Sri Lanka has never had more than 6% of representation of women in Parliament. Currently we have 13 female members out of the 225 members in the parliament. These statistics are the lowest in South Asia.However, Sri Lanka became the first country in South Asia to give women the right to vote in 1931. In 1960 Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to appoint a woman head of state. In the Constitution, equality on the basis of sex is guaranteed therefore women have an equal right to be elected to political office just as men. Sri Lanka also ratified CEDAW in 1981 which states that it is the right of women to be equally represented in politics in all levels.
This is an important right that must be guaranteed and realised. It is equally important because women need to be in Parliament to ensure gender sensitive and gender aware legislation. As we celebrate International Human Rights Day today on the final day of the 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence campaign, we recall that women and men in Parliament helped enact the Prevention of Domestic Violence legislation in 2005 following engaged debate. This Act has helped many women victims to obtain protection orders and helped further a discourse on violence against women in the home. Unfortunately we are still a distance away from ensuring zero tolerance with regard to violence against women.
In 1995, Parliament included far reaching reforms to the Penal Code to sentencing on sexual violence and recognised sexual harassment and incest as crimes. However in the intervening years we have witnessed tragic cases of sexual violence from the rape and murder of Krishanthi Kumaraswamy to the abduction, rape and murder of Seya and the countless number of other violations suffered by women both reported and unreported. This is another reason why we are convinced that more women must be represented in Parliament so that gender sensitive legislation can be enacted and effective policy measures taken for women to live in dignity and free from violence.
Illustrations – Sybil Wettasinghe
This message is from The Women and Media Collective for the 16 days of Activism