Source: The Sunday Times
A total of 556 female candidates from 21 political parties and independent groups contested the general elections but only 11 of them won seats. That is a drop of two female members from the previous 225-seat parliament that already under-represented the 52 per cent-strong female population.
These 11 women represent only 10 of the 22 electoral districts: Jaffna, Colombo, Moneragala, Gampaha, Galle, Ratnapura, Kegalle, Ampara, Anuradhapura and Matale. From the Jaffna district, former deputy minister of women’s affairs Vijayakala Maheswaran (United National Party – UNP) is the only Tamil woman elected to parliament, collecting 13,071 preferential votes.
Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, widow of the late minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle from the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) taking 73,553 preferential votes in the Gampaha District.
Hirunika Premachandra, daughter of the late Bharatha Lakshaman Premachandra (UNP) from the Colombo district gathered 70,584 preferential votes, in 10th place.Sumedha G. Jayasena (UPFA) obtained the second highest preference vote in Moneregala with 69,082 votes while Geetha Kumarasinghe (UPFA) obtained 63,995 preference votes in Galle, holding fifth place there. R. Kavirathna (UNP) holds third place in Matale with 41,766 votes.
Thalatha Atukorale (UNP), former minister of foreign employment, is the first ever female candidate in the Ratnapura district to have obtained the highest number of preferential votes – 145,828, while Pavithra Wanniarachichi (UPFA), former minister of youth affairs, received 87,660 votes in the district.
Thusitha Wijemanne (UNP) obtained 50,890 preferential votes in the Kegalle district, Sriyani Wijewickrama (UPFA) scored 49,691 votes in Ampara and Chandrani Bandara, former minister of Women’s Affairs collected 83,666 votes in Anuradhapura.
Rosy Senanayake, former state minister and UNP Colombo district candidate, said she had been betrayed in a bid for re-election, having had to limit her campaign within the Colombo West electorate. She said this was partly why she obtained only 65,320 preferential votes.
She said fellow candidates had been unhappy when she visited other electorates in the Colombo district in the course of her campaign. ”UNP victory and the inauguration of a UNP government was my priority and I lavished hard work to make it happen, and I am joyful that it did happen. This is another reason why I was not able to fully concentrate on my campaign while most of my colleagues were focusing on their personal campaigns,” she said.
“It is very sad because I was treated unfairly. I fought so hard for the UNP’s victory.” Women in Sri Lanka won the right to vote in 1931, seventeen years before independence and since then have made rapid progress in health, education and employment. Their human development indicators are considered a model in South Asia and beyond.
Planned drafts of the electoral reforms to the constitution so far have not come up with an affirmative action for women. President and the UNP government as well as the minor political parties have failed to campaign for equitable representation of women in parliament.
Senior programmer and research associate of Women and Media Collective (WMC) Kumudini Samuel was scathing about this situation. ”They are considering electoral reforms in the context of strengthening democracy, strengthening representation and so on. The missing factor in this that there is no talk about positive action for women and there are no provisions in the new proposed system to increase women’s representation in parliament. This is a serious problem,” she said.
Ms Samuel noted that political parties were very reluctant to give women the opportunity to contest elections and said this was not a question of women not winning seats but a question of women not receiving nominations. Ms. Samuel added that serious education campaigns were needed for voters to highlight the importance of female representation in decision-making areas or, as she put it, “what women can do if they, rather than men, were in power”.