A voice less heard

International Alert recently facilitated a workshop in Colombo on ‘Women in politics in Sri Lanka: Challenges to meaningful participation’, to find ways to remove the barriers to women entering politics in the country.

Attendees included MPs representing the Young Political Leaders Forum of Sri Lanka (YPLFSL), provincial councillors, political activists at the local government level, civil society representatives, women’s rights activists, professionals from both the state and private sector, and other experts.

The participants discussed four key issues women face in entering politics, which were identified during a previous workshop: political culture, existing policies, financial issues and developing capacities for women in politics.

“A woman looks at the world differently”, said parliamentarian Vasantha Senanayake, speaking at the event. “Therefore, a woman’s view is essential as much as a man’s view for a balanced perspective. There’s a need for change in the political system in order to ensure that women are given equal opportunities.”

Also speaking at the event, former Secretary General of the Sri Lankan Parliament Priyani Wijesekera observed that, “One of the main issues that the country faces today is that the voters do not take their duty seriously. This perception needs to change; if not the whole system will collapse. The voters must take their voting seriously and all policy-level stakeholders should take voter education seriously.”

The group made the following recommendations:

  • conducting awareness campaigns on women’s leadership – targeting political leaders, women, voters and stakeholders at the grassroots level;
  • adopting policies that ensure increased participation of women – starting with a minimum of 33% representation of women at the local government level;
  • adopting gender-sensitive approaches, starting at the grassroots level;
  • ensuring fund allocations for women through political parties;
  • voter education about the importance of women’s involvement in politics;
  • the creation of a federation/network of women’s groups and organisations; and
  • using media influence to create positive perceptions of women as political leaders.

A joint report will be prepared with these recommendations, which the young MPs and Parliamentary Women’s Caucus plan to present to the Sri Lankan Parliament.

In a recent statement to mark International Women’s Day (8 March), YPLFSL also called for more women not just in local government but in the Sri Lanka Parliament. They pointed out that there are currently only 13 women in parliament, which is less than 6% of all MPs, and that never in history has that percentage been any higher.

YPLFSL, which was formed with the support of International Alert, stressed how important this kind of workshop is in determining the role that young political leaders can play in their constituencies and parties to encourage greater participation of women in politics.

Find out more about our work in Sri Lanka here.