More female representation needed in Sri Lanka elections: EU observers

Sri Lankan Elections

Aug 19, 2015 (LBO) – Sri Lanka had extremely low number of female candidates participating in the general election held this month, European election observers said.

Sri Lanka signed key international instruments for equality between women and men, and the principals of equality and non-discrimination are constitutionally protected.

“We recommend that efforts are made so that more female candidates are nominated and elected,” said Ignazio Corrao, chair of the European parliament election observation delegation.

EU observers say even though the main parties adopted a gender policy in their manifestos, including the promotion of women’s development and social welfare, the general election 2015 had only nine percent female representation with 556 out of 6,151 candidates.

“Cultural gender stereotypes, socio economic considerations and the culture of violence present in previous elections are the main hindrances to women’s participation in public life,” they said in their preliminary statement on the polls.

“The absence of any campaign finance rules, resulting in high campaign spending from candidates’ own resources, was also cited by women’s group as a barrier to their participation in election.”

According to the Inter–Parliamentary Union, Sri Lanka with less than six percent representation of women in parliament ranks 128th out of 140 countries. Sri Lanka had only 13 women in the parliament for 225 seats (2010-2015).

Rwanda has the highest representation of women in parliament with 64 percent, followed by Bolivia with 53 percent and Cuba with 49 percent. Both Senegal and South Africa have over 40 percent representation in parliament.

In the South Asian region, women’s representation in Parliament is higher than in Sri Lanka: Nepal 29.5 percent (35th), Afghanistan 27.7 percent (39th), Pakistan 27.7 percent (64th), Bangladesh 20 percent (68th), India 12 percent (103rd), Bhutan 8.5percent (120th), Maldives 5.9 percent (127th). These statics shows female representation in Sri Lanka is the lowest in the region.

“The legal framework contains no affirmative action measures regarding increase of women candidate participation in elections,” the EU observers said. Countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh have a quota in place in parliament for women.

Females represent only 4.1 percent of seats in the Provincial Councils (PC), and 2.3 percent of seats in the local government (LG) bodies in Sri Lanka.

The new government said in their policy manifesto that they will increase female representation to 25 percent at the provincial governing level, while encouraging all political parties to put forward 25 percent female candidates in coming elections.

According to EU, women were also underrepresented at senior and middle levels of election administration, with one additional commissioner and a low number of senior presiding officers. This is in contrast to representation of women at less senior levels which was higher. Most of the polling assistants were women.

Women were also actively involved in election monitoring comprising more than half of domestic observer groups.