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Women's representation brings positive changes

Photo: scrm.gov.lk

Women’s participation: Lessons Learnt from the report of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation mechanisms in Sri Lanka

20.01.2017 By: Letchumanan Kamaleswary

Women should not be refused in the process towards final solutions. Women and children are affected so much in several areas. So women’s representation is very essential- By a woman in the North of Sri Lanka’ ( Final Report of the consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms, page 158).

In the 2015 UN Human Rights Council resolution onPromoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan government pledged to commence a comprehensive approach to dealing with the past and to implement judicial and non-judicial a Transitional justice measures in order to redress legacies of human rights abuses.

In order to implement the resolution, the government wanted to consult the public first. Therefore  a consultation Task Force (CTF) was appointed by the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe in February 2016 to seek the views and comments of the public on the of the four proposed  Transitional justice mechanisms in Sri Lanka.

These four mechanisms are:
1.) an Office on Missing Persons,
2.) an Office for Reparations,
3.) a Judicial Mechanism with a Special Counsel, and
4.) a a Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-Recurrence proposed

The eleven task force members are from civil societies and they held the consultations island wide with the support of Zonal Task Forces (ZTF)."

As we know the participation of women in transitional justice mechanism brings out the meaningful changes in the society. Among appointed CTF members, out of 11 civil society members, 6 are women. This means more than 50% are women. When it comes to the advisory panel to the CTF, representative advisory panel and Zonal task forces there are quite a number women, especially women who are from civil societies were appointed. Most importantly the criteria for zonal task force membership ensured that each task force should have 50% women.

This participation itself is a strength to get women’s voices heard. As per the report the CTF received 7306 submissions in total and the highest numbers of submissions were made at the consultations in Batticoloa, Ampara and the southern provinces respectively.

The Consultation Task Force (CTF) on Reconciliation mechanisms released its final report on 3rd January 2017 http://www.scrm.gov.lk/documents-reports

Women know their situations best. Therefore they should participate at decision-making levels to have their views and opinions incorporated. All the issues including discriminations, violence, negligence, harassments etc will be addressed when there is meaningful women’s participation at decision-making level. When it comes to the post-war context and in Transitional Justice (TJ) women need to be in the TJ mechanisms.

Women’s Human Rights in post-conflict situations

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, under the General recommendation No. 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations, gives the recommendations on the participation of women as follows;
(b) Ensure women’s equal representation at all decision-making levels in national institutions and mechanisms, including in the armed forces, police, justice institutions and the transitional justice mechanisms (judicial and non-judicial) dealing with crimes committed during the conflict;
(c) Ensure that women and civil society organizations focused on women’s issues and representatives of civil society are included equally in all peace negotiations and post-conflict rebuilding and reconstruction efforts;

Women’s concerns included in the recommendations

At the CTF press conference held on 5th of January at Government information Department, Prof. Sitralega Mounaguru, a task force member said that Women made more submissions in the north and east.  She pointed out that,

Women were surprised to see locals; they had thought foreigners would come and listen. When they see the locals, the women they know very well they were happy and shared lot of information. And some women did not want the reparation; instead they wanted what exactly happened to their missing relatives.

The report is divided into eight chapters and each chapter contains a section on women’s concerns. The eight chapters and the sections concerning women are as follow:

1. Methodology and process of consultations
- Though the methodology section does not exactly give how many submissions women make alone, it is a well-known fact that mostly women sent the submissions. As per the task force the majority of the submissions are on missing persons and those are by their relatives especially women.

2. Office of Reparations
- There is a specific section- Gender and Reparation (page 88). Where it speaks about recognizing multiple roles women play, recognizing that women are not only victims of sexual violence, ensuring women have effective access to reparation benefits and combatting harassments from state agencies.
3. Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-Recurrence Commission (TJRNRC)
-Under this chapter, a section on women and the TJRNRC discusses acknowledging violations and violence committed against women, including women’s voices, developing supportive structures and spaces and creating safe and enabling environment for women.

4. Office on Missing Persons
- As already said, most of the submissions made to CTF are on missing persons and disappearances. The aftermath of disappearance, the consequences for women are brought out. When it comes to operationalizing OMP, they have given a priority to women. The report says; ‘since the majority of those who conduct the search for their loved ones are women, it is necessary to ensure that women constitute a significant part of the OMP’.

5. Judicial mechanism
- Under the section women, gender and accountability, it speaks about representation of women, gender sensitive approach and women as persons affected by and witnesses to sexual violence.
- The paragraph 122 says ‘a number of written submissions recommend that the special court, like the other mechanisms, should have a representative number of women at all level of staffing. A local women’s organization submitted that the court should have 50 percent women’s representation, including prosecutors, judges, lawyers, staff members, people who take testimony and registrars.’

6. Transitional justice beyond four mechanisms
- Women demand a commission for Justice for women. Two specific recommendations put forward here are, (a) reformation of personal laws such Muslim Personal Law and Thesawalamai law, which mainly discriminate women and (b) ensure the age of marriage for women made equal and increase to 18.

7. Support for Affected Individuals and communities: Psychosocial consideration and security
- Women’s concerns are raised under the headings; special psychosocial considerations for women, experiences of sexual harassment, increase of economic burden on women and the enabling environment for victim and witness protection.

8. CTF observation and recommendations
- Though there are specific recommendations for women, there is a correlation between other recommendations too. Some of these are: women’s economic, social, political and cultural rights should be safeguarded and ensured in the constitution, law, policy and practice, establishing a national commission on women, ensure women’s representation in key decision making positions in all the mechanisms as well as in everyday operational positions etc.

So we could see a report where women’s voice are heard and reflected properly.
This would not have been possible if there were no women or fewer women in the task force like the previous commissions and bodies appointed by the government for various purposes. The CTF report brings out an example how women themselves felt that women’s concerns are important. A submission from western province says;
“Previously established commissions…… have a clear disregard for the reality and interest of women. Gender-blind mandates fail to consider the mental trauma and economic conditions”.

Therefore, this report is definitely a progress one to raise the war affected women’s concerns. If all the stakeholders are committed to implement the recommendations pertaining to women, the TJ will be meaningful.