A consultation on Gender and Electoral Reforms in the Constitution

To further engage women in identifying key provisions for electoral reform and women’s political participation in the constitution the Women and Media Collective organised a workshop for women’s rights activists and groups from across the island on the 3rd and 4th of March 2016. This was following a series of meetings undertaken by the WMC in over 20 districts with the workshop participants in presenting submissions to the new constitution pertaining to women’s rights and concerns before the Public Representation Committee, appointed by the Hon. Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

While Chulani Koddikkara, researcher and lawyer from the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) briefed the participants on the history of women’s representation in politics and the demand for a quota for women in local and national government she also stressed the importance of the most suited electoral system for women’s representation.

Taking the participants through the various types of electoral systems followed in different parts of the world Vasu Mohan from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) defined the purpose of the most appropriate electoral system in enhancing women’s representation. He elaborated on the various quota systems such as the constitutional, legislative and voluntary party quota systems that could be introduced. “Quotas for women are a form of affirmative action to help them overcome the obstacles that prevent them from entering politics in the same way their male counterparts” he said.

Gayani Premathilaka, Legal Officer of the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local government highlighted the key gender provisions of the newly passed Local Authorities Amendment Bill. Through her presentation participants were able to identify the total number of women that could be elected through the ward system, PR list and 25% quota list at the Local Government elections.

WMC also invited Member of Parliament Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran from the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) on the first day of the workshop to provide a party perspective in relation to power sharing and women’s participation. MP Sumanthiran said that it hasn’t been easy for them to find women who will represent their party. However assuming that the 25% reservation has been accepted he says that women will need to stand out if they wish to be elected. Nizam Kariyapper, Deputy Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) also discussed the electoral reform in connection to minorities and women.

On the second day of the workshop Member of Parliament Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena, leader of the Joint Opposition said that it should be made mandatory that the General Secretary of political parties cannot change the women’s quota list and that the list should be followed in the precise order. The Minister also added that at least one female member should be appointed to a leadership role in every political party.