic Studies 2003
In Sri Lanka there are no special laws that mandate a quota for women's representation even in Urban Local Government. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the Commission of Inquiry on Local Government Reforms40 states that proposals were made before the Commission that while continuing the provisions for youth representation in local authority elections, there should be provision for women’s representation too. The Commission states that “women and youth as categories of voters need not have a fixed percentage of candidates or representatives and that they should be free to contest in any desired numbers.” The Commission also notes that “any attempt to accommodate a proportion under the ward system would be detrimental to democratic ideals and that if the voters so decided it should be possible for these categories to have even 100 percent representation.”41 Although women represent 52% of Sri Lanka’s population, they are not adequately represented in political decision-making. Despite Sri Lanka’s being recognized as a democratic country, our political arena is largely dominated by the male, often to the detriment of the female. If democracy is ‘governance of the people, by the people and for the people,’ who are these ‘people’? Are women not considered human beings, and indeed, fellow citizens? The answer is loud and clear. Women’s participation needs to be recognized as an essential factor in good governance and considered as inalienable from the exercise of any democracy, to such an extent that there could be no genuine democracy without it. Political rights do not mean only the right to vote but also being a representative. More women are needed in parliament and local bodies, especially at decision-making levels not only because it is their right, but also to put forward issues affecting women, and to take gender-sensitive positions on matters of national and international interest. The government has to bear the responsibility of improving women’s representation. However, the number of women contestants in Parliamentary elections has not increased significantly over the years. Political parties are still reluctant to field women candidates at national level. The result of a complete lack of political will to include women meaningfully in the party machine leads to party decisions reflecting only male viewpoints. On the one hand, prevailing social attitudes and tradition tend to exclude women from debate and decision-making in peace and reconstruction processes; on the other, most approaches to conflict negotiation,
Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Local Government Reforms – Seasonal Paper No 1 of 1999 Sri Lanka Report on State Of Women in Urban Local Government Sri Lanka.
mediation and peace reconstruction ignore the issue of gender. Political parties approach women very often for party issues and for short-term goals such as winning elections, but not for long- term goals of bringing about social changes and gender equality in political power sharing. In June 2004, a group of NGOs presented a proposal to the political leaders, urging for an affirmative action clause in the local election clause to include 33% of representation to women. That was six years ago and when we look back today, nothing has changed. In 2005 a cabinet paper was submitted providing a 30% share for females in the Provincial Council election. But no quota has been allocated still.
With the appointment of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform in 2003 (as reconstituted in 2006), women’s organizations again mobilized on the issue of quotas. These organizations also gave oral evidence before the committee in October 2003. The Interim report of the Select Committee dated 5 June 2007 has recognized the need to increase women’s representation in politics, but committee makes a very weak recommendation that:42 political parties should include provisions in their policies to ensure nominations of women candidates in order to guarantee better representation of women in Parliament, Provincial Councils, and Local government bodies, and That the necessary legal provisions be formulated to make it mandatory that every third candidate nominated by a party secretary from the national list shall be a woman candidate.
These are merely recommendations, and not mandatory directions to political parties. Therefore, parties are allowed the discretion to adopt policies that will increase women’s nominations, or not do so. Recent election manifestos of both the SLFP and the UNP make promises of increasing nominations of female candidates and implementing a reservation or quota for women. In reality however, beyond the symbolic inclusion of one or two women in nomination lists, both parties have not taken concrete action to seriously address the under-representation of women in political institutions. “The enormous costs of contesting elections, the thuggery and violence, the
Kodikara, Chulani, Women and politics in Sri Lanka: The challenges to meaningful participation, Advocacy, Colombo, 2008.
competition within the party fostered by the proportional representation system and the general lack of support for women candidates from male colleagues mean that even the few women who are offered, are often reluctant to accept nominations.”43 Most of our female politicians come from families with a political background quite often to fill the gaps created by deceased husbands or fathers. But females without such a background face problems in coming forward as political contestants. The present system needs change so that honest female candidates could come forward during the elections. Unlike some neighboring countries, Sri Lanka does not have a quota requiring a certain percentage of women to run for local office. This has been a focus of women’s groups in recent years, but the campaign to introduce a quota has gained little traction in Sri Lanka’s deeply conservative polity. Countries Quotas for Women Candidates at the National Level Reserves 15% in parliament Quotas for Women Candidates at the Local Level The Pourshava and City Corporation Ordinance reserves 1/3rd of the total seats for women No quota for women Affirmative Action Taken since BFA % of Women in the Parliament 2004* 2
Bangladesh Year: 2004 14th Constitutional Amendment introduced. Bhutan
No quota for women
No quota for women
No quota for women
33% of seats in all local bodies (Panchayats and municipalities) are reserved for women. No quota for women
National policy for advancement of women adopted in 1997. Spelled out commitments and policies for women Women, children and gender constitute an important area in the Ninth Five-Year Plan, 2002-2007. Political empowerment is an objective of the Tenth Plan
Gender Management System introduced in 2001.
Nepal Year: 1991 Article 114
Reserves 5% in the Lower House and 3 seats in the Upper House 33% of seats reserved for women, (National Assembly) —36 out of 342 seats (Senate)—17 out of 100 seats -
The Local Governance Act reserves 20% of seats for women in local bodies The Devolution Power Plan reserves 33% of seats for women at the local level.
Tenth Plan 2002 envisages 20% of female participation in decision-making at all levels. Election Law Quota, passed in 2002. Devolution Power Plan was adopted in March 2000.
Pakistan year2002: Election Law Quota, 2002
The Cabinet has approved in principle the reservation of 33% of seats in local authorities for women
Obstacles to Women’s Political Participation
For women to be elected to office they need to pass three crucial barriers: first, they need to select themselves to stand for elections; second, they need to get selected as a candidate by the party; and third, they need to get selected by the voters. Lack of support from political parties. Political parties continue to be very maledominated institutions. Gender discrimination and entrenched patriarchal structures within Sri Lanka’s political parties act as a barrier both to women entering politics, as well as to women influencing the national political agenda. While some female politicians had been supported by their parties, the vast majority together with civil society commentators reported that women face extreme discrimination and exclusion within the parties. Women’s participation within the parties appears to be mostly through the Women’s Wing, which is a relatively powerless branch of the party whose role is to mobilize women for meetings and elections. This structure excludes women from the mainstream party. One of the most critical barriers for Sri Lankan women is the fear of violence that has become associated with the political process.. Those who do run for local office face a very
aggressive election system that uses violence to intimidate candidates and shape voting patterns. According to a number of studies on women in politics, women also tend to face more abuse and aggression in public life in Sri Lanka than men. Families, witnessing the violence associated with Sri Lankan politics, often stand in the way of women seeking to run for office. Due to the level of intimidation and the power of the patronage system, the status quo is maintained, with women, remaining marginalized and excluded from the political process.44 It is rather ironic that men say politics is inappropriate for women because it is often violent, thus providing justification for excluding women. Lack of finance and resources, something which seemed to be particularly severe for women running for local council (possibly, because only women with significant resources would even seek to run for national office). The support of customary leaders, especially the paramount and section chiefs, was reported as vital for a political campaign, as it is the chiefs that mobilize the community to support a particular candidate. This poses great problems for women, as many chiefs either actively oppose women’s political participation, or provide support to locally powerful male candidates. All women candidates reported facing harassment and hostility from powerful men in their community who are opposed to women’s political participation. In many cases, this manifested itself as violence against the female candidate or her supporters, as well as attempts to attack the candidate’s character and morality (usually their sexual behaviour). Women candidates face stigma and disapproval from their communities and from families. This often involves judgments about the woman’s morality and sexual behaviour, based on beliefs that a “moral” woman would not take on such a public role For many women the fear of such stigma is enough to stop them participating in politics. A major challenge for many women is lack of capacity and confidence to operate within a male-dominated political environment, often in the face of discrimination or exclusion by male colleagues, and the prejudice that they do not have the required experience of
Team 1325 and Women in Sri Lanka: Building a Common Platform for Peace, Dr. Paula Green, Director of Karuna Centre for Peace building
campaigning or public speaking. Much more capacity building was needed for them to be able to compete with men who have been local power holders and public figures for a long time. Male leaders frequently reported that women’s lack of political participation was due to their “shyness,” although perhaps this could be more accurately understood in the sense that women are worried about lack of capacity or public humiliation. The perception of women primarily as housewives rather than as citizens or political actors. Women’s mobility is restricted; they have fewer opportunities to mix with those in power; they have the sole responsibility for household maintenance and child care activities; and they face a political nepotism that favors men. The women participating were themselves reluctant to take leadership roles as they viewed political parties as being an arena where masculinity prevails. The conflict-ridden party conventions where physical violence sometimes ensues and the prolonged internal struggles for positions and power were deterring to them. They preferred to stay away from such politicking. Women themselves are not active in working in solidarity. Most of the women cadres find themselves isolated, immobilized and facing difficulties. However, they do not take action in networking with other women. A network of women cadres would help considerably to strengthen their competency, learn from and support one another. Together they can initiate various movements and drive for substantive changes in the society. Prevailing patriarchal socio-cultural perceptions and traditional gender roles: Although, in the past few decades, there have been positive changes in social recognition to roles of women at home and in society, a perception that ‘power is a privilege belonging solely to men’ still exists. Many women also bear this perception in mind. Therefore, many of them feel resigned and even smug about women’s subordinated status, leading to their low self-confidence lack of capacity to promote careers of their own. The belief and perception that women are meant to be supporters and make sacrifices are prevalent. Traditional gender roles that give high priority to family life impede women’s participation in politics. Family chores are still a burden resting predominantly on women’s shoulders,
causing time constraints against studying, enhancing capacity, as well as limiting access to information and social activities. Insufficient political culture of society and the weakness of democratic institutions: Some major drawbacks include the lack of State gender policy aimed at advancing women and overcoming gender imbalances, weakness of women’s organizations, the
underdevelopment of the women’s social movement, lack of democracy within parties, lack of party mechanisms for promoting women, lack of media support for women’s political participation, which cultivates stereotypes about the role of women in social and political spheres.
Comparative International Experiences in Promoting Women’s Participation
With regard to enhancing women's participation in public governance in particular, some Asian countries expressed specific commitments or interests: Bangladesh wanted to establish committees at the district, sub-district, and union levels to engage women in development activities; China highlighted the increased participation of women in the political arena; Japan emphasized the employment of women in the public service; Malaysia stressed the involvement of women in political and administrative decisions; and the Maldives mentioned the creation of gender balance in decision-making bodies. 45
Although the Constitution of India provides for the Government to make special provisions to safeguard the interests of women as detailed in Article 15 (3) and Article 39, it has not made any provision for reservation for women in respect of jobs and political offices. However, the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act mandated reservation of one-third seats in the village, block, districts, and municipal elected bodies in India. The 73rd and 74th Amendments (1992) to the Indian Constitution have served as a major breakthrough towards ensuring women’s equal access
Asian Journal of Political Science, 2006.
and increased participation in political power structures. This Amendment provided for reservation of one third of seats for women at the level of local governance in urban areas. There is also a one-third reservation for women for posts of chairpersons of these local bodies. This amendment has initiated a powerful strategy of affirmative action for providing the structural framework for women’s participation in political decision-making and provided an opportunity to bring women to the forefront and centre of city development and develop new grass-root level leadership. After 1993, women’s participation in local governments increased quite radically, with the enactment of the legislation providing 33 per cent reservation of seats for women in local bodies. There are about 1 million elected women representatives in Panchayats and Municipal Bodies in India. Women in large numbers have come out against atrocities on women, in defense of their traditional control over crucial resources, water, forests, and land, mass literacy drives and other issues. They are also coming out in large numbers over ecological degradation, price rise or protests against police repression and so on. While there is increased participation in grass-root political movements, it is not being translated into a growing share of women in the formal political structure of the country. Since the country’s Independence, it is seen that the strength of women in the political field as reflected in State legislatures remained at an average of 3% to 5% of those elected. At the level of Parliament, the proportion of women members has varied between 5% and 7%. The Rajya Sabha, India’s Upper House of Parliament, passed a Bill to reserve one third of legislative seats for women on March 9, 2010. The Bill provides a 33 per cent reservation for women in the Indian Parliament and State Assemblies. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh commented that the 186 to 1 vote was a “historic step forward toward emancipation of Indian womanhood.” Brinda Karat, the leader of the Communist Party, expressed hope that the Bill would improve the situation of India’s women, saying that they are “still caught in a culture prison.”46
Women’s Political Participation and Decision-Making Position in Nepal
In 1990, when Nepal restored Parliamentary Democracy, a Constitutional mandate was passed to ensure the participation of women in national elections. The Constitution of Nepal specifies that all political parties must have at least 5 per cent female candidates in the election to the House of
Representatives, the Lower House, and at least three women in the Upper House. The Act on Local Election (HMGN, 1997) required all political parties to field at least one candidate at the ward level. Representation of women is also mandatory at Village Development Committee (VDC) and District Development Committee (DDC) levels. Among the nominees there must be at least one woman. As a consequence of this Act, more than 100,000 women have participated in VDC level elections as candidates and more than 36,000 have been elected to the village assembly. 47
Gender Quotas in Belgium
In 1994, the Belgian Government proposed the Gender Quotas Act, which intended ‘to promote a balanced representation of men and women on electoral lists.’ The Act stipulated that electoral lists must not comprise more than two-thirds of candidates of the same sex and that, in the event of non-compliance, public authorities would not accept the lists for election. 48 In 2002, a series of new gender quotas Acts were approved. The new Acts compel parties to put forward an equal number of male and female candidates. Furthermore, candidates of the same sex may not occupy the top two positions on a list. Non-compliance will result in rejection of the list by the public authorities. 49 While the 1994 Act applied to all elections, the 2002 acts do not apply to local and provincial polls, since their organization has become the responsibility of the regions. Hence, regions that do not adopt their own legislation will continue to observe the provisions of the 1994 quotas act.50 The law raises the obligation of parties from having no measures regarding sex-balanced electoral lists to a minimum standard of inclusiveness.
Until the second half of the 1970s, women in Belgium made up approximately five percent of the Membership of the House of Representatives and of the Senate. From then until the middle of the 1990s the figure was around ten percent. Following the 1995 federal elections, however, the number of women Senators doubled to 24 percent, while the number of MPs remained constant at 12 percent. In the federal elections of May 2003, 35 percent of women were elected to the House of Representatives and 38 percent to the Senate. Moreover, the increase in the number of women
Country Briefing Paper—Women in Nepal Meier, Petra, Implementing Gender Quotas in Belgium: Legal Enforcement Lessons Department of Political Science, Vrije Universitie, Brussels, Belgium, 2005. 49 Ibid. 50 Meier, Petra , Implementing Gender Quotas in Belgium: Legal Enforcement Lessons Department of Political Science, Vrije Universitie, Brussels, Belgium
elected in the last three federal polls has resulted in Belgium joining the top ten countries with the highest number of women in the national legislature.51
Similar successes have been achieved at provincial and the local levels of government. The most important lesson to be learnt from the Belgian experience is that gender quotas acts, in order to have an impact, must be tailored to the features of the electoral system. While the 1994 Act was supposed to promote balanced representation of men and women on electoral lists it merely led to a minimum number of female candidates without specifying their position on the lists. The 2002 Acts, meanwhile, speak of equal representation of both sexes, but only stipulate an equal presence of female and male candidates in the top positions on the lists.
The experiences of women in the Nordic and Scandinavian countries.
All Scandinavian countries have a common historic and cultural heritage of justice and equality which can at least partly account for the larger than usual numbers of women in political office. Since the real boom in women’s representation in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden occurred in the 1970s and in Iceland in the 1980s, way before the introduction of gender quotas, women already comprised 20 to 30% seats in these Parliaments. Moreover, in the Nordic countries electoral quotas have always been voluntary, never a legal requirement, and are only used by some of the political parties at the centre and at the left.52
Percentage of Women in Scandinavian Parliaments Sweden Denmark Norway Finland 42% (1998) 38% (2001) 36% (2001) 37% (1999) 45% (2002) 38% (2007) 39.6% (2009) 40% (2007) 46.4 % (2006)
Why do the Scandinavian countries have such a high political representation of women?
Ibid. Gender, Governance and Democracy: Women in Politics, Isis Monograph Series 2005 Issue No. 1, Vol. 1.
Socio-economic factors such as women’s labor force participation, women’s educational level, and the development of the welfare system have a positive effect on women’s political participation. Structural changes within these countries, such as secularization, the strength of socialdemocratic parties and the development of an extended welfare state, and the electoral system (PR).53 Strategic factors are also seen as important, especially the various approaches employed by women’s organizations to raise the level of female political representation.54 The system of proportional representation (party list system) coupled with the early development of the welfare system, women’s opportunity to study and gain employment, low fertility levels and secular/protestant religious affiliation are of great importance in explaining the high level of women in Parliament. The political parties have taken efforts in increasing women’s numerical representation in the national legislature. Special measures for the nomination of women candidates are adopted, such as recommended numbers of women on party lists or mandatory zipper systems alternating every other place on the list between women and men. Political parties are involved in a competition on women in Parliament, and in this competition they put forward various strategies to increase the number of women parliamentarians. One of the reasons for the historically high women’s representation in the Scandinavian countries is that women’s organizations have consistently asked the question: Who controls the nomination process? Subsequently, they have demanded 50% women on the nominations committees. The Scandinavian-style, comprehensive welfare state not only frees women from household labor by “socializing” formerly housewife-dominated services, it also creates jobs that are more likely to be filled by women. Working women value the government subsidies of child care, elderly care, and school programs that free them from family responsibilities and that make their work in the market place possible.
Dahlerup, Drude, Quotas are Changing the History of Women, Department of Political Science, Stockholm University, Sweden, 2003. 54 Ibid.
Gender quotas being implemented by political parties
For many years Norway has been a world leader in terms of women’s representation. When it comes to women’s representation in the National Parliament, Norway has been among the top ten countries in the world for a quarter of a century. More than one-third of the representatives elected to parliament in each of the past six Parliamentary elections have been female. Furthermore, for more than 20 years, the cabinet has been at least 40 per cent female. For instance, out of the seven major political parties in Norway, four have women as party leaders and two have women parliamentary leaders. 55
In Argentina, women are required to make up a required percentage of each party’s nomination list at Parliamentary, State and Municipal elections. The required percentage on the Parliamentary list is 30, which has resulted in Argentina ranking 9th in the world in terms of women’s representation in parliament. Today Argentina has been joined in this system by Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Venezuela in requiring a fixed percentage of women candidates on each party’s nomination list. The figure ranges from 40 per cent in Costa Rica to 20 per cent in Ecuador56.
Recommendations/Strategies to Promote and Expand Women’s Participation in Politics
The Party and the Government play critical roles in implementation of gender balance in politics. Therefore, there need be stronger commitment by the Party’s system and governing bodies at all levels in implementation of CEDAW and Action Plan of the Beijing Platform. For that purpose, the State should shape the following concrete strategies and measures in promoting women’s participation in leadership and decision-making processes:
For the Government
www.iknowpolitics.org/en/node/8134 Rajepakse, Ruana , Specific quotas necessary in Sri Lanka to enhance women representation in electoral politics, Feb 2010.
Setting criteria for women’s proportion in the political party’s system, elected and governance bodies at all levels; Setting criteria for rate of women’s proportion is essential in view of the current low rates. To ensure allocation of a minimum quota of 33% for women in Parliament, Provincial Councils and at local government level, and 50% of those appointed from the National List to the Parliament should be women. Gender issues should be given priority during the Constitution-making process Women’s Charter should be implemented. Strengthening working capacity of women cadres through offering opportunities of training and assessing necessary information. Sourcing key women staff, especially paying attention to training capable young women and prioritize them to proper leading positions. Developing flexible and non-patriarchal policies to encourage women’s participation in training activities aiming at improving their working effectiveness and their participation in leading. Intensifying monitoring and evaluation of implementation of the strategy and action plan for advancement of women. Integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies, programmes and projects. Provide political education, capacity building workshops, and public speaking training for women candidates. Developing and strengthening networks and relations among NGOs, women political leaders and cooperation with the media. Take gender sensitive measures to ensure women’s equal access, and full participation in power structures and decision-making. It is necessary to continue the introduction of gender courses in the system of school and university education, to develop and implement educational programs on gender education, and special educational programs for journalists on supporting women’s leadership. It is necessary to promote wider cooperation of women’s councils in political parties and women NGOs on issues of women’s political advancement.
For Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs)
Boosting programmes to enhance gender awareness and gender equality in the community with training activities for local leaders and communicators, organizing local group discussions, communicating relevant contents via local broadcasting stations and other mass media, distributing communication material to local community. Enhancing gender awareness and gender equality of local authorities. If quotas are to lead to the empowerment of women, elected women must have the capacity to fulfill their new responsibilities; especially in a strong patriarchal society, capacity building for women politicians is essential. Contributing to women’s empowerment through training activities on knowledge, leading skills, holding workshops to share experience amongst women cadres. Strengthening gender policy advocacy. Forming a Regional and global network of NGOs on women’s political participation.
For Political parties
A democratic party is one which believes in and operates on principles of social justice, gender equality and equity; a party which embraces the principle that women’s rights are human rights; a party which allows for women and men to have equal rights and exercise their political and civic rights; a party that provides structures to enable women and men to stand for elections within their political structures; vote for those who stand for elections based on merit; it should empower its various structures, such as women’s wings, to enable them to effectively participate in the mainstream activities of the party without fear of intimidation. Political parties must begin promoting women and women candidates. Political parties should be encouraged to place women representatives in visible positions of power within the party. Women’s forums within political parties must become more high-profile and influential. Politicians of both sexes should receive training at workshops on the importance of female representation, non-discrimination, human rights and other related issues. Stronger networks need to be established between women politicians and grassroots civil society organizations. Implement and enforce internal quotas within political parties.
Create a women-friendly culture within political parties by promoting inclusive party structures. Promote women in winnable seats. Create a dialogue between political parties and women’s movements. Elected officials, particularly women, must be sensitized to socio-economic and political struggles at the local level. Lobby for a 33% quota for women in leadership positions of political parties at all levels (political party law). Lobby for an electoral law that requires political parties to nominate at least 30% women candidates, and have their names placed in alternate order with those of men in the top list of candidates to ensure women’s inclusion. Urge deliberating the bill to include a specific clause mandating a quota of 33% for women in the recruitment of candidates at all levels of party leadership
Important Recommendations in the Updated Women’s Manifesto, Prepared by Several Women’s Groups in Sri Lanka and Published by the Social Scientists’ Association, 8th March 2010
Women, Peace and Security: Women have been both disproportionately and differently affected by the 30-year conflict, but are invariably excluded from decision-making processes in relation to peace building. As recommended in UNSC resolution 1325, a gendered approach to peacebuilding, conflict transformation and reconstruction is essential in contexts of transition. Manifesto recommends addressing the special needs of women and including women in decisionmaking processes.
Special Needs of Women in Decision-making: Existing processes and structures have had inadequate or no participation of women. In order to achieve this goal the Manifesto urges that women are included in decision-making processes in relation to the humanitarian situation of the displaced as well as reconstruction, resettlement, and in accountability processes as well as discussions on human rights and power sharing arrangements. Gender-sensitive women should be brought into policy-making and implementing mechanisms.
Politics: Women account for only 5.8% of Members in Parliament, 5% of Members in Provincial Councils and 1.8% of Members in local government comprising Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas.57 Women’s representation in local government in Sri Lanka is among the lowest in the world, and the lowest in the entire South Asian region. Despite the appalling statistics in Sri Lanka, policy makers continue to insist that there is a level playing field and equal access to elected political bodies. In this context, the Manifesto recommends the following: 1. a) A minimum 25% nominations for women in respect of 70% of seats elected on the basis of the First Past the Post system from single member constituencies; b) A minimum 30% nominations for women at Provincial Councils elections; c) A minimum 30% quota of women in Parliament and 50% of those appointed to the National List should be women.
2. Political parties should nominate a minimum of 30% women candidates at all levels in political structures. 3. More women Ministers, Junior Ministers, and Cabinet Ministers, as well as Secretaries to Ministries, Heads of institutions, and in the Judiciary. 4. Adequate training and other support for women candidates. 5. Voting rights for Sri Lankan migrant workers abroad (about one million people) – the great majority of whom are women.
6. Gender-disaggregated data on nominations for elections. 7. Give women public servants the right to vote for the election of the Diyawadana Nilame and similar posts - now restricted to male officers. Supportive Measures58
Women’s Manifesto, Prepared by Several Women’s Groups in Sri Lanka and Published by the Social Scientists’ Association, 8th March 2010. 58 Women’s Manifesto, Social Scientists’ Association 8th March, 2010.
1. Sufficient resources and budget allocations for recommendations and reforms relating to women and gender issues, and increased expenditure on women’s education and health. 2. Prioritization and setting up of a timeline for appropriate public and private bodies to meet targets on all recommendations and reforms related to women. 3. A National Commission on Women to be set up as an independent body, with the power to investigate complaints of discrimination, conduct educational programmes, engage in litigation, as well as initiate and pursue research. 4. Ministry of Women’s Affairs: the further training of ministry officials in gender issues. 5. Gender Impact Assessment Committee in Department of National Planning to appraise how policies and programmes affect women of all communities. Gender awareness and equity need to be integrated into all levels of government policy planning and implementation, with Gender Focal Points (persons trained in gender issues) in all ministries. 6. Gender-disaggregated Data: Gaps in economic and social statistics need to be filled, as the contribution of women to the economy and households is undervalued. 7. Promotion of public consciousness on women’s issues, and implementation of the 1995 Beijing International Women’s Conference Platform for Action. 8. Support Women’s Studies, assertiveness training, and training in self-defense for women through various institutions (educational / work / social and cultural). 9. An Ombudswoman to inquire into women’s on-going grievances and complaints.
10. Implementation of the Women’s Rights Bill or the drafting of a Bill on Women’s and Gender Issues so as to ensure that Sri Lanka’s commitment to CEDAW (UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) can be operationalized through legal means.
Barbara Nelson and Najma Chaudhary, Women and Politics Worldwide. New Haven, Yale University, 1994. De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. London: Vintage, 1997 Fonseka, Dilrukshi. Gender Representation in the Peace Process, in Nivedini, Journal of Gender Studies, Women’s Education and Research Centre 2006 Kodikara, Chulani The Struggle for Equal Political Representation of Women in Sri Lanka, A Stocktaking Report for the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment and the United Nations Development Programme, October 2009. Jayawardena, Kumari. Erasure of the Euro-Asian, recovering early radicalism and feminism in South Asia, Social Scientists’ Association 2007 Jayawardena, Kishali and Chulani Kodikara, Women and Governance in Sri Lanka, International Centre for Ethnic Studies 2003 Meier, Petra, Implementing Gender Quotas in Belgium: Legal Enforcement Lessons, Department of Political Science, Vrije Universitie, Brussels, Belgium, 2005.
Pateman, Carole, The Disorder of Women; Democracy, Feminism, and Political Theory, Polity Press, 1989. 37
Pateman, Carole, Democratizing Citizenship: Some Advantages of a Basic Income Politics & Society, Vol. 32, No. 1, 89-105, University of California, 2004. Sen, Amartya , Population and Gender Equity 169-174 Palgrave Macmillan Journals, 2001. Journal of Public Health Policy, Vol. 22, No. 2,
Thiruchandran, Selvi. The Politics of Gender and Women’s Agency in Post-Colonial Sri Lanka, Women’s Education and Research Centre 1997.
Thiruchandran, Selvi. “The Politics of Practice and the Practice of Politics” in Nivedini, a journal on gender studies, Women’s Education and Research Centre 1998.
Protection of Women’s rights through the laws and Constitution of Sri Lanka.
By Sajeewani Abeykoon, LL.B. (Colombo), Attorney-at-Law
Equality, justice and rule of law are also among the core values and principles of any democratic political system. Ensuring equal rights for every citizen is also an important part of social justice. In many of his writings, Indian economist Amartya Sen emphasizes that Gender equality is a “necessary condition for sound human development.” In practice, it means “prohibition of discrimination” and the adoption of “special measures in favour of women.” (Sen, Amartya 2001: 170) “UNESCO believes that all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender are violations of human rights, and a significant barrier to peace, sustainable development and the achievement of all internationally recognized development goals.”59 I agree with his idea of ‘right of equality before the law’ which, in my view, is absolutely essential because it is a factor that has a key influence on the shape of society and its character.
Priority Gender Equality Action Plan, UNESCO, 2008-2013
Equality is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice. All citizens will be able to exercise their civil, political and social rights only if there are equal laws. Equality before the law and equal access to justice underpin the legitimacy and effectiveness not only of the legal system but also of the entire society. The main purpose of any democratic legal system is protecting rights and equality of all citizens. In order to serve this purpose, legal institutions must exercise their powers in a fair and reasonable manner, for the benefit of all who access them. However it is necessary here to examine the State formation of Sri Lanka and determine whether the process is adequately gender-sensitized or not. Policies of appointment, perspectives, procedures and regulations relevant to law are also dominated by patriarchal ideologies. Infrastructure facilities are not favourable to protect women’s legal rights. Increasing the numbers of female representatives and creating new laws against women’s subordination are not considered as serious political matters. For this study, “Inequalities against women in law and legal institutions” will not be confined merely to women’s discrimination. In a much broader perspective, it will be considered as a phenomenon which encompasses inequalities, discrimination, harassments, implicit gender bias practices, gender insensitive laws and mechanisms, violence against women, incapability to access necessary resources, and inability to make informed decisions due to lack of knowledge about legal institutions, mechanisms and procedures. Women’s discrimination in Law and legal institutions is an issue that has a negative impact not only on women’s rights, but also on the overall development, efficiency, productivity, social order and stability of society. It also disrupts key democratic values of equity, fundamental freedom and liberties. One aspect of this study will focus on the contradiction between constitutionally guaranteed women’s equal rights (de jure) and the ground level women’s legal inequalities (de facto) in Sri Lankan legal institutions. Another important aspect will be a comparison between relevant international standards and national laws. This paper also examines patterns and trends in women’s legal status in Sri Lanka. The first part of this study explains relevant key concepts and also reviews previous literature relevant to the topic. The Second part considers international standards to protect Women’s Rights through law. This part mainly serves as foundational knowledge on CEDAW. It principally aims at enhancing and deepening the understanding on CEDAW, its coverage and potential. The next part is a comparative study of international standards and existing laws in Sri Lanka relating to women. This is followed with an exploration 39
into comparative international experiences in promoting informed dialogues to formulate strategies for protecting women’s rights. This is followed up with some Suggestions for formulating recommendations and steps to be taken to promote gender equality through law in Sri Lanka.
Relevant Key Concepts
There are certain key theoretical concepts that can provide a reliable basis to understand maledominant laws, legal procedures and mechanisms relating to women’s employment, divorce, reproductive rights, rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment in the ground situation. The following basic concepts will be useful in this context.
The word ‘patriarchy’ can have different meanings to people. Patriarchy draws attention to the “totality of oppression and exploitation” to which women are subjected. It thus denotes “political rule by men over women” or, more broadly, “male-dominated society.” (Stanford Encyclopaedia) “Our society . . . is a patriarchy. The fact is evident at once if one recalls that the military, industry, technology, universities, science, political offices, finances in short, every avenue of power within the society, including the coercive force of the society, is entirely in male hands” (Millet, quoted in Hartmann: 211).
Officers working in legal institutions are not aliens, but part of our society at large. If there are practices and traditions that create women’s subordination in our society, the related ‘patriarchal attitudes’ and behaviours are most likely to influence even the officers working in legal institutions.
“Women’s rights are Human Rights.”
Contrary to some narrow beliefs of sceptics who view women’s rights as ‘privileges’ or even ‘unfair advantages’ that women demand just because they are born female, women’s rights are human rights. Every human being, whether man or woman, has Human Rights. It therefore follows, beyond any scepticism, that ‘every woman has Human Rights.’ Hence, as a consequence
of the reproduction of women’s subordination by legal institutions, it is not just women’s rights, but Human Rights that are violated in effect.
Sex and Gender
‘Sex’ refers only to the biological and physiological differences between men and women. Men and women are not the same: they are not equal nor will they ever be, due to physical and biological conditions. Gender, however, does not refer to the biological differences but to the social and cultural structure that defines what it is to be a “man” and what it means to be a “woman” in a given society and cultural setting. The definition of these roles, as defined by a given community, results in a division of labour based on gender, i.e. based on differences between men and women with respect to their problems, needs, priorities and proposals for solutions, participation and access to productive resources and opportunities for development.
Feminist thinkers define “gender justice” as the ending of, and the provision of redress for, inequalities between women and men that result in women's subordination to men. The realization of 'Gender justice' means ensuring that “women have equal access to and control over resources, as well as the ability to make choices.” Essentially this means an individual’s “ability to take a decision based on one’s own rationality” and choice, free from any external pressure, threat or ‘conditioned preference.’60 The idea is especially useful to understand in what capacity and freedom women exercise their rights. In Sri Lanka, most women lack sufficient economical and social empowerment, and are too dependent on males. As a consequence, a majority of women who are victims of sexual violence are unable to make their own decisions about taking legal action against ‘male perpetrators.’
Gender equality does not necessarily mean simply equal numbers of men and women or boys and girls in all activities, nor does it necessarily mean treating men and women or boys and girls the same. It signifies an aspiration to work towards a society in which neither women nor men suffer from poverty in its many forms, and in which women and men are able to live equally fulfilling
UN Report of the Inter-Agency Workshop on Implementing a Human Rights Approach in the Context of UN Reform, 2001
lives. It means recognising that men and women often have different needs and priorities, face different constraints, have different aspirations and contribute to development in different ways. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are inextricably linked. Women will only win equality when they are able to act on their own behalf, with a strong voice to ensure that their views are heard and taken into account. This means recognising the right of women to define the objectives of development for themselves.
The Empowerment of Women
The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) includes the following factors in its definition of women’s empowerment: acquiring understanding of gender relations and the ways in which these relations can be changed, developing a sense of self-worth, a belief in one’s ability to secure desired changes and the right to control one’s own life, gaining the ability to generate choices and exercise bargaining power, developing the ability to organise and influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally.
Gender Mainstreaming is the term adopted by the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing to designate the methods and institutional arrangements for achieving gender equality. Gender mainstreaming goes beyond accounting for gender considerations in programs. Rather than regarding gender issues as special interests to be taken up separately, gender mainstreaming is an approach that treats gender as a critical consideration in policy formulation, planning, evaluation and decision-making. UNESCO’s gender mainstreaming approach also ensures that women and men benefit equally from programme and policy support.
The notion of “legal citizenship” encapsulates the view that all people are ‘equal before the law’ and have a right to ‘access to justice.’ (Roy, Anupama 2005:28) The rights to ‘equality before the law’ and ‘equality between men and women’ are guaranteed to every person, male and female, by Article 12(1), 12(2) of the Sri Lankan Constitution, and Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Both countries accept the special provision of affirmative action for women.
Additionally, Article 16 of the Indian Constitution provides equality of opportunity for men and women in matters of public employment.
More broadly, Section 9, entitled "Equality," of the South African constitution says: "The State may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth."
Feminist Critiques of Law
“Law is politics, the legal system is used to maintain and continue the established power relations of society.” Law, according to radical feminist ideas, is “an instrument for oppression used by the wealthy and the powerful to maintain their place in the hierarchy.” (MacKinnon, Catharine, 1989:158) We can therefore assume that laws and regulations prevailing in our society which reproduce women’s subordination are used as a tool to maintain male-dominant power relations.
“Personal is Political”
The slogan that the ‘personal is political’ was a protest against sexual injustice, and a challenge to the main obstacles feminists had encountered in removing it. It was a protest against the violence, exploitation and humiliation that characterized so much of women’s lives not only in the workplace, or as members of political organizations and movements, but in the home and, more broadly, in their sexual and domestic relations with men. This implies not only that women are victims of injustice, but also that these injustices have political causes, consequences and remedies, and should be treated as such.
Judicial decisions depend largely on the “predilections and social situation of the judge.” This leads us to understand that even judicial interpretations and decisions are likely to be influenced by the existing patriarchal attitudes and social context.
Distinction between de facto and de jure equality
Though there is a constitution ensuring de jure equality, in reality, are women’s rights guaranteed? In many instances of a woman’s daily life, discrimination is seen. By the recognition
of de facto discrimination, it is acknowledged that although women might enjoy equality in theory, the old traditions of discrimination still persist. The Budget as an Instrument of Women’s Rights Public funds are collectively generated and citizens have a right to claim these resources. Inequity in the allocation of resources represents a denial of rights to some sections of the population. Gender responsive budgets provide a mechanism for reducing the disparities that exist between men and women.
Previous literature review
In addition to reviewing relevant previous literature available in Sri Lanka, I have also researched some relevant foreign literature. However, in this literature survey, I review some key writings that are relevant to this research paper. I do not intend to review the entire literature, but will only discuss ideas, which are directly relevant to this study. In one of her writings, Savitri Gunasekere emphasizes that: “In the legal system there is a separation between the ‘rights-oriented view’ between laws which regulate public life and civic rights. Legislation on issues such as property, inheritance and marriage circumscribe the status of women in the domestic scene.”61 (Goonesekere, 1989) Goonesekere further notes that “intersectionality of race and gender when violence against women is manifested in double discrimination based on race and ethnicity” (Goonesekere, 2004: 198). She also writes that “the legal system has failed to protect women’s against violence. There is, nevertheless, recognition of the fact that the law and effective law enforcement machineries can serve as serious deterrents to violence.” However, she further explains that “Law and legal controls are often manipulated against women. They are not used effectively to realize the human rights standards guaranteed to women by domestic constitution and laws, and the international human rights treaties.” (Goonesekere, 2004: 199)
Radhika Coomaraswamy points out that various Feminists respond differently to the equation of women with culture. Feminists who criticize cultural relativism argue that “most of the traditional laws violate women’s equal rights,” and that “official, institutional, systematic and widespread discrimination are violations of international Human Rights.” (Thiruchandran, Selvy & Neloufer De Mel, 2007: 115, 116)
An article by the Sri Lankan Feminist Shyamala Gomez titled “Theory and Practices Implementing New Law against Domestic Violence” focuses on the restrictions and loopholes found in the Prevention of Domestic Violence act No. 34 of 2005. Gomez illustrates this with specific findings about “Lack of awareness in the judiciary, lawyers and police officers.” She further notes that “the state has not set up any shelters, counselling and supervisory mechanisms to protect victimized women,” and that “Domestic violence is a non issue to Magistrates who have to deal with the day-to-day workload of criminal cases.” (Uyangoda, 2008:208-211) As a result of these practical situations and gender-insensitive laws, women’s subordination is reproduced continually within our legal institutions.
British feminist and political theorist Carole Pateman observes, “Gender justice requires every dimension of justice to incorporate gender perspectives. It rests upon the full participation of women in shaping legal institutions that promote their rights, equality and inclusion.” (Pateman, Carole 1989: 33) Equality, according to Pateman, means that “all people must have equal political, economic, and social access in order for each person to be able to participate equally in society.” Feminist Emily Jackson refers to critical legal theorist Catharine MacKinnon’s view that the Liberal State is not “gender sensitive.” This is further explained thus: “The liberal state works on the assumption of gender equality. But this equality is based on a male conception of gender in which male interests are served. Legal systems are also designed predominantly to serve male interests. Gender-insensitive males occupy a majority of positions at the decision-making level in legal institutions.” (Jackson, Emily 1992: 195-205)
The law, according to MacKinnon, “sees and treats women the way men see and treat women.” It ensures “male control
over female. As the product of a male-oriented view of the world and a male-dominated state, the law systematically victimizes and discriminates against women.” (Jackson, Emily 1992: 195-205) This leads us to understand that even judicial interpretations and decisions are likely to be influenced by the existing patriarchal attitudes and social context. In Sri Lanka too, although the rights of equality before the law and access to justice are accepted as theories (formally), these rights are not realized in an effective and fair manner in practice (substantively), owing to ‘patriarchal, male dominant’ interpretation and attitudes. Discrimination against women still prevails in many forms within our society at large. Behaviours such as violence, sexual harassment, Sexual favours, harmful cultural traditions and myths are commonly used as tools for subordination of women. Since law-makers and officers in legal institutions are not aliens but part of our society, these patriarchal tools continue to operate within every institution including the legal institutions.
According to an article written by Radhika Coomaraswamy titled “Violence against women,” domination over and discrimination against women by men are consequences of “historically unequal power relations between men and women.” She explains that this creates “one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position.” (Coomaraswamy, 2008: 86) This idea enables us to understand how women’s roles are
historically maintained in our legal system. Traditional customs, narrow religious, ethnic and cultural practices are still maintained within our legal institutions, and women’s equal rights continue to be violated despite the existence of legislation guaranteeing these rights. Advocates of “cultural relativism” challenge the “universality” of women’s rights. Their firm belief is that the personality of a human being can only develop in terms of culture. Yet, in direct opposition, those who follow ‘universalist ideologies’ argue that all human beings have ‘innate and essential qualities’ and that their equality must be protected under the law.
However, Radhika Coomaraswamy points out,
“If Women’s Rights are placed in the greater praxis of the struggle for equality and social justice at the global level; one cannot underestimate the importance of local traditions.” (Coomaraswamy 2007: 115,116)
In her article titled “A Rights-based Approach to Realizing Gender Equality” Savitri Goonesekere mainly discusses the concept of ‘competing rights.’ In other words, gender-equality rights compete for recognition with a number of other, equally valid, human rights. (Human rights of women vs. other claims) Freedom of conscience, religion and the right to manifest religious beliefs in practice and observance, and cultural rights may foster particularities that challenge the universality of human rights, and purport to limit equal rights. Conflicts between women's human rights and religious rights illustrate the philosophical, legal and political difficulties of reconciling competing human rights values. The right to religious freedom, custom or religion may therefore have to be interpreted not absolutely, but so as to strike a balance, and achieve the norms of gender justice.
Goonesekere notes that ‘allocation of resources’ and ‘Human Rights Education’ are essential requirements for ‘realizing gender equality.’ Strengthening the process of implementing gender equality rights through international complaints procedures, national laws and a Court system is clearly relevant for a ‘rights-based approach’. A rights-based approach also requires the development of human rights action plans and strategies covering all areas of national development, as well as the allocation of human and financial resources. The rights contained in the CEDAW Convention require policy measures and resources beyond laws and legal procedures for full implementation. “Human rights education and gender-sensitization at all levels is also a critical dimension of a rights-based approach. It is important that gendersensitization programmes are linked to human rights education.”
Amara P. Ratnayake, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Sri Lanka, stated in 2002 that “The setting up of institutional mechanisms alone cannot guarantee the promotion and protection of women’s human rights; gender awareness, gender-responsiveness, the commitment of society and the
Government and non-government bodies towards gender justice is indispensable for the success of this enormous task.”62
International Standards to Protect Women’s Rights through Law
Women's human rights are enumerated by treaties, conventions, resolutions, declarations and guidelines, promulgated by either the United Nations or a Regional human rights body. Treaties, once formally adopted by national governments, create legally binding obligations for those governments. Every state which has ratified a human rights treaty must ensure that the human rights of its citizens are protected – meaning the government commits to both avoid and prohibit actions that violate human rights and also to undertake positive steps to ensure that such violations do not take place. Under international law, specific enforcement bodies, usually specialized agencies, committees or special rapporteurs, monitor a nation's human rights situation. These bodies also review reports and complaints about human rights violations, generally submitted by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) but also sometimes by individuals. The United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized the importance of protecting human rights and have since given definition and effect to this commitment. Thereafter, the two main Human Rights Instruments signed in 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 2 – States undertake to ensure to all within their territory the rights recognized in the covenant “without distinction of any kind” Article 23- States Parties to the present Covenant shall take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
UNIFEM South Asia Regional Office in collaboration with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Government of Sri Lanka organized a Regional Consultation on 12-14 September 2002 in Kalutara, Sri Lanka.
Article 3- The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the present Covenant.
Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and entered into force in 1981. Sri Lanka
was one of the first countries in South Asia to ratify CEDAW soon after it came into force. CEDAW is the most comprehensive women’s rights treaty in the world, acknowledging the political, civil, economic, cultural, and social rights of women. The treaty creates international gender equality standards, to which 186 countries have agreed, excluding the United States of America, Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga.
As the principal treaty on women's human rights, CEDAW is relevant to all work on women's rights, ranging from policy and law on the one hand to field-based programming on the other. It has been described as an international ‘bill of rights’ for women as it sets out detailed information which helps to recognize discrimination against women and the measures that have to be taken in order to eliminate such discrimination.63 The primary goal of the Convention is to eliminate discrimination against women and girls and to promote the rule of law and respect for human rights throughout the world.
CEDAW goes beyond a statement of non-discrimination by enunciating the principles in the context of specific groups of women or specific circumstances in which women are more vulnerable to denial of rights. The Convention promotes a substantive model of equality such as provision of equal opportunities. Equality must be secured by laws. But the enforcement of law must be supported by institutional mechanisms and programmes to achieve de facto equality. The Convention demands ‘affirmative action’ to enable women to overcome historical barriers.
Timeline: Developments in the UN Declarations Relating to Women’s Rights Year 1950
Name of the International Instrument
Year of Ratification by Sri Lanka Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in 1958
Towards Substantive Equality, An Introductory Guide, Law & Society Trust, 2001
1951 1952 1957 1957 1962 1974 1979 1981 2000
Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others ILO Convention on Equal Remuneration 1993 Convention on Political Rights of Women Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery Convention on the Nationality of Married Women Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age of Marriage and Registration of Marriage Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict Adoption of Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women CEDAW comes into force Optional Protocol to CEDAW Not Ratified 1958 30 May 1958 1962
5th October 1981 15th Oct 2002
The CEDAW Convention is based on a framework that draws on three core principles:
The Principle of ‘Substantive Equality’
CEDAW adopts a ‘substantive model of equality.’ The objective of equality according to CEDAW is to deliver outcomes that ensure ‘equality of opportunity’ (law, policy, programmes), ‘equality of access’ and ‘equality of results.’ First, the Convention stresses the importance of ‘equality of opportunity’ in terms of women’s entitlements on equal terms with men to the resources of a country. This has to be secured by a framework of laws and policies, and supported by institutions and mechanisms for their operation. Secondly, even if equal protection and respect for all the human rights of women are guaranteed by policies and laws, States must ensure that there are no obstacles barring women from enjoying and fulfilling their rights. Thus, ‘access to equality of opportunity’ is another important element of equality. Thirdly, the CEDAW Convention goes even beyond this, emphasizing that the measure of a State’s action to secure the human rights of women and men needs to ensure ‘equality of results’. The Convention requires states to ensure ‘equality of outcomes’, thereby imposing an obligation upon the state to demonstrate results. In other words, the Convention is more concerned with ‘equal access and equal benefits’ rather than ‘equal treatment.’
Substantive provisions of the Convention are: modifying social and cultural patterns, suppressing the exploitation of women, equality in political and public life at the national level, equality in political and public life at the international level, equality in national laws, equality in education, equality in employment and labour rights, equality in access to health facilities, finance and social security, equal participation of rural women in rural development, equality in legal and civil matters, and equality in family law.64
The Principle of ‘Non-discrimination’
Discrimination is prohibited in more than one human rights treaty. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prohibits differentiation in the guarantee of rights to individuals on the basis of race, colour, sex or language. The CEDAW Convention requires us to understand discrimination in its broadest sense. It seeks recognition for those types of discrimination that are not so obvious or direct. It points out, for instance, that in areas where women are significantly disadvantaged, applying a neutral rule providing for equality of access for women and men may result in discrimination. According to the spirit of the Convention, the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women is necessary to ensure substantive (real) equality between men and women. Article 1 of CEDAW “For the purpose of the present Convention the term ‘discrimination against women’ shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” Article 4 of the CEDAW makes positive or 'corrective' discrimination an important aspect for eliminating discrimination and “General Recommendation 19” extends its scope to include gender-specific forms of violence. The arena of discrimination for the purposes of CEDAW is not limited to the public sphere of life (that which relates directly to the State and its agents). It covers actions in the "political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” It covers actions of private actors ranging
from individuals to business corporations, the family and the community. It covers the written law, the socio-cultural assumptions about women and the norms they are subjected to. CEDAW covers indirect discrimination that results from apparently neutral conditions or requirements that have a discriminatory effect on women even though unintended. It aims to target discrimination regardless of its location or origin. To ensure that the coverage is wide enough, Article 1 extends its application to "any other field."
State Obligation under CEDAW
The nature of State parties’ obligation under CEDAW is immediate. State parties must recognize discrimination in de jure/de facto and direct/indirect situations, and promote equality of opportunity, access and results. Legal measures and polices must be formulated to prohibit all forms of discrimination. The national machinery responsible for mainstreaming gender equality should have wide ranging powers and adequate resources. All countries have voluntarily signed the Convention and reporting is a legal obligation to protect and promote the human rights of women. In addition, according to Clause 24, all States Parties are formally obliged to take appropriate measures nationally, to fulfill the women’s rights to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in the legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women; to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.
Specific features of CEDAW are: ■ A comprehensive and holistic agenda for implementing women’s human rights based on
the principle of gender equality ■ An emphasis on equality in legislation and policy, linking civil and political rights with economic and social rights. ■ Recognition of a distinction between de facto and de jure equality, and emphasizing that the obligation is to achieve both. ■An acknowledgement that social and cultural patterns often discriminate women, and must be eliminated.
■Rejection of a distinction between public and private spheres for the purpose of discrimination. ■ Dealing with power relations between men and women at all levels.
How Is the Implementation of CEDAW Monitored?
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is the instrument that monitors States’ progress in the implementation of the Convention. States have to report regularly to the Committee on their progress towards meeting the standards set by the Convention. Established in 1982, the Committee monitors the national measures taken by States to comply with CEDAW and reviews their performance in implementing the Convention. It also makes recommendations on how the Convention could be further implemented. Some countries do not address major issues of concern, but the Committee has other methods of collecting their own information. Shadow reports produced by local NGOs are considered seriously by the Committee, which is very aware that NGO sources are invaluable and data supplied by them is compared with the State report.
How Is the CEDAW Implemented within National Law?
Some countries in the South Asian Region such as Nepal have a Treaty Act (1990) that adopts a monist approach to international law, recognizing that a treaty is incorporated into the domestic legal system, when the country becomes a State Party to the instrument. However, most other countries including India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh follow the dualist approach of the English Common Law. This means that they require national incorporation of the treaty or its provisions into the domestic legal system. In these dualist legal systems, treaties cannot be used in legal interpretation without such local incorporation. Incorporation can be either by specific constitutional provisions, or specific legislation i.e. acts of parliament.65
Optional Protocol to the CEDAW
The Optional Protocol (OP) is procedural law, which State parties can ratify as an enforcement mechanism to CEDAW. Adopted in December 2000, the Optional Protocol allows the Committee to receive complaints by women or groups of women through a special
Country Shadow Report of Centre for Women’s Research (CENWOR), 2006
communications procedure. It is possible for others to petition on behalf of the victims, usually with their consent, and in limited circumstances without the victim’s consent. This allows the Committee to function like a human rights court with regard to the implementation of the Convention. It also gives the Committee power to launch inquiries into grave and systematic violations of women’s rights on its own initiative.
Some important UN General Recommendations to the CEDAW convention
General Recommendation No. 5, 1988 -Temporary Special Measures Recalling article 4.1 of the CEDAW, this recommends that States Parties make more use of temporary special measures such as positive action, preferential treatment or quota systems to advance women's integration into education, the economy, politics and employment. General Recommendation No. 6, 1988 - Effective National Machinery and Publicity This recommends that States parties: Establish and/or strengthen effective national machinery, institutions and procedures, at a high level of Government, and with adequate resources, commitment and authority to, advise on the impact on women of all government policies, monitor the situation of women comprehensively, help formulate new policies and effectively carry out strategies and measures to eliminate discrimination. General Recommendation No. 13, 1989-Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value Recalling International Labour Organization Convention No. 100 concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value, this recommends to the States parties that they should consider the study, development and adoption of job evaluation systems based on gender-neutral criteria. The State should ensure the application of the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value. General Recommendation No. 19, 1992 The CEDAW Committee recognizes Gender-based violence as a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women's ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men. Gender-based violence, which impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of human rights and fundamental freedoms under general international law or under human rights conventions, is
discrimination within the meaning of article 1 of the Convention. The Committee suggested to States parties that in reviewing their laws and policies.
The UN Declaration on Violence against Women in 1993
In the Declaration, violence against women is defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or physiological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” The Declaration calls upon the state to: enact appropriate laws and procedures to give women redress, develop national plans to eradicate violence against women, train judges, lawyers and policeman on problems of violence against women, establish assistance and counseling centers for victims, construct curriculum to eliminate prejudices which may result in violence against women.
Beijing Declaration and Platform 1995
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, approved in September 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women, is a global commitment to achieving equality, development, and peace for women worldwide. The Platform for Action is an agenda for women's empowerment. It aims at removing all the obstacles to women's active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decisionmaking at home, in the workplace and in the wider national and international communities.
To achieve equality, the Platform for Action emphasizes the need for women to work together and in partnership with men towards the common goal of gender equity worldwide. The Platform for Action reaffirms the fundamental principle set forth in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, human rights.66 adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights, that the human
rights of women and of the girl child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal
The Beijing Platform focuses on 12 "critical areas of concern" that must be addressed to achieve gender equality and women's empowerment:
The persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to education and training Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to health care and related services, Violence against women The effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women, including those living under foreign occupation,
Inequality in economic structures and policies, in all forms of productive activities and in access to resources
Inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels,
Insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women Lack of respect for and inadequate promotion and protection of the human rights of women,
Stereotyping of women and inequality in women's access to and participation in all communication systems, especially in the media
Gender inequalities in the management of natural resources and in the safeguarding of the environment
Persistent discrimination against and violation of the rights of the girl child.
To address each of the above concerns, specific strategic objectives were identified along with actions to be implemented by governments, financial and development institutions such as the World Bank, national and international NGOs and women's groups, and the private sector. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was approved unanimously by representatives from 189 countries attending the Forth World Conference on Women, held during the 50th anniversary year of the founding of the United Nations.
The 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court categorizes systematic
rape as a war crime and a crime against humanity and, in certain circumstances, even as an act of genocide. In 1993 and 1994, rape and sexual violence were specifically codified for the first time as a recognizable and independent crime within the statutes of the International Criminal
Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR). These two historic international instruments are now the foundation upon which crimes of rape and sexual violence are punished. However none of the countries of South Asia have become parties to the ICC.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security
In 2000, the Security Council adopted the landmark Resolution 1325, the first resolution ever passed by the Security Council that specifically addresses the impact of war on women, and women’s contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace. It is binding upon all UN Member States and the adoption of the Resolution marked an important international political recognition that women and gender are relevant to international peace and security. Resolution 1325 provides women all over the world with a tool to increase their involvement in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace building. It asks governments and the United Nations to include more women in decision-making and fieldwork and explicitly invites the expertise of civil society organizations.67
The Resolution includes a number of requests for action to the United Nations in general, the Security Council and its member states in particular, as well as to parties to armed conflict. These requests can be summarized as follows: The number of women working on all levels of decision-making in national, regional and international institutions as well as in the field must be increased. A gender perspective must be included into conflict prevention, conflict resolution and post conflict reconstruction; peacekeeping personnel have to be trained accordingly, All parties to armed conflict must respect existing international laws protecting women and girls especially from gender based violence. Where violations have been committed, states have to end impunity. The civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps and settlements must be respected by all parties to armed conflict.
Backgrounder Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, Sabine Hub, University of British Colombia, 2004
The different needs of women must be considered when planning refugee camps, dealing with ex-combatants and taking measures like sanctions which affect the general population.
The Secretary-General is asked to carry out a study on the matter and to report on its results as well as to include progress on gender mainstreaming in his reporting to the Security Council. 68
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820 (2008) Addresses Sexual Violence as a Threat to International Peace and Security; Complements Resolution 1325
On 19 June 2008, the Security Council held an open debate on “Women, Peace and Security: Sexual Violence in Situations of Armed Conflict,” and unanimously adopted the ground-breaking Resolution 1820, which recognizes that the use of sexual violence as a tactic of warfare is a matter of international peace and security. 69 The Resolution states that widespread and systematic sexual violence can exacerbate armed conflict, can pose a threat to the restoration of international peace and security and has an impact on durable peace, reconciliation and development. Sexual violence not only causes grave physical, psychological and health problems for its victims, but also has direct social consequences for communities and entire societies. The Resolution reaffirms the political commitment of the Security Council to protect women and girls from sexual violence in conflict by demanding the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.” Through this landmark resolution, the Council reinforces and complements its Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which urged all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate a gender perspective in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also called on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence in situations of armed conflict. The Resolution stresses that successfully combating this “silent war against women and girls” requires strong leadership, comprehensive strategies and the involvement of a wide range of actors, from the UN and national governments to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the victims themselves.
Backgrounder Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, Sabine Hub, University of British Colombia, 2004
United Nation Information Service
SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution
The scope of the Convention is the further strengthening of existing arrangements on the protection of rights of women and children in South Asia, and bringing to an end the illegal smuggling of women and children as well as prostitution in this region, to promote cooperation amongst Member States to effectively deal with various aspects of prevention, interdiction and suppression of trafficking in women and children, repatriation and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking and preventing the use of women and children in international prostitution networks, particularly where the SAARC Member Countries are the countries of origin, transit and destination.
Comparative Study of International Standards and Existing Laws in Sri Lanka Relating to Women.
Even before the constitutional provision (1978) of equal rights without discrimination on the grounds of sex and the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1981, universal franchise, equal rights to contest elections in 1931, and equal access to free education and health services in the 1940s had already contributed to gender equality in some spheres of life. Sri Lanka has become a signatory to the Vienna Declaration regarding the prevention of violence against women, in 1993. Sri Lanka has contributed to the Beijing declaration in 1995 and the action plan. Accordingly, under International Law, the Sri Lankan Government is morally and legally bound to ‘respect, protect and fulfil equal rights of women’ as well as to ‘eliminate all forms of discrimination against women’.70 In 1993, the Sri Lankan government brought the Women's Character as its state policy on women. The Charter contains a series of clauses which sets the standards for the rights of the Sri Lankan woman. However this declaration is merely a policy statement which has no legal effect. In 1993 the National Committee on Women comprising 15 experts was established to promote and monitor provisions in the Women’s Charter while a Gender Complaints Center was added to this structure in 1999.
Article 27(15) “The State shall promote international peace, security and co-operation, and the establishment of a just and equitable international economic and social order, and shall endeavour to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in dealings among nations.”
CEDAW calls for equality of outcome rather than simply equality of opportunity. Thus it is not sufficient that anti-discrimination laws are put in place; the State has the obligation to take all necessary steps to ensure that women actually enjoy equality in their daily lives. CEDAW defines discrimination and the range of steps that States must take to eliminate it, provides for women’s rights in specific areas, and makes provisions for ratification, monitoring, reporting and other procedural matters. By ratifying CEDAW, the Sri Lankan State undertook to realize its Constitutional principle of gender equality in harmony with the international standards set by this Treaty.
India, for instance, has entered a declaration on the application of Article 16 of CEDAW on family relations, in the context of its personal laws. Other countries such as Pakistan, Maldives and Bangladesh have entered reservations on various articles. Sri Lanka and Nepal have ratified CEDAW without reservations or declarations.71
Domestic Violence legislation in Sri Lanka has been introduced so as to harmonize with the standards of CEDAW and the UN Declaration on Violence against Women. Sri Lanka’s Domestic Violence Act of 2005, Penal Code Amendments on offences including rape and trafficking (1995) and Citizenship Amendment Act (2003) are examples of incorporation of CEDAW standards by legislation.72
In the chapter on ‘Fundamental Rights,’ the Sri Lankan Constitution guarantees that: “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law’ and also that Article 12(2) of the 1978 constitution of Sri Lanka provides that "no citizen will be discriminated against on the grounds of sex…...” 73 Article 12(4) states that "nothing in this Article will prevent special provision being made by law, subordinate legislation or executive action for the advancement of women, children or disabled persons" 74
CEDAW a Manual, CENWOR 2006 Sri Lanka Country Profile, Country Specific ARSH Information, UNESCO, Bangkok. 73 12(1), 12 (2) and 12(4) of Chapter 3, Constitution of Sri Lanka1978 74 12(4) of Chapter 3, Constitution of Sri Lanka 1978
In addition to protection of “equality before the law” as a Fundamental Right, it is further recognized through principles of State policy, as follows: “Assuring an equitable and justifiable legal system as well as equal and unrestrained access to all who seek redress of the law” are recognized as fundamental principles of State policy in Sri Lanka. As a directive principle of State policy, the Constitution also guarantees that “no citizen will suffer any disability on the ground of sex,” among other factors.75 In this manner, our Constitution assures protection of women’s equal rights, prevention of discrimination and provides necessary power to take special steps to promote women’s rights. However, both the prior research work discussed above (previous literature review) and the details of my preliminary survey indicate that the ground situation in legal institutions is very different from what is guaranteed by the written assurances.
The obstacles faced by women in the legal environment occur at three levels: Laws - discriminatory laws pertaining to property ownership or non-implementation of antiviolence legislation Legal systems - information requirements or evidence procedures that make access to justice inaccessible; and Cultural attitudes - male bias exhibited by Judges, lawyers and Court officials.
Women’s rights are seriously challenged and often violated in our legal system, as a result of accommodating religious and ethnic differences. As examples Muslim personal laws relating to marriage, family, custody of children, inheritance rights and even rights to practice their own religion all clearly violate women’s equal rights. Furthermore, women face different kinds of subordination practices and injustices within the Sri Lankan legal system depending on regional, economic and class disparities.
Issues related to family law including divorce, child custody and inheritance are adjudicated by the customary law of each ethnic or religious group. The General Law (a combination of Roman-
27(6) of Chapter 6, Constitution of Sri Lanka 1978
Dutch and English law) is predominant, but three parallel systems of law may also apply: Islamic, Kandyan and Thesavalamai law are all grounded in ancient customary practices and/or religions. These traditional laws govern the women within the family and they are not given equal treatment when compared with men. Widows who are governed under Kandyan law are not given equal rights when compared to other men and women who are governed under other laws.
Women who are governed by Thesawalamai law have to obtain the permission of their husbands to transfer their properties to others.76 In 1995, the minimum age of marriage was raised to 18. However, the marriage age for Muslims is governed by the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, allowing for a girl to marry as young as 12 without the permission of a Quazi, and younger with the Quazi’s permission after any such inquiry as he may deem necessary. 77 These inequalities cannot be eliminated from personal laws due to the influence of various religious groups. The State has legal and moral responsibilities to safeguard equal rights of all citizens. Legal institutions implement state power. Accordingly, it is clear that all legal institutions have an obligation to ensure equal rights of all citizens, whether male or female. This is guaranteed in our present Constitution as follows: “All the organs of government have an obligation to respect, secure and advance the fundamental rights declared and recognized by the Constitution.” 78 However, there are also structural hurdles related to unaffordable and unavailable legal services, as well as insensitive administration of justice by staff and Judges. Sexual harassment, sexual favors, harmful cultural traditions and myths are commonly used as tools for subordination of women not only in society, but also within legal institutions. These also relate to the deep-rooted attitudes of the judiciary and law enforcement officials who are mostly men, or even those of some others who are biologically female but ideologically patriarchal. The judicial attitude tends to insist on heavy corroboration of the female victim's claim.
Property Ownership & Inheritance Rights of Women for Social Protection – the South Asia Experience, Synthesis Report of Three Studies, International Centre for Research on Women,2006 77 Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act 1951. 78 4(d) of Chapter 1, Constitution of 1978.
A study conducted by the CENWOR shows that “most women have acquired their assets (both land and other property) through inheritance, with purchase being the second main source for ownership. A smaller number of women have become property owners through government programmes.”79 Sri Lanka’s Constitution provides for equal rights for men and women, but is again sometimes superseded by other legal systems. Islamic law discriminates against women in the area of property in that Muslim women are typically granted smaller inheritance shares than male heirs. Daughters, for example, inherit half as much as sons. Following the death of a father, Kandyan law ties the inheritance rights of daughters to marital practices: daughters who marry in ‘Diga’ (i.e. the bride is taken into the groom’s home) must transfer any inherited property to their brothers or to sisters who have married in ‘Binna’ (i.e. the groom is taken into the bride’s home).
Women’s equal access to justice is challenged due to lack of legal aid, awareness, economic capacity and other infrastructural facilities. Behaviours of Police Officers, Lawyers, Judges and other personnel in Courts and Police Stations are not sufficiently gender-sensitive; in addition, male-centric hierarchies, opportunities, powers to decision-making, Patriarchal institutional practices, gender-insensitive judicial interpretations, views, attitudes and other similar factors exert a significant influence over ‘gender justice.’ Some of the other significant factors that contribute to the reproduction of women’s inequalities within legal institutions are genderinsensitive legal procedures involving victims of rape, incest, sexual harassments and other forms of violence against women in Sri Lanka. Rather than justice, women are subjected to revictimization within legal institutions due to mechanisms such as aggressive cross-examination, burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt and requirement to provide the testimony of an independent person to support her assertion that an act of rape occurred. Incidents of Domestic violence, including marital rape, are rarely reported and legal protection has been insufficient.80 In addition, in situations of family violence, women and children may be reluctant to pursue justice because of their economic dependence on male perpetrators and the severe lack of
Women and Land Rights in Irrigation Settlement Schemes in Sri Lanka (Study Series No.35) International Centre for Research on Women, 2006. Sri Lanka Country Profile, Country Specific ARSH Information, UNESCO, Bangkok
protective facilities (i.e., shelters, foster homes). Existing shelters for women with children lack support from the government and struggle for private funding. Recent judicial developments have reduced discrimination against women in the event of custody of children. In the past, men enjoyed preferential custody rights. New judicial interpretations emphasize the well-being of children, who may be placed with either parent (1999).81 Throughout the country’s history of war and conflict, women have experienced harassment at checkpoints, detainment, rape and other violations of their personal security.
In the Velu Arasa Devi (Maradana Check Point Rape) Case (2001) and Yogalingam Vijitha v Wijesekere (2001), rape and sexual abuse in police custody were considered State abuse of authority, which amounted to torture and inhuman degrading treatment in violation of Article 11 of the Constitution. The Torture Convention and the Constitutional Provision on Torture rather than CEDAW influenced interpretations in the Supreme Court. However the decisions are also in harmony with CEDAW General Recommendation No.19, and the UN Declaration on Violence against Women. These cases have enriched the Sri Lankan and regional jurisprudence on gender equality and violence against women.
While progress has been made, much remains to be done. Yet, patriarchal values and gendered norms continue to underpin many policies and programs, and inequalities are reinforced as women often internalize gender role stereotypes embedded in the perceptions of decision makers. Constitutions that do not have provisions on treaty incorporation have provisions or chapters on fundamental rights, which harmonize with international human rights treaties such as CEDAW. In Sri Lanka, marital rape is recognized only if the couples are judicially separated. The notion that the home is a private sphere and that the criminal law of the state should not interfere to prevent men from exercising their traditional rights is very strong in South Asia. 82 There have been some prosecutions for custodial violence in South Asia. In Sri Lanka in the famous case of Krishanthy Kumaraswamy83, the court handed the death penalty to the perpetrators. However, in most of the cases, there is no prosecution and the perpetrators are unpunished.
Jayarajan vs Jayarajan ,1999 The varied contours of violence against women in South Asia, Radhika Coomeraswamy, UNIFEM,2005. 83 Krishanty Kumaraswamy, aged 18, was allegedly gang-raped by 11 members of the Sri Lankan security forces and subsequently killed after she disappeared from the Kaithady checkpoint, Jaffna, on 7 September 1996.
The civil liberty of Sri Lankan women is hampered by long-standing social practices. The law grants women freedom of movement, but this right is limited in several ways. Traditions and customs that place the burden of domestic chores on women also confine women to their homes to varying degrees. Restrictions on female mobility and autonomy are strongest among Muslim and Indian Tamil communities. 84
In Sri Lanka, the Penal Code Amendments in 1995 was a major step forward with regard to meeting the challenge of violence against women. Rape is defined without the limiting words “against her will” and special provisions exist for judicially separated couples and statutory rape. There is enhanced punishment for custodial rape, rape of a pregnant woman, rape of someone under 18, rape of a mentally disabled person and gang rape. There are also provisions for mandatory sentencing. However, although cases of rape, child sexual abuse, and domestic
violence are increasingly reported in the press, they are in fact underreported. Sexual harassment is usually trivialized, and domestic violence and incest are often hidden under a veil of privacy. Services such as crisis centers, legal aid, and counseling to assist victims of violence are still limited. Militarization, owing to the armed ethnic conflict, has also increased opportunities for sexual violence.85 The Veddah community in Sri Lanka and some tribal groups such as the Bhils in India claim that this is their traditional practice. The Attorney General of Sri Lanka made a statement that he would not be prosecuting a young Veddah for rape even though the young girl had complained.86 Penal Code, Sri Lanka, Provisions on Abortion, Section 303: “Whoever voluntarily causes a woman to miscarry is punishable with a fine or imprisonment up to three years or both if such miscarriage is not caused in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of the woman. The CEDAW Committee’s Concluding Comments interpret the Article on health to indicate that States Parties must address the problem of illegal abortion, and provide services including access to information on family planning measures to prevent necessity of abortions. It has also
Sri Lanka: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women, UN (2005), MDG Country Report http://mdg.lk/index.htm, UN, New York. 85 Country gender assessment Sri Lanka, Asian Development Bank,2008. 86 The varied contours of violence against women in South Asia, Radhika Coomeraswamy, UNIFEM,2005.
advocated giving women the choice to terminate pregnancies caused by acts of violence such as rape and incest. This approach is already reflected in the laws of many countries. India has since the 1970’s permitted termination of pregnancy [Termination of Pregnancy Act (1971)]. Sri Lanka’s Penal Code already permits termination of pregnancy if done in good faith, in the event of risk to the life of the mother. Termination of pregnancy, in situations where the woman is a victim of violence is not covered by a direct provision, though it may come within the defense that it is done in good faith to save the life of the mother.87 Women still suffer from widespread inequality and gender discrimination in employment. Their unemployment rate has been double that of men since the 1970s and the quality of employment available to women has deteriorated, consisting chiefly of low-paying jobs, which require few skills, in the formal and informal sectors.88
The Sri Lankan Constitution provides for equal employment opportunities in the public sector. However, women have no legal protection against discrimination in the private sector, where they sometimes are paid less than men for equal work, often experience difficulty in rising to supervisory positions, and face sexual harassment.89 Furthermore, a majority of jobs available to women are in the unorganized and informal sectors, which are outside the purview of labour regulations. An example of this is the growing number of women engaged in the garment industry, who are prone to suffer physical disabilities directly linked to long hours of hard labour.90 Sri Lanka ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was in 1996. This Convention entered into force in 2003. In April 2008 the Sri Lankan Government, as part of its obligation under this Convention, submitted the First Periodic Country Report to the Committee on Migrant Workers. The foreign employment industry is the second largest earner of foreign exchange and contributes
CEDAW Committee dealt with the subject in a Concluding Comment on Sri Lanka Report 2002. Country gender assessment Sri Lanka, Asian Development Bank,2008 89 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Sri Lanka,2007. 90 The Truth behind Sri Lanka’s Gender Development Statistics, Nelathi De Soysa, 2000
substantially to the Sri Lankan economy. According to provisional data received from the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE),
“The Middle Eastern countries still remain as the major market for Sri Lankan labour since late 1970. Out of the Sri Lankan labour force proceeded for employment during the past decade, 70% of the labour had been exported in the category of unskilled sector of which nearly 66% had been female domestic workers.”91
Some of the more serious violations of the rights of migrant workers include the abuse and exploitation of migrants, violations of their terms of employment, lack of facilities to exercise their voting rights, right to freedom of movement, the role of consular and diplomatic missions, institutional mechanisms set up to deal with migrant workers, access to training and access to information. 92
Existing Domestic Violence Law and Reality in Sri Lanka
In UN's World Conference on Women that was held in Beijing, China in 1995, 189 governments including Sri Lanka gave a solemn promise to take action to prevent all forms of violence committed against women. The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act introduced in 2005. Any person who fears domestic violence can seek such a “Protection Order” issued for a period of 12 months by a magistrate, which bars the 'aggressor' from committing acts of domestic violence and entering the victim's residence among other prohibitions. Sri Lankan women battered by their spouses have been seeking refuge in a law enacted years ago to tackle domestic violence.93 According to a 2006 survey by the Ministry of Child Development and Women's Empowerment, more than 60% of women across Sri Lanka are victims of domestic violence, while 44% of pregnant women are also subjected to harassment. Moreover, there are no proper counseling centres or safe houses to protect Victims. Women In Need (WIN) runs many crisis centres across the country and has a shelter for survivors. So far it has obtained 33 protection Orders. In the police and the Judiciary give less recognition to complaints made by
Thirteenth Annual Statistical Report of Foreign Employment (2008), Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment On the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers’ and their Families, Sri Lanka NGO Shadow Report 2008 June, Prepared by The Action Network for Migrant Workers & The Women and Media Collective. 93 Women Battered Despite Domestic Violence Law , Feizal Samath , COLOMBO, Oct 11, 2007
women who have been subjected to domestic violence when compared to the complaints made by others who have been subjected to other forms of violence. A special mental and physical treatment system has to be implemented by these centers for the women who have become victims of domestic violence. Psychiatric treatment which is required for mental problems of such women who have been subjected to harassment is not provided sufficiently. In actual practice, these women are treated as offenders and not as victims.
The Government set up units of the Bureau for the Protection of Children and Women within Police Stations in 1994 to respond to calls for greater awareness and attention. In Sri Lanka, law and policy reform originates with the ministry responsible for a particular sector. The chief gender equality agencies – the MCDWE (Ministry of Child development and Women’s Affairs) and the National Committee on Women – are therefore required to both lead and coordinate initiatives to reform laws and mainstream gender to incorporate women’s rights and equality throughout the government. The various committees that were appointed to look into reforms of personal laws should also be continued and their recommendations acted upon. Several outstanding problems and issues facing IDP women, women migrant labour, war widows, and women from marginalized communities etc. require prudent, committed action. 94 Subjects and Functions of the Ministry of Child Care and Women’s Empowerment in Sri Lanka 95
Formulation of policies and programmes on early childhood development, co-ordinating such activities with the Provincial level committees, monitoring and follow-up plans
Formulation and implementation of plans, programmes and projects to provide equal opportunities for unprotected children while promoting and preserving their rights in keeping with national policies and international standards
Implementation of policies, plans and programmes in respect of women’s empowerment Implementation of policies and programmes for the advancement of quality of life for women
www.wluml.org/node www.priu.gov.lk/Ministries 2007/MinChild Dev women empower.htm
Increase of their participation in national development policies and other spheres of life The promotion of gender equity and gender justice The implementation of the Women’s Charter
However, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and other gender equality institutions are marginalized.96 Their authority and responsibility in national policy formulation and law reform continue to diminish. For example, the Ministry and the Committee have not yet been able to bring before Parliament the Women’s Rights Bill they prepared. The draft bill has been languishing in the Attorney General’s Department since 2005, and the chief gender agencies have not been able to address any problems.
In 2004, the Government proposed prohibiting workers with children under the age of 5 to travel overseas for jobs. The former Minister for women’s empowerment has justified such restrictions at a seminar. She was quoted as saying that “she had to think of the innocent children’s rights before considering women’s rights.”97 However, the proposal has not been accepted or enforced currently. After Beijing, Sri Lanka did adopt a national plan of action but there was no follow up on its implementation. Eventually, although ‘Women and Children Desks’ have been established in many Police Stations, further development is needed for these to function effectively and efficiently.
Sri Lanka is the only South Asian country that does not have a quota for women in representative bodies (national or local), although it has had two strong women leaders. 98 Despite functioning democratic institutions and processes as well as women’s right to vote since 1931, representation of women in formal political institutions has remained inadequate. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of women running for elections but that has not translated into their being elected.99 Various reasons for female candidates not being elected are discussed in my paper on ‘Women’s Representation in Politics and Administration in Sri Lanka.’
Budget appropriation details of Ministries of Sri Lanka: see Annexure 1. Daily News, 25 May 2007. 98 Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the world's first woman Prime Minister, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was Executive President of Sri Lanka from 14.11.1994 to 19.11.2005. 99 Sri Lanka Country Profile, Country Specific ARSH Information, UNESCO, Bangkok,, 2006
Comparative International Experiences in Promoting Informed Dialogues to Formulate Strategies for Protecting Women’s Rights
In 1993, NGOs in Nepal mobilized themselves and pressurized the Government to prepare the initial report to the CEDAW Committee. The Government of Nepal realized the importance of the role of NGOs during the preparation of the report. Thereafter, the drafting of the Tenth FiveYear Development Plan and the National Plan of Action to implement CEDAW has been in partnership with NGOs. An information package has been developed in English and Nepali on what the Convention is, training material for judges, local government officials and Parliamentarians have been developed along with posters on each Article of the Convention to popularize CEDAW. In preparing the periodic report to the CEDAW Committee, a drafting committee was appointed under the leadership of the Nepali Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare with representatives from different line ministries. An expert was appointed to provide technical support and consultations were held with the Government, civil society and individual experts. The draft was revised and finalized based on feedback by the National Committee. Initiatives to eliminate discrimination include the establishment of a National Commission for Women, review of discriminatory laws, efforts to suppress trafficking of women and girls, introduction of a reservation policy in the Ninth Plan for employment and training programmes for women, and promotion of women’s rights in the areas of political participation, education, employment, and healthcare. Nepal’s 11th Amendment to the Civil Code (2002) eliminated discrimination against unmarried women in inheritance laws, and also incorporated CEDAW standards.
Marital Rape Is a Crime in Nepal Nepal defined marital rape as “raping another’s wife” and the issue was raised that marital rape is not addressed when it pertains to ones own wife. The reaction from civil society was that Hinduism and the socio-cultural pattern was being challenged. The common argument was that marriage was a license for sex. In Nepal, religion is used as a basis to violate women’s human
rights. The Courts in Nepal interpreted this definition to include ‘own wife’ as well. The Court said that rape is violence against women, which is a crime against the State. The Court insisted that Hinduism does not say that a wife can be raped. The Court requested Parliament to pass a Bill which enables a woman to divorce her husband and seek compensation for marital rape.
The Government of India ratified CEDAW in 1993. The spirit of CEDAW has been incorporated into the National Policy for the Empowerment for Women; the National Plan of Action for the Empowerment Policy has been prepared. There is a National Credit Fund for poor women, which provides low interest rates.
The Bangalore Declaration (1988) and the Victoria Falls Declaration on Women’s Human Rights (1994) set down the core principles in this regard, and recognize the judiciary’s responsibility to bring international human rights into domestic legal systems. As the Declaration states, “national courts must, as a recognized part of the judicial function, consider the obligations of a country under international law in judicial interpretation.” “Even in the absence of specific incorporation of a treaty in a domestic legal system by Constitutions and legislation, there is always room for interpretation, due to ambiguities or uncertainties in the content of national constitution, legislation, and Common law.”100 Indian Supreme Court has been particularly active in
protecting the rights of women under the constitution. On 13 August 1997 the Supreme Court of India issued a landmark judgment against sexual harassment at the workplace, known as the ‘Vishaka judgment.’ It laid down the definition of sexual harassment, preventive measures and redress mechanisms. It also stipulated a mandatory complaint committee on sexual harassment at all workplaces and institutions.
Indian Government had a mutually reinforcing system of institutions to measure the efficacy of policies and laws that ensured equality for women. Such institutions included the National Commission for Women, a Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women and the Planning Commission of India. The National Commission for Women was an autonomous, high-
CEDAW A Manual 2006, pp24
powered statutory body established to consider cases of atrocities against women, gender discrimination, violation of provisions of the Constitution relating to the rights of women, all aspects of women’s empowerment and measures for the elimination of discrimination. All the Commission’s recommendations were taken up by the Department of Women and Child Development for further implementation. Its reports were brought before Parliament and it was expected to review periodically the constitutional safeguards and laws affecting women and to recommend amendments that might be needed. 101
Key enabling measures include the establishment of a National Commission on the Status of Women in 2000, the announcement of a National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women in 2002, and a gender audit of all national programmes, policies and budgets by the Ministry of Women’s Development. Other initiatives include micro-credit schemes with the First Women Bank, schemes to promote justice and provide support services to victims of violence, social audit to assess abuse in family and social services, and reservation of space for women in local government, provincial and national assemblies.
Women are obviously protected by the full range of rights including the rights to life, dignity, privacy and others guaranteed in the South African Constitution. Nevertheless, they receive specific protection under Section 9. The prohibition of discrimination on grounds of gender, sex, pregnancy and marital status is clearly intended to protect women. The grounds "sex," which is a biological feature, and "gender," a social construction, are both included. The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996 was passed to recognize women's reproductive health rights and prevent the sometimes fatal consequences of illegal backstreet abortions. The Act says a woman who wishes to terminate a pregnancy may do so in the first 12 weeks. From week 13 to week 20, abortion is available if a doctor advises, and after that only if there is risk to the woman or the fetus.
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Twenty-second session Summary record of the 462nd meeting Held at Headquarters, New York, 2000 102 www.constitutionalcourt.org.za/text/rights/know/women.htm
The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 2000 seeks to advance equality in public and private life. It provides a framework to tackle unfair discrimination, harassment and hate speech. The Act also provides for the establishment of Equality Courts. The Domestic Violence Act of 1998 recognizes that domestic violence is not a private matter but is a serious crime against society. The Act sets out what the Police must do when they arrive at a domestic violence scene. It recognizes that abuse may take many different forms: domestic violence, sexual abuse, economic abuse as well as emotional and psychological abuse. Victims can lay a criminal charge, get a protection order, get a Court order to have the abuser's gun removed and lodge a claim for pain and suffering as well as medical costs. Other remedies may also be available, depending on the exact nature of the abuse.
Suggestions for Formulating Recommendations and Steps to Be Taken to Promote Gender Equality through Law in Sri Lanka
Recommendations need to be formulated to deal effectively with the following problems: The paramount determining factor in CEDAW’s implementation is the political will of governments. In the Sri Lankan context, there is an apparent lack of such political will. There certainly appears to be little political will to provide sufficient resources for gender equality issues. In Nepal the key factor for effective implementation of CEDAW has been the sustained partnership between the Government and NGOs. In a wide scope, the achievement of gender equality required strong co-operation between Governments and NGOs, and all segments of society. In Sri Lanka, such inter-relations or robust partnerships are still not developed to a satisfactory degree. Lack of clarity among State parties regarding the content of Human Rights standards and mechanisms that need to be in place to ensure the effective implementation of women’s human rights: State parties are not clear about the role and place of CEDAW with regard to developing national legislation, judicial decisions, policies, programmes and mechanisms for
achieving gender equality and women's advancement. There is no consistent methodology or approach to assessing gaps and monitoring the progress of implementation of women's rights in Sri Lanka. Lack of appropriate and effective institutional arrangements: Women's human rights have not been adequately institutionalized into laws, judicial decisions, enforcement, policies, programmes or resource allocation of governments. Women’s lack of understanding about effective processes for claiming rights, i.e., rights of claimants and making demands from a rights-based approach: Women need to have greater awareness about their rights and the means to make claims and access remedies. Most women do not understand their rights as claimants. Women do not usually organize and mobilize to demand effective implementation of instruments guaranteeing their rights at the local and national level. Lack of expertise, methodologies and capacities in relation to CEDAW and its applications: There is a need to further strengthen the capacity of regional and national institutions such as intergovernmental organizations, United Nations agencies, other development organizations, donors and civil society organizations to provide support to national governments, organized civil society and NGOs to set standards, monitor and conduct human rights analysis from a gender perspective. Structural barriers to the effective application of CEDAW principles and norms: The lack of a “culture of compliance” with human rights standards makes it difficult for legal advances (legal reform, including progressive legislation) to have a positive impact in the lives of women. Impunity, cultural barriers, lack of means to redress discrimination, a dearth of effective remedies and difficulties in accessing the justice system are contributing factors that make it difficult to hold State parties accountable. Persistence of cultural and social value systems that marginalize women; Curricula and textbooks often reinforce gender stereotypes. Complex and deeply embedded cultural values tend to discourage women’s active participation in personal and professional development.
Founded on the prevailing culture, the legal system is gender-biased, and gives women inadequate protection - in both the legislative and procedural spheres. The legal system's traditional view of domestic violence as a private affair is an example of this. Lack of monitoring; women’s charter not passed as an Act; no national policy to empower women.
UNIFEM has already initiated the following tools for cooperation with partners in the Region to support implementation of the Convention: The first aspect of the strategy focuses on the application of the standards set out in CEDAW to the body of laws of a country; removing contradictions between existing laws and CEDAW articles, as well as initiating new legislation to more fully integrate these standards into the country’s legal framework. Effective enforcement of new standards integrated into a country’s legal framework requires a second emphasis. This involves changes in institutional structures and processes of the executive branch of the State that is tasked with implementing laws, as well as working with the judicial branch in relation to legal interpretation and enforcement. Changes are also needed to the way in which policies, plans and programmes of government are formulated, implemented, monitored and evaluated to ensure the integration of a women’s human rights perspective. The third strategic component is a critical, but often neglected, element. Still more work is needed to raise the public’s awareness of women’s human rights as guaranteed by CEDAW, in order to change values, attitudes and behaviors across society. Women need to understand that they have rights equal to those of men as set out in CEDAW, and they should know how to claim these rights. Similarly, men need to understand and respect these standards, and even actively assist in their promotion.
Possible Approaches to Protect and Promote Women’s Rights through Law
Improving Awareness of Women’s Human Rights and CEDAW One of the biggest obstacles in all sectors is the lack of awareness and full understanding about women’s human rights, especially in relation to the substantive content of CEDAW. Programmes should be designed to provide training activities, research and analysis on CEDAW. These will be useful to assess the extent to which women’s human rights have been realized, and determine what specific action should be taken to harmonize the legal system with CEDAW. Further, activities to popularize CEDAW and women’s human rights should use mass and alternative media to stimulate public awareness and discussion. All branches or organs of government, other non-government sectors particularly organized civil society and the general public need to be targeted. Strengthening the capacity of governments, organize civil society and the general citizenry to promote women’s human rights: In order to assist the effective implementation of CEDAW, it is necessary that all sectors are able to: (a) identify and play their respective roles in the implementation of CEDAW; and (b) work collaboratively where appropriate and possible to advance women’s equality. Training activities and technical assistance for the three organs of government and their partners on gender-responsive and rights-based approaches, and for organized civil society on using CEDAW for advancing women’s human rights should be undertaken. Mechanisms and procedures for the implementation of CEDAW and monitoring progress in implementation should be established and/or strengthened for State parties and organized civil society. Strengthening political will for CEDAW implementation in support of women’s claim of their equal rights The most effective political pressure for implementing CEDAW comes from within a country, especially from women and their organizations. As noted already, one of the critical constraining factors in the realization of women’s human rights is women’s lack of understanding of effective processes for claiming their rights. Activities must be undertaken to strengthen women’s ability to claim their human rights by increasing their understanding of how to claim such rights in selected substantive areas, strengthening the capacity of nongovernment organizations and their networks to support women in claiming their human
rights, and making institutional mechanisms and procedures more accessible for realizing women’s human rights. Support legal literacy awareness campaigns and legal aid provision for particularly vulnerable sub-groups of women including war widows in the North and East, female workers in the Export Promotion Zones, female migrant workers and support groups for domestic violence victims. Radio and television programmes may be appropriate media for these campaigns.
Joint Submission Made by the Collective of NGO’s to the Panel of Experts on Constitutional Reform in Sri Lanka 2006103
Socio-economic rights should be included in the Fundamental Rights Chapter. The rights to health-care, food, housing and education should be protected along with the right of children and young persons to be protected from economic and social exploitation.
Rights of Women The Fundamental Rights Chapter should incorporate a specific provision on violence against women. National as well as regional executives should be bound to take 'due diligence' measures to prevent violence against women and prosecute those who commit such violence. There should be a specific provision on the right to reproductive health along the lines of the programme of action of the International Conference on Population and Development. Given the significant role played by the private sector, the accountability for fundamental rights violations should be extended to private actors, along the lines of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Gender Equality Commission
The Constitution should make provision for the establishment of a Commission for Gender Equality. The responsibilities of the Commission should include monitoring and investigating complaints of gender discrimination, in addition to educating, advising and reporting on relevant gender issues. The Commission should have regional offices to enable greater public access. It should also make recommendations with regard to law reform and statutory policy.
Submission to the Panel of Experts Appointed By H.E. the President on the National Question, Women and Media Collective, 2006.
The areas of concern identified in the Concluding Comments of the CEDAW Committee include - the elimination of discriminatory laws; gender sensitization of policy makers; mechanism for gender disaggregated data; reproductive rights; trafficking in women and children; opportunities for participation in decision-making; combating discriminatory customs and practices; equal employment opportunities for women; and wider dissemination of Concluding Comments. Weak institutional mechanisms and an increase in insurgency provide additional challenges.
Suggestions for Specific Legal Reforms
State policies and strategies should be formulated in a gender-responsive and gendersensitized manner. The Number of women Judges should be increased, 104 and more females should be promoted as higher-ranking Officers in the Police Department. Personal laws should be amended to fall into line with the 21st century requirements. A Women’s Bill of Rights as well as a Bill of Protection for Victims of Crimes have to be passed in Parliament. The provisions of the Beijing Platform of Action and Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security should be incorporated into our body of national legislation. Improve awareness of women’s human rights and deepen understanding of CEDAW by State organs – especially law enforcement personnel and organized civil society groups, including women’s NGOs. Analyzing the budget to ensure resources allocated to law enforcement agencies. Social and Economic Rights should be incorporated as Fundamental Rights. The implementation of a Treaty requires a range of measures that include legislation, policies, institutional arrangements, budgetary allocation and resources for delivery of services and programmes. Treaty implementation presupposes that individuals who are the beneficiaries of rights, the State and civil society organizations will be aware of the rights recognized, and the commitments on implementation.
Current figures: Women Judges in Supreme Court - 2 out of 10, Court of Appeal - 2 out of 11.
The core norms of CEDAW can be incorporated in National Constitutions or general legislation on equality such as Equal Opportunities legislation. The Indian reforms were largely due to a consistent campaign by women activists. Hence campaigning cannot stop. Our focus now is on the implementation of the new law. Our efforts are now on getting information about the law to the whole community, and especially to the formal components of the justice system - the police, the prosecutors and the courts. The elimination of gender role stereotypes in curriculum materials in education and training institutions should also be promoted. Another emerging need is to provide women with higher technological and management skills to enable them to move upward in their professions and participate in high-level decision making. Develop skills in gender analysis, create gender-sensitive indicators, and institute gender audits to mainstream gender into all policies, plans, and programs. Foster the effective participation of potential women leaders in political affairs and governance; and advocate a Women’s Rights Bill, law reform, and stronger enforcement of laws to ensure women’s rights. The way the Police act in situations where women come to Police Stations with complaints cannot be changed unless the Police officers are educated on gender sensitive issues. The institutional structure of the Police can be strengthened by giving a better training to the Police officers to handle these types of cases methodically and establishing a special unit in the police station for this purpose. Eventually special units for women and children have been established in police stations, they need further development. Methods of obtaining evidence in the legal system must be reconsidered in order to prevent prejudiced and improper attacks on the character of a woman who has been subjected to harassment when she is called to give evidence before a Court of Law. The Government should take steps to prevent ill treatment and prejudices that women face inside the Police Station. These include: establishing an independent mechanism to monitor the way in which the police treat the affected women, taking suitable disciplinary action against the police officers who reject the complaints without any reasonable grounds, or harass the complainants and their family members or disturb the investigations in any other way.
Safe houses should be provided for women who are subjected to domestic violence. However, these houses should not be detention camps, and have to be planned in such a way that the inmates should have the freedom of movement as well as freedom of maintaining their personalities. All persons who conduct investigations (i.e. members of the staff of emergency services in hospitals including the Judicial Medical Officers working in government and private hospitals) on women who have been subjected to domestic or sexual harassment should be trained to use special methods in collecting evidence and conducting investigations on incidents of sexual and domestic violence. The Judicial Medical Officers should be trained on the use of language and the way the medical evidence should be submitted in a Court of Law. NGOs can also give information on impact made, progress and best practices. The gaps in policies can be discussed. NGOs and civil society can play an important role in influencing international processes and demand / appeal for international support. Conduct training on gender sensitization and CEDAW for the Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and civil society. Amend abortion law/provide family planning services and reproductive health education. Preparation of a results-based priority gender equality action plan. Developing a monitoring and evaluation system to review women’s empowerment and gender equality perspective. Teachers should be better trained in gender-sensitive teaching and learning approaches Gender perspectives should be increased in mass media content. Building stronger women's organizations and networks so that women themselves have the power to negotiate new and better policies with their governments and international agencies. Building an operational knowledge base that documents ways and means of empowering women, which is accessible to other stakeholders in the development process. Draft national plans of action; ensure a trained and sensitive criminal justice system, build support systems for victims and sensitize health professionals.
An Introductory Guide, Towards Substantive Equality, Law & Society Trust, 2001. Catharine A. MacKinnon, Toward a feminist theory of the state Harvard University Press, 1989. CEDAW a Manual, CENWOR 2006. Coomaraswamy, Radhika, The Varied Contours of Violence against Women in South Asia, UNIFEM, 2005. Country Gender Assessment Sri Lanka, Asian Development Bank,2008. CEDAW Committee dealt with the subject in a Concluding Comment on Sri Lanka Report 2002. Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Sri Lanka, Law and society Trust, 2007. De Soysa, Nelanthi, The Truth behind Sri Lanka’s Gender Development Statistics, 2000 MacKinnon, Catharine A, Women's Lives, Men's Laws, Harvard university press, 2007. Jayawardena, Kumari & Malathi de Alwis (ed.) Embodied Violence; Communalising women’s sexuality in South Asia, kali for women, 1996. Mataramunti, Ratna, Domestic violence: Justice for women? Third World Resurgence No. 191, July 2006. Goonesekere, S. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Some aspects of the Sri Lankan situation, Centre for Women’s Research: 1989 Goonesekere, Savitri. A Rights-based Approach to Realizing Gender Equality, 1998. Goonesekere, Savitri. Violence, Law and Women's Rights in South Asia, Sage Publications Pvt. Ltd, 2004. Hub, Sabine Backgrounder Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, University of British Colombia, 2004 MacKinnon, Catharine A. “On Exceptionality: Women as Women in Law.” In her Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Law and Life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987. Pateman, Carole, The Disorder of Women; Democracy, Feminism, and Political Theory, Polity Press, 1989. Property Ownership & Inheritance Rights of Women for Social Protection – the South Asia Experience, Synthesis Report of Three Studies, International Centre for Research on Women, 2006
Sen, Amartya, Population and Gender Equity Journal of Public Health Policy, Vol. 22, No. 2, 169-174 Palgrave Macmillan Journals, 2001. Samath, Feizal ,Women Battered Despite Domestic Violence Law , Colombo, 2007. Sri Lanka NGO Shadow Report, on the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers’ and their Families, The Action Network for Migrant Workers & The Women and Media Collective, 2008. Sri Lanka Shadow Report on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Centre for Women’s Research (CENWOR), 2001. Sri Lanka: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women, MDG Country Report, UN (2005). Thiruchandran, Selvy & Nelufer De Mel, (ed.): At the Cutting Edge, essays in Honour of Kumari Jayawardena, Women Unlimited, 2007. Thirteenth Annual Statistical Report of Foreign Employment, Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, 2008 Uyangoda, Jayadeva (ed.) Matters of Violence: second edition, SSA Colombo, 2008. UN Report of the Inter-Agency Workshop on Implementing a Human Rights Approach in the Context of UN Reform, 2001 Women and Land Rights in Irrigation Settlement Schemes in Sri Lanka (Study Series No.35) International Centre for Research on Women, 2006. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform www.priu.gov.lk/Ministries 2007/MinChild Dev women empower.htm http://mdg.lk/index.htm, UN, New York. http://www.twnside.org http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/news/savitri.htm. www.constitutionalcourt.org.za/text/rights/know/women.htm
Societal Barriers for Women’s participation in Politics and Public Affairs in Sri Lanka
Women’s participation in politics and public affairs has been a widely discussed topic in Sri Lanka since early 70s. The Sri Lankan state and nongovernmental actors paid a special interest in both conducting research on women’s status in Sri Lanka and taking measures to eradicate inequalities in women’s participation in public sphere and bettering their personal lives when the UN declared 1975 as women’s year. Since Sri Lanka is a state that embraced democracy as the
main political principal for organising politics, economy and society, its constitution promises that all people of Sri Lanka will be able to enjoy the rights as full citizens granted through fundamentals of democracy, i.e. freedom and equality, regardless of their class, caste, ethnicity or sex. Nevertheless, this has been not put into practice and though women comprised more than half the population of Sri Lanka, they do not enjoy rights and freedom as full citizens in both 83
public and private lives. Though it appears women have, made progress since UN declared women’s decade, it is a slow progress and women are still excluded and marginalised in both in politics and public affairs. Therefore, this paper will address the question why women have been marginalised and excluded even after national and international actors intervened to eradicate inequalities that hinders women’s participation in public sphere with special attention to politics and public affairs. This paper will provide a conceptual interpretation at the beginning to provide and understanding of the main concepts that will be dealt with to discuss the issues related to the question raised in the paper. In the second part I will discuss what the constraints are, that is in place in Sri Lanka to limit women’s participation in politics and public affairs. The third section will explore what the measures are taken by above mentioned actors to overcome these barriers, and final part will look into the successes and failures of these measures and what can be learned from experiences elsewhere. Finally, the conclusion will draw up the main findings and will examine what can be done to overcome the barriers that hinder women’s participation in public sphere. Conceptualisation of politics and public Affairs: This section will give an understanding to how politics and public affairs is understood and interpreted as concepts that govern peoples participations in public sphere.
Politics is the process that helps people in a country or a society to make collective decisions. Usually politics is associated with affairs related to state. Hence, politics is usually understood as: • the art and process of governing; concerning a polity or its administrative components • • • the study of government of states and other political units the opinion you hold with respect to political questions the activities and affairs involved in managing a state or a government;
According to Frazer (1998) this traditional emphasis on what politics is, considered by feminist political theorists as an explanation that limits, only to explain and discuss politics:
As a particular form of governance: focus is upon particular set of institutions. [Legislature, executive, judiciary] and subsidiary agencies – bureaucracy, police, courts.
Competition for power to govern – focus is upon political parties, factions, and interest groups etc as centers of powers that can be bases for claims to the power to govern.
In their resistance to this explanation, feminist political theorists have pointed out that this traditional way of conceptualising has limitations in understanding what politics is. In their opinion, defining politics as above, excluded and marginalised women’s political participation. By examining, the evolution of political ideologies and theories that evolved in Europe, which provides foundations for political systems in the whole world today, feminists have pointed out that thinkers who formulated these ideologies and theories have taken the existing social scripts of the time on private public dichotomies and decided politics belonged to men. For example, Aristotle separated and contrasted polis (ancient Greek unit for governing) from the household, and Hegel and Rousseau used sex difference to separate private and public sphere, and as a result of this the theories and ideologies that govern politics exclude and marginalise women. With these types of debates, the scope of the concept politics has been broadened and thus today politics means: • • Politics – is the practice of , and study of, the power to govern; ‘practice of’ also includes being organized, exercise and influence or pressure governments, and, the resistance to governance and government (Frazer,1998).
Therefore, what politics mean go beyond describing forms of governance and competition for power to govern. It implies that any action taken to change society can be considered as politics.
According to the public affairs website, public affairs means:
[Public affairs is a term used to describe] an organisation’s relationship with stakeholders. These are individuals or groups with an interest in the organisation's affairs, such as MPs, civil servants, shareholders, customers, clients, trade associations, think tanks, business groups, unions and the media. Public affairs practitioners engage stakeholders in order to explain the organisation's policies, provide statistical and factual information and to lobby on issues which could impact upon the organisation's ability to operate successfully. Their work combines government relations, media communications, issue management, corporate and social responsibility information dissemination and strategic communications advice. They aim to influence public policy, build and maintain a strong reputation and find a common ground with these stakeholders. Public affairs practitioners can be described by a whole host of different words in job titles including: public affairs, policy, government affairs, government relations, parliamentary affairs, parliamentary relations, European affairs, political advisor, political researcher, external affairs, external relations, campaigns, corporate communications, corporate affairs, stakeholder relations and stakeholder management. (Public affairs networking , 2010) This long quotation tells us what public affairs is, who are involved in public affairs and what they do. In general, people who lobby, intervene or pressurise for various social issues such as development, poverty alleviation, environmental issues engage in public affairs. Though the above quotation refers to lobbying and organisation, public affairs can be carried out by individuals as well. However, the aim is to be critically engaged in questioning public policies and work for social change. Nevertheless, research done on women’s participation in public affairs has shown that very often women are marginalised and excluded in participating in public affairs.
Women’s participation in politics and public affairs in Sri Lanka.
Vicky Randall states that women’s low participation in politics is universal especially where ‘political power is concentrated’ (Randall, 1987:95). This is the case in Sri Lanka, where in 86
general, women’s political participation at grass root level as activists is increasing but they are under-represented in political parties as leaders and at decision making level. There were and are no formal barriers for women to contest or engage in political activities. Women of the upper class and proletarian class visibly engaged in politics during the early twentieth century. Partly as a consequence of their activities, Sri Lankan women won the right to vote, enter into parliamentary politics and many workplace rights. However, there was no demand for women’s full participation in politics. It is well known that many upper middle class women entered politics through their fathers, brothers or husbands and worked in their shadows. Next I will explore some facts that are central to exclusion or marginalisation of Sri Lankan women in participating politics and public affairs. The attitude of the political elite of Sri Lanka The reasons for women’s exclusion and marginalisation in politics and public affairs can be traced back to the British colonial period. It was the British who introduced a political system based on liberal democratic principles, and the political representation to Sri Lanka in 1832 under the Colebrook Cameron Reforms. However, representation was limited representation based on ethnic differences and right to vote was also limited to people who were wealthy and educated. As it was the practice in the UK, women in Sri Lanka also did not have right to vote. However, it was under the Donoughmore reforms that women were granted right to vote. When the commission convened it noted, that though the political elite clamour for responsible government, they are not willing to extend franchise to common people and especially to women. The political leaders said that women are uneducated, ignorant, can be easily manipulated and deceived and therefore they will not be able to exercise their vote in an intelligent manner. The commission noted that women’s status is not good at all, and they should be given the right to vote so they can voice their concerns as well, but the age for women to vote was set higher than that of men (Donoughmore Commission Report, 1969)
Nationalist ideology that emerged during the British colonial period
The other force that had a strong impact upon deciding women’s participation in politics and public affairs was the nationalist movement that emerged against British colonialism. Selvy Thiruchandran (1997) states that unlike in other Asian countries such as India, gender was not on the programme of any early nationalist movements in Sri Lanka. My assumption is that what she meant by this is that the nationalist movement did not include the women’s question in their
agenda. Nevertheless, I would like to argue that the gender biased attitudes of the male nationalist leaders actively, overtly and covertly discouraged women’s participation in politics. The Sinhala nationalist leaders reinforced the idea that women belong to household by saying that the Aryan Sinhala Buddhist woman’s duty for the country is to be an ideal Buddhist housewife, and that such a woman achieves her independence by being in her ‘correct’ place in society. Their opinion was that while men work to develop the country women should serve the nation by taking care of men and by bringing up children with strong nationalist sentiments. There was no place for strong women leaders in this utopia.(jayawardena, 2003)
Women became Members of Parliament or Ministers, including the late Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike, and her daughter who was a former president of Sri Lanka. However, many of them including mother and daughter duo president Chandrika Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga and Sirima Bandaranaike entered politics when their father or husband were assassinated, and often they would back their political position on the pledge to carry out their father’s or husband’s political vision. The idea that women should serve the country and nation by taking care of the family and raising patriotic children was not absent from these women’s minds. Malathi de Alwis (1994) points out that women politicians extended the role in the family to the nation by affirming that their duty for the country is social welfare work.
These ideas have had a profound impact upon deciding women’s participation in politics and public affairs. In Sri Lanka, the general idea that prevails in society today is women are not suitable to be leaders and they are not capable in making decisions.
Parallel to the emergence of the Sinhalese nationalist sentiments in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was a resurgence of nationalistic sentiments among the Tamils and Muslims of Sri Lanka. However, with the dominance of the Sinhalese, the Tamils and Muslims have not become very prominent in the movement against the British colonialism. There are only a handful of studies done about these involvements and even these are mainly related to the ethnic conflict. However, studies done by Selvi Thiruchandran show, that the ideological positioning of the Tamil- speaking male elite political leadership was not different from the Sinhala male leadership and therefore Tamil women are invisible in governing bodies. According to Thiruchandran (1997), Ramanathan, one of the prominent Tamil nationalist leader stated to the
Donoughmore commission that giving franchise to the caste groups lower than high caste wellala and women is a grave mistake as it will not only pave way for governing the country by undisciplined groups, but it is also repulsive according to the Hindu way of life (Thiruchandran, 1998). Nevertheless, since 1970s, it was the militant groups in the North and East that
accommodated Tamil women in their war against the Sri Lanka government in greater numbers. However, even within these militant groups, the concern was to engage women as combatants and they were not involved in the political leadership or military leadership in an equal manner.
Women’s attitude towards politics
Published research on women and politics in Sri Lanka shows that the proportion of women in parliament is very low and the main reasons for this are motherhood and domestic responsibilities, attitudes of the community, the violent political culture and slandering during elections (Liyanage 1992; De Silva, 1995a, 1995b; Thiruchandran, 1997). Because women’s attitude towards politics was important, when I was gathering data for my PhD, at the end of interviews I asked from several women what they thought about participating in politics because the majority did not speak about it early. The response from many interviewees was that they do not like to be politically active. They thought politics was for men. This is not because they thought men were more intelligent than women but because of the violent political culture and the attitudes of people towards women’s active political participation in Sri Lanka. Podi (Age 54), an older interviewee from Badulla said she preferred to cast her vote and be quiet rather than dancing on the roads with her clothes raised. What she meant by this statement was that politics is very much a public affair and women have to behave in an ‘un-feminine’ way and, therefore, it is not appropriate for women (Jyawardena, 2003).
Violent political culture
It seems it is very difficult for women to be active participants in politics with the increasingly violent political culture of the post independence era as women’s experience of violence differs from men’s. During the last general election in December 2001, the clothes of a woman
participating in a political procession were forcibly removed and she was paraded around halfnaked after she participated in a parade posing as President Chandrika Bandaranaike. Another woman’s house was torched and she received death threats. Though the violence in politics is not
based on gender and both men and women have to face it, women particularly find it difficult because mudslinging and sexual harassment have a more profound impact on women than on men.
Two interviewees spoke about their experience in politics for my PhD study. One is an active member of the United National Party, which was the opposition party until December 2001. The other was an active member of the Janantha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Party), which staged two unsuccessful uprisings in 1971 and during the late 1980s. Their accounts clearly show the difficulty women face when actively engaged in politics. Though this was not expressed explicitly, it is clear that one’s gender has an influence on participation in politics.
The first woman said one has to forget that one is a woman when contesting in an election. She contested in local elections under the United National Party. At that time she was working in a non-governmental organisation funded by foreign aid and working independently in her area. Even before she filed her nomination papers, she was summoned by the Director of that organisation and was informed that they would have to ask for her resignation if she filed nominations because a Deputy Minister from her area had asked the organisation not to keep her. The director asked her not to contest but she went ahead because she did not want to betray her party. She lost her job and was unemployed at the time the interview was done. She was also harassed by other candidates of her own political party during the election campaign, mainly because of the competition even among candidates from the same party. They covered her posters by putting their own posters on top of hers. She said that she had heated arguments with them. Once when she went for a propaganda meeting in another area around midnight, she found that the road was blocked with logs to prevent them from going to the meeting. The driver begged her not to proceed but she was determined to go to the meeting. However, she lost the election. She thought being a woman is not an obstacle but one needs heavy financial support and one should be bold enough to face the harassment.
The other interviewee was an active member of the JVP during the 1980’s insurrection. JVP was a banned political party at that time and was conducting secret recruitment and political classes in order to stage their second uprising. She became a member during her school days. She did various duties (which she did not disclose) for the JVP and used to come home around 2 a. m.,
but the family did not protest because the JVP did not tolerate critics and would not hesitate to kill. However, she had to go into hiding because her villagers informed the armed forces about her. While she was in hiding, the government ruthlessly cracked down on the JVP with the help of para-military groups. Her family managed to put her in a school in the same area after the insurrection. However, the army tracked her down there and took her into custody. She and another girl were forced to remove their clothes and they were suspended naked from the roof by tying their wrists, and they were taken down only to eat a little amount of food, and were also sexually harassed by the soldiers. She said there was no vaginal penetration but the drunken soldiers put their penises all over the girl’s faces, mouths and underarm. The other girl that was arrested with her said it isn’t worth living and she thinks what the girl meant was that there is no point of living if vaginal rape has taken place. The interviewee said she was more concerned about being alive than about her virginity. After ten days she was rescued by the head mistress of her school hostel. The head mistress used her influence as she was having a sexual affair with the Captain of the army camp. The other girl spent three months in the camp. When this interviewee was released from the army camp, the JVP had threatened her because they believed she was released early because she betrayed the JVP. After a while she left the JVP because she
understood that women have no significant place in their politics. Women were used to design posters, to take messages and they were supposed to carry out men’s orders. She said the male members did not want to listen to or respect her opinions.
The two harrowing experiences of these women show why women are not willing to be active in politics. The accounts of these two interviewees show that women in Sri Lanka face violence in party politics differently from men. Unlike men they have to face the threat of sexual harassment and it is highly likely that the social humiliation associated with that generates fear and reluctance in women about becoming actively engaged in politics.
Women are not born to be leaders
Another factor is that still women are not seen as strong leaders and the importance of their political participation is measured through femininity rather than ability. During the general election of 2000, the Minister of Women’s Affairs appealed for more women to contest elections because she said that it would curb the election violence. In writing to political parties, she said, ‘When election activities are conducted under the leadership of womenfolk, there is a tendency to
lessen thuggery and unruly behaviour’ (WIRE, 2000). This statement shows that prevailing stereotypes of women in Sri Lanka generates the idea that women should be in parliament not to govern but to curb violence.
Even when women members have been elected to central government they were always assigned to ministries that work for social and cultural improvements. They are not appointed to
ministries such as foreign affairs or ministries that carry critical developmental work. It seems that having the world’s first woman Prime Minister, or even having a woman as the President of the country, did not do much to change the situation. Having more women members in
parliament is also not going to help if these women continue to preach the same gender biased attitudes of the community. A newly elected middle aged female Member of Parliament was interviewed on television just after a general election and was asked what she would do to improve women’s status. She said she would work for women, not to achieve equal status but to safeguard their ‘correct’ place. This is the attitude of many women representatives in the parliament. This shows that the Sinhala Buddhist ideology that emerged in the British colonial era still has a profound effect in understanding women’s participation in politics and public affairs. As I have said earlier the debate always fluctuates within whether women should have an equal place or should work to safeguard their correct place. Correct place is the most approved and accepted place and it puts constraints on women to limit their mobility in public space. Very recently, at the general elections president Rajapkasa said he will not give equality to women but he will assign a noble place for women. Assigning places, especially by males regardless
whether it is correct or noble do not improve women’s status within society, community or family. When a ‘place’ is assigned, certain parameters are set to determine the place and if women are not adhering to these parameters they will not be considered as good enough to achieve respect and societal acceptance. What women in Sri Lanka need is to have the opportunity to be full citizens in order to enjoy the rights and freedoms granted in the constitution and earn equal social worth. This what meant by feminists when agitate for equality, however, this has been misunderstood in many countries as demanding to be like ‘men’ and therefore, in Sri Lanka too as in other countries there is a resistance to women’s equality.
Why are politics so violent in Sri Lanka? Clearly, it has to do with the civil conflict that has raged in Sri Lanka for the last 20 years. But it has more to
do with the very nature of Sri Lanka’s political culture. This is a political culture that focuses on the quest for power with very little concern paid to civil service, civic responsibility, serving constituents, or to public service as a part of the process. Politics comes down to who is going to control public resources, and who is going to benefit from the privileged access to public resources (McKenna ,1999:08)
As McKenna points out
representative politics in
is increasingly lacking in
democratisation. Having a democratic system in place is not enough to safeguard democracy. It is democratisation that promotes and safeguard democracy in a country and if that not happens within politics and public affairs women will be further marginalised. The studies on women’s political participation in Sri Lanka very often cites that patriarchal relations practised in family and public space discourage women from participating in politics and public affairs. Though there are no formal or legal barriers for women’s participation, inculcated ideas in society constrain women entering into decision making bodies.
Gender based Constraints within political parties and lack of finance
I have met women political representatives at local and grass root level at several workshops and one of their complaint is that it is very difficult to rise to the level of getting nominated within a political party even for local elections in Sri Lanka. The top hierarchy of political parties always favour men in giving leadership roles. If a person is not given a responsible role he or she is not in a position to work with the public and gain popularity and support of the people. Another fact brought into attention by them is that lack of financial support from the party when they are nominated to contest. As women do not posses property or save much, they have great difficulties in carrying out a successful campaign. Even when they are elected, according to them it is very difficult to receive financial aid from the member of parliament or from a minister to carry out public work in the areas they represent as these members or minsters (more often than not are men) are reluctant to allocate money. According to them they work with some non governmental agencies to acquire funds that need to carry out developmental work in the area in order to receive public attention and support.
Women’s understanding of what is politics and public affairs
Another important fact I have observed in the workshops conducted for female political leaders was that women themselves have not grasped the full implications of participating in politics and public affairs. As McKenna quoted above correctly points out politics has become a source for having power to control public resources. However, when asked the question why are you in politics the reply given was to serve their constituencies and safeguard women’s rights, in the discussion it was admitted helping the family, relations and friends to secure jobs and other ways of earning is very much on the agenda. Even though almost all the political parties have a party manifesto and was tactful enough to include a part on women’s rights and gender securities, when asked how many of them have read the manifesto, the answer was always very negative. Once a participant told me in the 1960s the leftist parties used to conduct residential seminars in Colombo for party members to raise awareness and educate them on political affairs and she said they learned a lot from these seminars. Except a few political parties are not interested in educating their members nowadays and therefore, that has an adverse effect especially on women. According to these women political leaders it is nongovernmental organisations that carry out such education programmes now and it is not enough.
One of the most significant factors that constrain women’s activities in politics and public affairs is their non understanding of what is politics and public affairs. One question I ask from women who are working in women’s NGOs and from the female political leaders is, what they think they are doing and always the answer was they are doing a ‘social service’. They understand politics or public affairs as a social service that provides relief for destitute women. I have not met so far a woman who said she is working to change the society. This attitude should be analysed within the specific context that developed from the late colonial rule in Sri Lanka. Economists have explained (Jayasooruya, 2004) how electoral politics that has entwined with social welfare started at the late colonial rule is decisive in selecting representatives at elections in Sri Lanka. What is imply in that is that representatives and governments are elected to give things to people and not to safeguard people’s sovereignty granted in the constitution or to bring about social change that would enhance equal opportunities for people to eradicate existing exclusions in politics, economy and society. marginalisations and
Prejudices against women
The prejudices that have been inculcated by women against women also play a significant part in constraining women’s participation in politics and public affairs. Though it was said that these women leaders’ main concern is safeguarding women’s rights and help to increase women’s status within society, they do not go beyond their own political party’s limits to achieve this. They do not organise to protest when female members within their own party or in another political party is being harassed. The incident I have cited preceding is a good example. When this woman was paraded half naked for impersonating president Chandrika Bandaranaiyeka there was no protest from women political leaders. According to the same women political leaders, their husbands do not bar them from participating in politics or public activities as long as they give priority to family affairs. Therefore, though they were given permission to engage in public affairs, they were expected to fulfil their household duties, which, when neglected resulted in conflicts in the family and women being stressed. Thus, the idea that women are homemakers hampers their full participation in public sphere and put barriers on activities carried out to building up or expanding their vote base and at a disadvantage unlike male political representatives or candidates.
The harrowing experiences women have to face when engaging in politics and public affairs has resulted in internalising the attitude that such engagements are more suitable for men and they do not encourage their daughters or female relatives or friends to participate in such activities. Male members of political parties and social movements that involved in public affairs very often endorse this. I would like to share one of my personal experiences regarding this. Recently I carried out a research on women and democracy in Sri Lanka. In an upcountry area I have interviewed a full time party member who sacrificed her private life for the party and trade union activities. Since it was late for her to go to another meeting, when we finished the interview I have offered a ride to the railway station and two male members of the party also joined us. During the interview she said that when economic equality is achieved, women will achieve equality within society. Citing an article written by a female member of Soviet communist party I asked her whether she thinks that the societal constructions of gender differences prevails in society that creates hierarchical relations between men and women, will be eradicated by just equal distribution of wealth in Sri Lanka and let women fully participate in public sphere. I further added this was a question not adequately addressed in Marxism or communism. One of
the male members with us quickly said I will answer that question and started telling me why communist rule collapsed in USSR and I told him that was not what I have asked. Then he told me I should read communist manifesto as it included women. I informed him the communist manifesto I have read certainly talk about women but do not address the issue I have raised.
Then I have asked how many women there are in the executive council, how many women are engaged in activities such as organising propaganda meetings and pasting posters and how many women are engaged in door-to-door campaign and things like clerical work and make tea. His answer was ‘women are not intelligent enough to carry out serious work’. Such attitudes are reinforced in activities carried out by both political parties and nongovernmental organisations and creates a negative impact on women’s participation in politics and public affairs.
Barriers in Participating in public affairs
Women’s participation in public affairs in Sri Lanka is much better compared to their participation in procedural democracy. The women I have interviewed for my paper on women and democracy expressed their discontent with elected representatives. Though there is trust placed on democracy and democratic institutions, elected members were mentioned with contempt. One of the interviews mentioning an elected female representative said ‘she used to move around street freely before being elected and now she has to go around with a group of body guards and we cannot get close to her. If there is no guarantee for the safety of her life, how can she serve us?’ Many women informed me that they have formed local movements for resistance and work with grass root level nongovernmental organisations to protest against environmental issue such as river sand mining in the area or to find solutions to issues such as getting released the imprisoned fishermen in India. Many women are engaged in activities
related to development and eradicating economic inequalities too.
Nevertheless, my observations points to two main constraints that hinder women’s full and equal participation in public affairs. First, the hierarchical relations maintained between the officers of these organisations’ and their stake holders. Though programmes are designed to ensure stakeholders take part in decision making, a distance is maintained between the officers and stakeholders. Very often the officers are being addressed as Sir or Madam by stakeholders. When conducting workshops or programmes, very often I have seen that officers’ use a commanding
tone when addressing stakeholders. In such contexts it is difficult to improve women’s capabilities and skills for leadership and decision making.
Second, is the manner in which awareness raising programmes are conducted. Awareness raising is considered as very important and successful tool in the eradication of socially constructed attitudes, norms and behaviours that produce inequalities within societies. Even though awareness raising is included in almost every public affairs program it is just a section in the programme and includes only the stakeholders. Many a times I have been told by women ‘ it is not enough bringing us only, our men also should listen to these things’. Since many
programmes are designed for destitute people, middle class people are most of the time excluded. If an organisation is striving to eradicate inequalities in society, it should pay serious attention to conducting awareness raising programmes that includes not only stakeholders but, generally, people living in the area. Because legislative and legal changes brought to better women’s lives may not work to the full effect if social values, norms, attitudes and traditions that constraints to women’s participation in politics and public affairs have not changed. put
Another issue related to awareness raising I have experienced and observed is the fear and reluctance to address certain issues, especially issues related to culture and tradition of this country, that may hinder women’s participation and equal access. Sometimes the attitude of the officers in both government and nongovernment sector is that it is better to adhere to ‘ancient traditions’ because they are there to control human behaviour so they prevent conflicts and it is better to keep the people, especially rural people in ignorance because they are not intelligent enough to understand what has been discussed. For example, there is an attitude prevailing that sex education is bad because people, especially young people try to experiment with what has been taught. It can be argued that knowledge may be bad but learning things will widen the people’s scope of choices whereas ignorance prevents people from making intelligent and meaningful decisions.
Consequences of the societal barriers
Some tables provided in Lanka Report (1994) tells us the real scenario of women’s participation, representative political bodies, and public offices. According to the table 9 on page 15 in 194, out of 95 elected members 03 were females and the highest number of elected females was in
1989 (11 members) but that was out of 196 seats. Proportion wise it shows an increase as 3.2 from 1947 to 5.2 in 1989 but it clearly shows that it is males who dominate the most crucial decision making institution in Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka Report, 1994). Since 1989 proportion of elected females remain more or less the same and at 2010 general election 213 men were elected but female representation is only 12 (5.33 by proportion). At local level female representation is much lower than that. According to the same report proportion of female representation at provincial council level remains as 4.0 while respectively at municipal councils and urban councils the representation is as low as 2.3 and 1.4 (ibid). Though there is an increase of female representation at governing bodies compare to last few decades there is a high disparity according to the sex difference. The same report also shows that percentage of females appointed to higher posts at the national and local decision-making bodies is very low.
These statics tells us that though state and other actors have been engaged in various measures in Sri Lanka to assure women are included in politics and incorporate them into developmental activities, women are still highly marginalised or ignored in practise due to the reason I have mentioned in this section. In the next section I will look at some of these major actions taken up by both state and non state actors.
Measures taken by the government and nongovernmental actors and their success or failures:
The United Nations:
It was the United Nations that gave a wider recognition to women’s issues and gendered barriers to women’s enjoyment of rights as equal citizens by declaring women’s decade in the 1970s. The impact of the feminist movement as a social movement highly influenced the world order in the 20th century. The focal point was the Beijing World Conference on Women. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action announced to the world the strategic goals and actions that should be undertaken to overcome obstacles to the promotion of women’s rights. It has celebrated the 15th anniversary in 2010 and from its first meeting the representatives from all over the world
have met and announced to the world the strategic goals and actions that should be undertaken to overcome obstacles to the promotion of women’s rights. Another major step taken by the UN towards eradication of discrimination at all levels for women is the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly on "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century" in 2000. This session has adopted a Political Declaration and outcome document entitled "further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action". At this session it was decided that one of the main functional commissions of ECOSOC and the main intergovernmental body be tasked with the responsibility of promoting the advancement of women and gender equality (doc. A/55/341) four years after the Beijing Conference, governments were asked to report on their actions to implement the Platform for Action in the 12 critical areas of concern. As of 1 October 2000, 153 Member States and 2 observers responded to the questionnaire prepared by the Secretariat in collaboration with the five regional commissions and sent out in October 1998. Based on these, a report was prepared and submitted in order to decide what were the major obstacles for gender equality worldwide were and the two major areas, i.e. poverty and violence were identified as the reasons for maintaining gender inequality worldwide while concerns were raised about the impact of globalisation on women. The report also noted that while measures were taken by the governments and non governmental actors to promote women’s participation in politics, women are still under - represented in decision making bodies. Adopting the CEDAW treaty was one of the major steps taken by the UN to eradicate gender inequality worldwide. Adopted by the United Nations in 1979, the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international human rights treaty that focuses on women's rights and women's issues worldwide. The Convention addresses the advancement of women, describes the meaning of equality, and sets forth guidelines on how to achieve it. The states that ratify CEDAW, agree to implement serious measures to improve the status of women and to eradicate discrimination and violence against women. The convention paid attention to three main areas that identified as needed to be improved for eradicating discriminations against women were civil rights and the legal status of women, women’s reproductive rights, and cultural factors influencing gender relations in societies. Since it has been declared, more than 180 countries have adopted this treaty and took measures to improve the areas mentioned in the treaty. 99
Measures taken by the Sri Lankan government:
First, the article 12 and 14 of the constitution of Sri Lanka act as a measure taken towards equal rights. Sri Lanka’s Constitution guarantees equal rights without discrimination on grounds of sex and provides for affirmative action to ensure equal rights. Secondly, since 1970s following the steps taken by the United Nations, elected governments of Sri Lanka have been taking various measures to close the gender gap in politics, economy and society of Sri Lanka. The mechanisms set by the Sri Lankan state to deal with gender issues were establishing Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Women’s Bureau and the National Committee for Women (NCW). The tasks assigned to these bodies are to formulate state policies on women’s issues and its implementation of these policies. The women’s Charter adopted in 1993, based on the CEDAW fact, expresses the state’s policy on women’s issues in Sri Lanka. The charter recognises seven areas that need to be improved for women’s benefit and to eradicate gender gaps are namely, civil and political rights, right to education and training, right to economic activity and benefits, right to healthcare and nutrition, rights within the family, right to protection from social discrimination and right to protection from gender based violence. These areas are addressed in the Charter. However, the major weakness of this Charter is that it is just a policy document and it has no legal authority and its responsibility and accountability cannot be challenged because of that. Another measure adopted by state is domestic legislation including a Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Under this, various actions such as establishing counselling centres to assist women, forming committees to address sexual harassment within state institutions, establishing the Legal Aide Commission to provide legal assistance to victims of violence, and initiating programmes for creating awareness raising have been taken place.
SAARC: Following the examples set by the UN, since its beginning SARRC has placed an emphasis on addressing gender related issues, especially, working towards eradicating forms of discrimination against women in the South Asian Region. It has created several institutions and action plans for working for women in the SARRC region. The action plan of 1986 created the Technical Committee on Women in Development and as a consequence of that a regional plan of action on women was developed. In 2000 the Technical Committee was merged into the Technical Committee on Women in Development which was merged into the Technical Committee on Social Development under the SAARC Integrated Programme of Action in 2004 again this was transformed into a new committee called Technical Committee on Women,
Youth and Children under the revised Regional Integrated Programme of Action. A major area of concern for SAARC is the trafficking of women and children within and between countries in the region and, in 2002 SAARC adopted a Regional Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution The Convention calls for cooperation amongst Member States in dealing with various aspects of prevention, interdiction and suppression of trafficking in women and children for prostitution, and repatriation and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking. It also calls for prevention of use of women and children in international prostitution networks, particularly where countries of the region are the countries of origin, transit and destination. SAARC also has signed an MoU with Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), in 2001 to help Member States to work towards the goals of gender equality and to empower women in the region. The two institutions work together to develop a SAARC Gender Database: Mapping Progress of Women in the South Asia Region. Apart from that, Ministerial Conferences in 1986, 1990, 1993 and in 1995 and in 2006, were convened to address the specific concerns of women. Thus the political leadership of the region has been putting an emphasis at highest political level, the Leaders have continued to stress on the need to address issues affecting women. At the 2002 conference, the Leaders agreed to mobilize necessary resources and to intensify broad-based action to achieve a set of priority goals in improving the social status of women and children. These include, among others, (a) establishing a voluntary fund with the contribution from Member States, individuals, donor countries and agencies for rehabilitation and reintegration of the victims of trafficking; and (b) pursuing and promoting social development
through empowerment of women and ensuring their full participation in decision making at all levels. At that Summit, the Leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to the upliftment of social status of women in the region through specific and target-oriented programs. They also directed that necessary measures be taken to ensure the development of women to their inherent potential. Pursuant to a decision of the Eleventh Summit (Kathmandu, January 2002), the SAARC Autonomous Women’s Advocacy Group (SAWAG) was formed, to advocate mainstreaming gender and make recommendation on gender related issues and programmes in the region. The Group convened its First Meeting in June 2004 in Islamabad, and decided to commission a Study incorporating issues such as women’s citizenship, women’s political representation, trafficking and sexual exploitation, gender and HIV/AIDS, female education and literacy, legal rights and economic empowerment and impact of globalization on women. The Thirteen Summit (Dhaka, 12-13 November 2005) reiterated its pledge to continue to work in the next decade and beyond to address the formidable challenges faced by women and children, especially the girl child. That Summit noted that sustained efforts were needed on the part of the Member States not only to free them from all types of deprivation but also to make them full partners and beneficiaries of South Asian progress and development. (SARRC gender info base, ND ) The data mentioned above clearly shows that women’s issues in South Asia have been addressed at the international, and regional level and as a member of both the UN and SARRC, State of Sri Lanka has committed itself to strive towards gender equality within country by taking steps mentioned in the section on the Sri Lankan government. However, addressing a UN meeting permanent ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona said: Mr.Chairman, Another priority for Sri Lanka has been encouraging women to be more actively involved in leadership roles. There are no constraints for Sri Lankan women to reach the heights of political power. As a matter of fact, the world’s first elected woman Prime Minister came from Sri Lanka and we elected a female Executive Head of State 16 years ago. However, as a percentage only 5% of our Members of Parliament are women and only 3% of the members of our local authorities are women. The reasons for low participation are complex including socio cultural norms in some communities. Our national machinery with the support of the NGOs has launched several programmes to increase women’s participation in politics and our Government is making a conscious effort to give increased representation to
women. However, in the higher echelons of the public service and in the professional categories in the private sector our women are increasingly playing a key role (Permanent mission of Sri Lanka government, 2010). According to him and various other writers compared with other South Asian countries women’s situation in Sri Lanka is better when look at from a human development perspective. There are no formal barriers for women to participate in public sphere. Their health, education is better due to the long term welfare programmes carried out in the country since independence. However, as the permanent ambassador has and many others have pointed out though there is no gender discrimination in education, health, state or sector employment women are either marginalised or ignored in public sphere activities. Ambassador Kohona states this is due to socio cultural norms in the country. Though both the State and nongovernmental actors such as International NGOs and national NGOs carried out various programmes to improve situation for women and though there is a slow progress it is clear that women in Sri Lanka still have not been able to enjoy their rights as full citizens of Sri Lanka. Since development, poverty alleviation and women’s issues are merged into a one major area of concern most of the projects and policies formulated are of selective nature and excludes social groups that do not belong to the low income earning category. Hence, as I have mentioned elsewhere in this article, formulating policies and legal reforms is not enough and there should be a more cohesive and all inclusive programmes for awareness raising as well. Otherwise male biases prejudicial attitudes of officials themselves who plan and
implement these projects will be reflected in the policies and their outcomes and further strengthens societal barriers for women’s participation in politics and public affairs. For
example, Gender and reproduction was also introduced to students from year eight onwards under ‘health and physical education’ with the intervention of Women’s Affairs ministry. Though the aim is to increase awareness among students about the adulthood and myths and truths of it and to help them to understand and make choices from the information that is pumped through media and available cultural concepts, it seems these curricula are also designed according to the ideas and beliefs of the society. In the year ten curriculum, ‘imitating improper fashions’ by girls has been identified as one bad consequence of close friendships with selected friends at school and in neighbourhood. Hence I argue that the policy makers at national level instead of eradicating inequality reinforce the ideas, norms and values that prevail in society and therefore gender mainstreaming at state level become meaningless (Jayawardena, 2003).
It also seems that the women’s organisations, which tend to address issues of women in Sri Lanka also, not have been able to get rid of such ideas. A study done by Kamala Peiris on women in local groups show that there is an ‘inability’ or reluctance of people in general to break away from the accepted traditional norms of a ‘women’s place is in the home’. Most importantly, she points out that the aims and attitude of the state and non-governmental agencies also do not differ from the general attitude of the community. For example, one of the objectives listed by a Women’s non-governmental organisation was ‘improving standards of women in the traditional framework of good mothers and well behaved disciplined young women’ (Pieris, 1993: 13). She also pointed out that often men were invited as ‘knowledgeable’ persons to ‘lecture’ the grass root level women’s groups (ibid). This shows that to increase women’s participation in politics and public affairs and to include them in decision making process of politics, economy and society as full citizens, not only implementing formal reforms but changing prevailing attitudes, norms and prejudices against women in Sri Lanka should go hand in hand. In the next section I will look at what lessons we can learn from the experiences in elsewhere in the world to overcome the barriers for women’s participation in politics and public affairs.
Lessons from elsewhere:
If looking for a successful story of women’s achievements in politics, many turned to Britain. Margaret Thatcher created history by being the one and only woman Prime-Minister elected for three consecutive terms and at the same time being the president of the Conservative party. She did not hesitate to bring reforms, especially economic reforms that are felt in Britain even today. However, women’s representation in parliaments and local governing bodies is still low compared to that of men. In England, the Labour party has more women MPs than Conservative or Liberal parties mainly due to reforms it adopted in order to allow more rooms for women to come to parliament. Britain adopted various methods, such as quota system, women all lists for candidacy, etc; to increase women’s participation. Since the 1970s, the number of women in governing bodies have increased due to the intervention of women within political parties and
feminist groups. Nevertheless, women are still underrepresented especially in House of Commons and in local councils. Though number of women representative has increased, they still do not have equal chances to be appointed into the highest posts within political parties or in parliament (The British Council, 2002).
In Europe, Sweden is the most cited examples for women’s greater participation in politics and public affairs. The women representatives in parliament are about 45% and in the cabinet, it is up to 50% representation at times. According to Diane Sainsbury (2004), a less well-known phenomenon is the advances made by women in appointed positions since the late 1980s. According to her, measures took place in Sweden such as redefining women's issues as demands for gender equality, which transformed women’s issues from minor issues into major issues at political party level. In effect, this change re-casted the conditions for substantive representation of the incorporation of women's preferences in policies. The second aspect of the discursive turn according to Sainsbury was gendering the demand for greater democracy and framing the issue of women's representation in this manner. It has strategically converted political women from a minority within each of the parties into a majority of the citizenry thereby improving the potential for descriptive representation. Especially in Sweden the institutional presence of women has been decisive for women for securing public office.
In South Asia, for more than two decades, efforts have been made to increase women’s participation in politics and public affairs both at state and at non-state levels. According to a baseline report on India, India has adopted affirmative action in providing for one-third reservation for women in all institutions of local self-governance. It also provides for reservation of posts for Chairpersons and Deputy Chairpersons in the Panchayats and in the Committees in the Nagara Palikes. The reservation or quota system is put in practice by identifying one third of the total constituency as reserved for women. The reserved constituencies differ for each election through the adoption of a policy of rotations. The term of the elected persons is for a period of five years in all elections. However, according to a study done by R. Sooryarmoorthy and D, Renjini (2002) though women constitute about half of the total
electorate, their representation in Lok Sabha6 has not been adequate in India. According to these authors women contesting elections still constitute only a meager percentage of one or two of the
total number of contestants. For examples, in Lok Sabha, the representation of women varied between 3.4% and 8.1% . In the first Lok Sabha, there were only 22 women members who formed only 4.41% of the total 499 members. The Sixth Lok Sabha admitted the lowest number of women parliamentarians with 19 out of the total 544 (3.49%). The highest number of women members was found in the eighth Lok Sabha with 44 members in a house of 544. This did not form even 10% of the total strength.
In Bangladesh, the constitution states that women have equal rights and there are no formal restrictions for women participating in politics and in public affairs. Nevertheless , in 1973 election only one woman was elected, as the chairperson of Union Parishad among 4352 unions. In the election of 1977, only four women were elected as chairperson whereas this number was only six in the election of 1984. In the Union Parishad from election of 1988, 18566 contestants fought for the position of chairperson of 4401 Union Parishads. There were only 79 women contestants constituting only 0.4 percent for the post of chairperson and 863 for membership. Only one female chairperson was elected in 1988. Again in 1992, available data indicates that for the position of chairperson of 3899 unions out of 4398 Union Parishads, only 115 women contested for chairpersonship and only 1135 for members and only 20 members were elected (Qadir, 1995:34 cited in Fadaus, A.R.A.;Rahman Khan M.D.M.,2006) ). For elective position of members, the figures for the respective elections in 1988 and 1992 were only 863 women out of 114,699 (constituting 0.7 percent) and 1135 women among 169,643 (comprising again some 0.7 percent) contestants (Ahmed and Nabi, 2001:3 cited in Fadaus, A.R.A.;Rahman Khan M.D.M.,2006). What these statistics says is that compared to India or Sri Lanka, women’s participation at decision-making bodies in Bangladesh is abysmal.
In summary, when analysing the findings about women’s participation in politics worldwide, it is correct to assume that though formal measures have been adopted to increase women’s participation, as of this moment these measures have not brought complete success. Sri Lanka boasts of having the first woman premier and appointing a woman as an executive president. Indeed, all the major countries in South Asia had women Prime Ministers and there are isolated stories of triumph for women in politics in the other parts of the world; such as Margret Thatcher. As the same, the findings worldwide show that there still is a long way to go to achieve greater participation of women in politics and public affairs. These findings also show
that some of the affirmative actions taken, such as quota system, do not work very well. In countries like Britain and India it is disclosed that though number of women in decision making bodies have been on the increase their voices were not fully heard. Thus, there is a need to question the success and effectiveness of policy making and its implementation at state level in order to increase women’s participation and in eradicating the gender gap in politics and public affairs. The lack of coherent policies for coordination among various branches of ministries and related institutions working to implement policies is a hindrance to meeting the goals of the formulated polices. A good examples for this is the creation of a Youth Affairs Ministry to empower youth in this country. At a recent conference I participated in , a presentation done by the secretary of the ministry, it was disclosed that Women’s Affairs Ministry was not included in the list of ministries that were considered as important to be interlinked to work for empowering the youth in Sri Lanka. These omissions are, I would like to argue, not random mistakes and shows the prevailing sexist attitudes of the male officials and members of parliament. The findings of the studies I have examined also cite the attitudes of the male political elitist leadership is a major constraint for appointing women to leadership roles in political parties or in nominating more women as candidates. The Elimination of Discrimination against Women United Nations Committee on the: Sri Lanka in 2002 pointed that despite government agents statement that women have progressed in certain areas and therefore, that there are no gender disparities, still there are some major areas of concerns that hinder Sri Lankan women’s progress as full citizens even within the areas that cited as been improved . The following were highlited as major areas of concern: The Committee expressed its concern at the contradiction between the constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights and the existence of laws that discriminate against women. It is also concerned that constitutional provisions on fundamental rights do not create accountability for the actions of non-State actors and the private sector, and the fact that there is no opportunity for judicial review of legislation pre-dating the Constitution. The Committee is also concerned at the existence of discriminatory legislation, such as the Land Development Ordinance, and the provisions allowing for Muslim personal law, which, inter alia, does not provide a minimum age of marriage, as well as the nationality law which precludes Sri Lankan women from passing nationality to their children on an equal footing with men.
The Committee noted with concern that the legal framework, institutional structures and human and financial resources remain insufficient to implement the Convention.
Despite the fact that women have occupied the position of head of Government of Sri Lanka, on the whole there is a very low level of representation of women in politics and public life.
Despite the progress in education for women and girls, women are underrepresented in engineering and technology-related courses in tertiary education.
The Committee expressed its concerns about the high incidence of violence against women, including domestic violence, having no specific legislation that has been enacted to combat domestic violence and that there is a lack of systematic data collection on violence against women, in particular domestic violence. It also noted with concern that marital rape is recognized only in the case of judicial separation. The Committee is also concerned that the police fail to respond to complaints of violence against women with gender sensitivity and effectively.
The Committee, expressed concerns at the perpetuation of traditional stereotyped gender roles among the public and in the media.
The Committee was concerned about the low level of women’s economic participation, the high unemployment rate of women, the inadequate protection for women working in the informal sector, such as domestic service and the weak enforcement of laws to protect women workers in the export processing zones. The Committee is also concerned that no data is available on the wage gap between women and men.
The Committee was concerned about the increasing number of women who migrate from Sri Lanka in search of work and find themselves in situations where they are vulnerable. Despite the protective measures taken by the State party, including mandatory registration and insurance coverage, these women are often subjected to abuse and sometimes death. (United Nations Committee Report, 2002)
The above concerns tell us that even within the areas that are recognised as spheres of improvement for women they merely reproduce disparities between men and women in Sri Lanka. It is a well-known fact that many of the concerns raised by the UN Committee on Women have not been adequately addressed even to date. One of the major reasons is the
underrepresentation of women in decision-making institutions, where policies are made and implemented. However, it should be noted that women’s participation in politics and public affairs outside the traditional political institutions have increased due to the influence of feminist movements in the 20th century. Many organisations were formed not only to address women’s issues but also on other issues such as conflicts, human rights, environmental issue, etc. These organisations collaborate with the governments in their countries to work for bettering women’s lives. Nevertheless, as I have discussed earlier, in Sri Lanka, these actions are more often identified as ‘social service’ rather than engagement in politics for social change. Therefore, there is a need in Sri Lanka to educate the general public, especially women on about what is ‘politics’, what is ‘political’ and about citizenship.
This paper addressed the question why women have been marginalised and excluded even after national and international actors intervened to eradicate inequalities that hinder women’s participation in the public the sphere; with special attention to politics and public affairs. The findings of the paper shows that substantial measures have been taken by the United Nations and the states that are bound to it, to eradicate the gender gaps in all issues related to public and private lives of women. Various affirmative actions such as naming women’s decade, adopting millennium goals, passing bills and conventions, and adopting quota systems, were implemented to reduce or eradicate all forms of discrimination that hinder women’s participation as full citizens in politics and public affairs. Following the same path, successive governments of Sri Lanka also adopted certain mechanisms to address women’s issues and to increase their participation at public level. Nevertheless, according to the findings of this paper, these measures have not had a greater impact upon the changing the status quo of women in Sri Lanka and women are still very much marginalised and excluded in politics and public affairs. In answering to the question why this happens, one of the reasons shown in this paper is the lack of coherency between the institutions that work to meet the goals of state on policy formation and implementation of women’s issues and lack of coordination and efficiency. Another major reason is that reforms have been of a selective nature and target selective groups. This is due to the fact that women’s issues are incorporated into the overall development and poverty alleviation programmes and projects in the country. Therefore, low income earning groups that always were targeted for both economic and social change. As a consequence, certain segments of society of Sri Lanka such as the middles class have been largely ignored in policies and programmes. The findings of the paper strongly supports the idea that existing societal barriers discussed in this paper constrain and hinder women’s participation in politics and public affairs in Sri Lanka. It is a strong reason for failure of state reforms on women. This supports the idea that adopting legal and political reforms itself is not going to change the situation if there is no strong effort for changing attitudes, norms and values in existence within the society of Sri Lanka. With that in mind, the following suggestions are made concerning policymaking institutions.
Examine the limits of existing reforms and take adequate measures to asses, review, and change the policies accordingly. To plan island-wide awareness-raising programs on gender issues, that includes every strata of society of Sri Lanka and not just the stake holders of particular programmes only. Implementing programs to educate political leadership at the highest, middle and low level. Taking measures to mobilse women within political parties to pressurise the political party leadership to include women at top level and for equal nomination in elections. Review the existing school curriculum on gender and development and civics and remove texts that reinforce existing stereotypes of gender and make changes accordingly by consulting research publications on the subject. Review and broaden the existing programmes for educating officers working in both state and NGO sector. Implementing an action plan to encourage university authorities to introduce gender and women’s issues into undergraduate curriculum in all universities.
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