17 February 2018

Sri Lanka Gender Quotas for WOMEN: Reality & Practicality

Not everyone can or wants to enter politics. Not everyone can or wants to be a politician. There have been plenty of women in politics some making a global name for themselves like Sirimavo Bandaranaike and they did so without a women’s quota even existing nor expecting any special privileges because they were women. In a day & age where women demand equality with men it is amusing that the same advocates are also peddling for quota for women. How practical is the women’s quota especially when a crisis has arisen following the local government elections wherein the 25% women quota is not shown in the results? Why should gender be preferred over qualification or merit of a person? How can women themselves feel proud if they are selected because & only because she is a woman and not for people’s belief in her polices, visions or achievements? If sovereignty is inalienable and in the people how democratic is it to have a quota for women when the people have rejected them.

Matriarchal societies: The Eastern civilizations have always revered women. The mother has always played a key role in family affairs. The culture & environment was such that the women did not require names or positions because society revered her.
Patriarchal societies: Virtually all Judeo/Christian societies are patriarchal where power resides with men. With colonial exploration the use of weapons and armory made men feel & behave superior & with the gradual evolvement of governance and political system Western system were geared to be male-dominated & female-subjugated. Women was given to vote in the UK in 1918 that too only women above 30 years. Women in Sri Lanka got to vote for the first time in 1928. No women contested the first elections to the State Council. Adeleine Molamure contested Ruwanwella seat following her father’s death in 1931 & won with a majority of over 9000.

Most of the famous women in politics have come from Asia: Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Benazir Bhutto, Corazon Aquino, Sonia Gandhi, Sheikh Hassina to name a few
Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher – all of these women created a name for themselves not because of any quota system & that is what makes them stand tall.  They would never have wanted to get elected just because they were women. These women were up to the challenge & were awesome personalities in their own right.

People get nominated by the party after they apply to obtain nomination to contest. There is no political party that debars women from applying or explicitly states that women cannot apply. Therefore, if women do not come forward it is not the fault of any political party or the political system neither it is the fault of the voter if they decide they don’t want to elect a woman candidate. If voters don’t want women candidates especially if they are to come from a women’s allocation these new changes should not be made mandatory to the citizen. After all, the citizen is the person makes the choice.

However, if a woman candidate applying for nomination feels she has been discriminated because of her gender it is suggested that the supposed to be ‘independent’ Election Commission set up an unit to hear these grievances & make recommendations to the political party secretaries thereafter. Key word is ‘recommendations’ as the election commission cannot order political parties on who to select or reject.

What happens if Parties are forced to nominate 25% women to their nomination list – but voters do not vote for them? Does this mean that the women who had been rejected by the voter should get a place just because of the quota? This is the crisis following the local government election & exposes the drawbacks of such an inclusion.

If women want to enter politics they must do so on equal footing. There is nothing equal or democratic about quotas for women where even after people have rejecting them by vote because of the allocation they have to be accommodated. This is totally undemocratic. No woman can feel proud of herself to be in politics simply because of a quota system when being a politician means that she has to daily interact with her constituency & the general public and she knows they did not vote for her & have rejected her.

However, it is suggested that the national list include a % of women who do not stand for election & are accommodated on the merit of their achievements besides being a woman.
It is to be noted that in the case of the nomination of a female member to the present constitutional council many in the public were not satisfied with the choice given that the particular female had done nothing for the nation except accumulate titles & awards for herself serving foreign masters.

In no country except perhaps majority Muslim countries, the voice of women is stifled. Women have enough of platforms to air their views. Women cannot complain that people don’t vote for them because they are women – people may not vote for them not because they don’t like them as women but more so because they don’t believe in their abilities to govern. Therefore, why should the general public be saddled with such people-rejected women just because they are women?

In many countries where the quota system prevails either female family members of politicians are enlisted denying outside women any opportunity, creating more chaos and adding to the prevailing corrupt environment that exists.

Many of those peddling for the women quota are from foreign paid NGO circles. Many advertise themselves as well-known women activists, however would the people elect them at an election? While they believe they are ardent followers of causes among their own circles, the people know too well how biased and selective they are in their choice of ‘causes’ based on the foreign funds they get as seen by recent examples of how they selectively held vigils for one victim ignoring others. The people are no fools. People have been fooled by false propaganda but now they are more alert & are questioning every move people in public make.   

On the one hand women are demanding equal status as men and at another extreme they are demanding quotas simply because they are women. What we cannot forget is that women & men will always be different both physically & mentally. What some women can do, men cannot do, what some men can do women cannot do.

Certainly, in areas where both are in equal employment there should be no discrepancies in salaries & promotions, however there are some jobs that men do that women don’t want to do though a handful of women may want to try. Same case in reverse for men too. However, just because a series of demonstrations and propaganda programs are funded by NGOs with women demanding for women quotas it is for individual countries to assess the culture of their environment & society before plugging notions that are imported from time to time which end up totally upsetting the existing systems.



Shenali D Waduge