SRI LANKA: Sri Lanka Politics in Need of More Women

Friday, April 8, 2011
Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Southern Asia
Sri Lanka
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Back in 1960, Sri Lanka made headlines across the globe when it became the first country to elect a female leader. This could have been the start of a promising future for Sri Lankan women in politics. Instead it became painfully obvious that Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her daughter after her were only able to reach such a position through their family connections.

Today only 5.8 percent of the Sri Lankan parliament is female, most of whom were elected because they inherited a voter base from a male family member. And, at 1.8 percent, the rate of female representation in Sri Lanka's local politics is even more disturbing.

Moral Decline

Recently – nearly two years after the end of the civil war – Sri Lanka held relatively calm local elections. Surprisingly, the majority of the people who came out to vote were women; proving that Sri Lankan women do vote, they just don't like to vote for women.

Visaka Dharmadasa, founder of the Association of Women Against War says she's not surprised.

”People, including women, in this country like to vote for men who show their might by being violent, drive around in fancy cars and show off their wealth. This is the moral decline Sri Lanka has been experiencing for the past years.”

Ms Dharamadasa strongly believes that women are less likely to give in to corruption and violence, so she hopes to increase female representation in the Sri Lankan government.


To achieve this goal, AWAW has set up a training program for women who have political aspirations, but lack a party to back them. So far the organisation has trained over 2000 women for government positions.

However, only a few of them have actually made it into office. Because political parties are extremely reluctant to nominate women, Ms Dharmadasa's organisation is pushing for the government to reserve a percentage of seats for women, similar to the situation in India and Pakistan.

“At least when we have the quota they will have to nominate women. Now they are not doing it and we have hardly any women”.

Winning votes

United National Party MP Rosy Senanayake has experienced firsthand how difficult it is to be a woman in a male-dominated political system.

“The present electoral system in Sri Lanka makes is very difficult for woman. You need an enormous amount of money to do your campaigning and win enough votes within your constituency. Moreover, a lot of these women face character assassination by their male competition."

The former Miss Sri Lanka does realise her background gives her an advantage.

“For me of course it was different because I was already a public figure, so in that way I was an exception.”

Mr Senanayake thinks it's only a matter of time before she will be surrounded by more women in parliament.

“We have a very high literacy rate, most of the college applicants are women and the majority of voters are female. Except for politics, women already take the lead in every part of society in this country.”

Results postponed

The women of the South Asian island will have to wait a bit longer for this year's election results: due the national cricket team playing a World Cup match on the same day as the elections, some localities decided to postpone the voting until June.