#25forwomen: why affirmative action is not discrimination

Five quick reasons Sri Lanka needs affirmative action:

  1. Sri Lanka is the only country in South Asia without a quota for women in government: http://www.quotaproject.org/uid/countryview.cfm?country=131
  2. Female population of SL is 52% but less than 6% representation in parliament, out of which their participation is less than 3%
  3. In 2012/2013 admissions year, 61.3% of total university admissions were female; 85.7% of law admissions were female. We need to break the myth that there aren’t enough qualified women to lead us and that women aren’t informed enough to make intelligent decisions about how we must be governed.
  4. Women’s issues are not a ‘minor’ issue. Gendered persepectives are essential to creating policy regarding reconciliation, social welfare, labour practice, education, everything. Boxing ‘women’s issues’ under one Ministry solves nothing.
  5. Finally, it was promised to the nation by this government: http://www.president.gov.lk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/A-new-Sri-Lanka-for-Women-EN.jpg

After years of being coupled with children in the Ministry of ‘Women and Children’s Affairs’, the present interim government has given ‘Women’s Affairs’ its own segment. While a necessary protection, the isolation of ‘women’s issues’ misleads our understanding of the gendered nature of all issues that pertain to our country’s development and governance. Post-war reconstruction has, necessarily, women at its core: the loss of traditional male income earners has led to the prevalence of women-led households in the North and East (and elsewhere too, acknowledging the disappearances all over the island), which necessitates sensitivity to gender issues when deciding economic and social policies pertaining to these communities. In a town where almost all women earn their family’s income, what is the more immediate need: the construction of an office for non-local investors to devise business ideas for development, or a social service crèche that would relieve the stress of childcare and allow women to tend to the jobs that already sustain the community?

Our migrant workers, as at 2009, are constituted of 51.7% women, and of the total labour force a whopping 46% of them are housemaids. (1) If this labour is our greatest foreign revenue earner, how can gender considerations be only supplementary to foreign affairs and employment policy? We momentarily have a separate Ministry for Foreign Employment Welfare, headed by Thalatha Athukorale, so that’s certainly quite a few steps in the right direction. However, the separation of this ministry from traditional ministries and departments dealing with labour and international relations underscores the conception that a gendered perspective – in this case, that which concerns mass migratory workers – is a separable issue.

Gender considerations are not separable from the way we live our daily lives, let alone governance. However, in the same way that women need to be present in government to represent their perspectives, women politicians should also not be expected to do so: the recognition of their expertise in issues such as trade, foreign policy, waste management, energy resources, and more, is central to the ethos of the campaign for affirmative action. Women need to be chosen because they are experts, full stop. They need to not be discriminated against because they are women. Affirmative action is not ‘disadvantaging’ qualified male candidates: it is a counterbalance to the intangible discrimination that women face as they try to succeed in life. This discrimination happens from the way they are treated at home, in their schools, institutions, offices, and finally, the heads of organisations who have the power to choose who makes it and who doesn’t.

We can misguidedly boast the first woman prime minister and a female president but it is of no coincidence that they were wife and daughter of a male president who preceded them. To say either of them represented the average Sri Lankan woman is as fallacious as saying Margaret Thatcher represented working class British women or that Hillary Clinton represents the interests of American migrant working women. Affirmative action in politics needs to happen to ensure that Sri Lankans can put forward women from their own communities and male officials are mandated to listen to their voice, not turn them away because of their own personal or ‘cultural’ biases.

If you’ve been on the bandwagon with popular issues such as the fight against domestic violence, sexual harassment, street harassment, and wage inequalities, then this is the moment that you need to turn those sentiments into real action and support those who are lobbying for concrete change. Help Sri Lankan society demand #25forwomen.

Below are some of the social media images that you can use to spread the message, Tamil posters are currently being made. Also included are links to some articles about the issue.

Finally, I’m really just sick of seeing seas of fat, sweaty, pot-bellied men screaming into microphones. I cannot see myself nor my views represented there and I’m tired of it. Are you?

(1) http://www.statistics.gov.lk/Newsletters/Bulletin%20of%20International%20Migration.pdf

25 for Women_1 25 for Women_2 25 for Women_3 25 for Women_4 25 for Women_5 25 for Women_6


Thanks to Tehani Ariyaratne for providing links to the following articles:

1. ‘Where are the women’ by Tehani Ariyaratne: http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2015/05/17/fea10.asp
3. Representation in Politics: Women and Gender in the Sri Lankan Republic – Maithree Wickramasinghe 7 Chulani Kodikara: http://republicat40.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Representation-in-Politics1.pdf
4. Sri Lanka Were are the Women in Local Government – Chulani Kodikara: https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/chulani-kodikara/sri-lanka-where-are-women-in-local-government
5. Sri Lanka Shadow Report to CEDAW 2010 – See section on Article 7: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/ngo/WMD_SriLanka48.pdf
6. Women in local government from 2006 – 2011: a comparative analysis of representation of women and nominations for women – Chulani Kodikara ICES working paper: http://www.ices.lk/publications
7. The Struggle for Equal Political Representation for Women in Sri Lanka – Chulani Kodikara available athttp://www.lk.undp.org/content/dam/srilanka/docs/governance/WPE%20FINAL%20PDF.pdf
9. “Perennial Struggle – Women’s Political Representation in Sri Lanka” by Kumudini Samuel and Chulani Kodikara: http://groundviews.org/2011/01/14/a-perennial-struggle-womens-political-representation-in-sri-lanka/
10. WMC Media Campaign for increasing women’s representation at Local Government (2010/2011): http://womenandmedia.org/media-campaign-for-increasing-womens-representation-at-local-government-20102011/
11. Women in Politics – Some articles featured in Options: http://options.womenandmedia.org/category/issue/no-46-women-in-politics/
12. Some analysis on Electoral Reforms – Sujatha Gamage and Rohan Samarajeeva: http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2015/03/15/fea09.asp
13. “Women In Sri Lanka Need Allies In The New Parliament”- Sujatha Gamage: http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/03/21/women-in-sri-lanka-need-allies-in-the-new-parliament/
14. Open Sourcing the 100 Day Programme – Sujatha Gamage and Rohan Samarajiva: http://www.ft.lk/2015/03/03/open-sourcing-the-100-day-program/

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