A delegation from Sri Lanka led by the Honorable Minister of Women and Child Affairs Mrs. Chandrani Bandara along with other women parliamentarians, activists and scholars, visited Norway this week to hear how Norway has worked to improve gender equality and women’s representation in parliament. FOKUS hosted the delegation.
The ‘discouraged’ population
Considered as one of the countries with the lowest female representation in national legislature, Sri Lanka’s highly male dominant political arena and its ‘stereotypes about women’ has always been one of the key reasons why women are often discouraged to play a major role in Sri Lankan politics.
Despite the fact that 52 percent (Trading Economics 2015) of the Sri Lankan population are women, only 5.8 percent (in 2013) hold parliamentary positions putting it in one of the bottom-most position amongst other SAARC countries.
Furthermore, lack of political awareness and empowerment amongst women is also another reason behind this low representation.
FOKUS-led initiative for Sri Lanka
With this and many more social, economic and political barriers faced by women’s political participation in Sri Lanka, FOKUS hosted and organized a seminar for the delegation on Thursday March 30th. An active discussion between the visitors, FOKUS’ secretariat and member organizations took place on the future efforts and measures needed to increase women’s political participation in Sri Lanka.
The event became an active platform for collectively discussing experiences, methods and measures urgently needed for increasing women’s participation in politics and peace building in Sri Lanka.
The discussion began with the personal story of Mrs. Rosy Senananyake, Prime Minister`s Deputy Chief of staff and Media Spokesperson and the many obstacles she faced in her political career so that she could ‘live with dignity’ in Sri Lanka, a thought that resonated with the stories of many in the room.
Highlighting the many barriers faced by women such as lack of political funds, sexual harassment, lack of skills and training institutions, character assassination, the delegates and speakers engaged with immense curiosity and interest while hearing each other’s long and difficult journeys as women leaders and activists in Sri Lanka.
One of the most pressing discussions that emerged was the increasing migration of unskilled women workers from Sri Lanka to the Middle East where they were not only vulnerable and open to exploitation but also on return to their homeland faced many social issues such as economic integration, ‘left behind children’ and broken marriages. This gave rise to discussions around illegal trafficking of women and the importance of self-employment so that Sri Lanka does not become a ‘commodity exporter’ of women to the Middle East.
In addition, the speakers also offered their constructive opinions and views around the use of technology, especially social media and e-Governance, women networks and campaigns in Sri Lanka as methods or measures to increase women political participation.
Electoral quotas is one measure that Sri Lanka has already proposed in their national legislature which urges political parties to have at least 25 percent of female representation in their candidature list for local government elections, a reform that has been commended by many in the international community.
“Building alliances within parliament with other women is another way forward”, added Gunhild Ørstavik of the FOKUS Secretariat.
Lessons learned in Norway
The Sri Lankan delegation was keen on understanding the Nordic framework of empowering women through high levels political and leadership participation.
In the words of one of the delegates, ‘Sri Lanka has a lot to learn from Norway’. This was visible when a constructive discussion took place after Liv Bremer from the Norwegian people’s Aid and the Women Can Do It-project presented the delegation with a four-step model of training trainers for disseminating knowledge and skills to local women in developing nations for the purpose of political empowerment.
The seminar ended on a note of hope and optimism for the future as Lina Tordson from FRI voiced her concern about the LGBTQ population in Sri Lanka and empowerment for women of all kinds around the world. All the recommendations and measures proposed during the seminar will be compiled in a report.
FOKUS in Sri Lanka
FOKUS has had an active presence in Sri Lanka since 2012 with a field office whose main goal is to increase women’s political participation in peacebuilding and strengthening their security situation.
Having collaborated with local partners in Sri Lanka, FOKUS Sri Lanka works on the UN Security Resolution 1325, transitional justice mechanisms and creates strong alliances locally and nationally for joint advocacy.
For more information on FOKUS program in Sri Lanka