Focus/Spotlight

Female Members of Parliament | Gender equality: Not in the House

By Sarah Hannan

Out of the 75 female candidates who contested during the recent general election, a total of 12 female representatives were elected from the preferential voters’ list and National List to the ninth Parliament of Sri Lanka, with one being appointed to the Cabinet and two given state minsterial portfolios.

The overall representation of women in Parliament is now at 5.33%, out of which 3.77% was elected through the voting system and 1.56% was appointed through the National List allocations of three political parties.

The National People’s Power (NPP) had the highest number of female candidates at 22, with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) having the lowest at one, who was a National List nominee. Given that 52% of Sri Lanka’s population is females, it is quite disheartening to see only a 5.33% female representation in Parliament.

However, during the general election, all female representatives who managed to secure votes should be commended, as they contested against many male representatives who were able to do on-ground campaigning with less challenges.

Among the 12 female members who will take their seats at the ninth Parliament is Cabinet Minister of Health Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi who contested under the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ticket from the Ratnapura District. She was able to secure the highest amount of preferential votes among all the female candidates and from the district.

State ministerial portfolios were given to Dr. Sudharshani Fernandopulle (SLPP) for Prisons Reforms and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, and Dr. Seetha Arambepola (SLPP National List) for Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research, and Innovation.

Among the other female MPs are five more SLPP candidates: Kokila Harshini Gunawardena, Rajika Wickaramasinghe (District Co-ordinator for Kegalle), Muditha Prishanthi De Soysa, Geetha Kumarasinghe, and Manjula Wijekoon Dissanayake (National List); three from the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB): Thalatha Atukorale, Rohini Wijeratne Kavirathna, and Diana Gamage (National List); and one from NPP: Dr. Harini Amarsuriya (National List).

When we take a look back at the many female representatives who were elected to Parliament, a significant portion of representatives had secured a seat following the demise of a politically significant family member – usually a father or husband – or with the aim of continuing their family political legacy, where they are invited to represent the political party after their parent’s retirement from politics.

As of recent times, even celebrities have joined the race for office with activists and academics giving them a tough time in getting elected.

Among many that contested this time, only a handful managed to get elected, with Geetha Kumarasinghe, who has been in the political arena for close to a decade, being able to garner sufficient votes to secure a seat.

It is evident that people cast their votes based on the familiarity of each candidate’s political and social work and the amount of visibility they secure during the pre-election time.

Centre for Human Rights and Research (Sri Lanka) Executive Director Surangi Ariyawansa, in a media statement, noted that increasing women’s representation in Parliament is a matter of national importance. “Every political party which provided women the opportunity to contest this time is considered as progress in the right direction. There is a significant difference between the local government election, where women’s representation was considered mandatory, and this year’s general election.”

These 12 female representatives are now given the additional task to discuss the issues that are faced by females in Sri Lanka, given that there is no cabinet portfolio this time around dedicated to women’s affairs.

The Women Parliamentarians Caucus that will include all 12 of these female members will have the added work of creating awareness and inspiring women in Sri Lanka to pave the way for future female political activists. Hopefully, enough female representatives will consider getting into politics in the upcoming local government election, which will enable the achievement of the 25% quota of female representation in the local government level.