Lankan women demand 30% reservation

In the 1994 parliament of Sri Lanka, there were only 4.8 per cent women in the house of 225 members, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2006 16:46 IST

Taking a cue from their counterparts in India, Sri Lankan women are asking for 30 per cent reservation in all elected bodies, including parliament.

This follows a finding that there are too few women in these bodies, though women are 50 per cent of the island's population of 20 million, and are over 50 per cent of the electorate.

In the 1994 parliament, women were only 4.8 per cent in the house of 225 members. In the National List of 29 MPs, there was only one woman.

In the subsequent years, the situation got worse, instead of getting better. In the parliament of 2000, the percentage of women declined to 4 per cent.

In 2001, the percentage increased marginally to 4.5 per cent. The 2004 elections saw another marginal increase, to 4.8 per cent.

According to the "Women's Manifesto of 2005/6," this is one of the lowest figures in South Asia. Only Bangladesh had fewer women in parliament, the document said.

The manifesto points out that in India, 8.8 per centof MPs are women. In conservative and Islamic Pakistan, women constitute 20% of the membership of the National Assembly.

The constitution of Afghanistan provides for 25 per cent reservation for women in its parliament.

Statistics for the last decade or so show that in the eight Provincial Councils of Sri Lanka, less than 5 per cent of the seats have been occupied by women. In the Municipal and Urban councils, and the Pradeshiya Sabhas, their representation has been even lower, less than 4 per cent.

Domestic violence

Over 800 "Change Makers" from all the countries of South Asia, including Afghanistan, are now in Colombo to discuss domestic violence, a major problem in the conservative societies of the region.

According to the Womens' Manifesto for Sri Lanka, over 60 per cent of women in the island are subjected to violence at home.

"Violence could be physical, mental, social or economic," explained Roshan Shahjahan, one of the Change Makers from Sri Lanka.

Renuka Rani, a Change Maker from Batticaloa in East Sri Lanka, said that the root cause of domestic violence was the Tamil tradition, according to which, the husband could beat his wife legitimately or a man could beat a women legitimately.

"In traditional Tamil society, a man can do no wrong, while the woman is responsible for all the ills in the family."

"Dowry demands are also a major problem," she added.

In the poor rural areas of the Sinhala speaking South Sri Lanka, the problems are somewhat different. Incest and excessive consumption of liquor by men deserve special mention, one of the speakers said.

Studies reveal that the migration of young Sinhala mothers to the Middle East to work as maids, has resulted in their children being left in the care of close relatives some of whom take advantage of the situation to satisfy their lust.

According to T Sripalu, a Change Maker from Batticaloa, there is violence in Muslim families too. But these do not come out, because of the tight control exercised by the men over the women.

Even if a Muslim woman took a case of violence to the religious panchayat or Jamaat, she was unlikely to get a fair hearing because all the members of the Jamaat would be men, Sripalu said.

First Published: Mar 08, 2006 16:37 IST