Strengthening Women Participation in the Political Decision Making Process at the Local Level (LK0015)
Action Plan: Sri Lanka National Action Plan 2016-2018
Action Plan Cycle: 2016
Lead Institution: Election Commission
Support Institution(s): Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, and Ministry of Local Government Sri Lanka; Centre for Policy Analysis, Women and Media Collective, Women NGO Forum, Centre for Women’s Research, Sri Lanka Local Government Association, PAFFREL, Uva Shakthi Foundation, Maanawa Shakthi Foundation
Policy AreasCapacity Building, E-Government, Gender, Legislature, Money in Politics, Public Participation, Subnational
The Sri Lankan Constitution commits to gender equality and non-discrimination and recognizes affirmative action to bring about positive changes. These commitments are enshrined in the Women’s Charter of Sri Lanka (1993) and the National Plan of Action for Women (1996) that reflect Constitutional commitments as well as international commitments to CEDAW. Despite these commitments to gender equality, women’s participation in politics is still at a 6% low level in the national and local government. In the South Asian region, Sri Lanka presents a sorry picture with all the peer countries reporting better ranks globally as depicted below:
Countries in SA Percentage Place
Nepal 29.5% 47th
Afghanistan 27.7% 50th
Pakistan 27.7% 83rd
Bangladesh 20% 87th
India 12% 141st
Bhutan 8.5% 163rd
Maldives 5.9% 173rd
Sri Lanka 5.8% 175th
The Beijing +20 Review of the situation in Sri Lanka makes the following observation regarding women in politics. “It is possible to identify many forms of political participation in Sri Lanka, ranging from voting and contesting at elections to attendance at political meetings and rallies, membership in political organizations, participation in political strikes and demonstrations, as well as participation in unconventional and illegal activities like terrorism. Women make up half of the electorate in Sri Lanka as in most countries around the world and have the right to vote going back to the early 20th century. Yet women’s representation in the decision making sphere of politics, namely in political representation, remains woefully low despite years of activism. According to the latest statistics women’s representation in politics is less than six percent at all levels, national, provincial and local. This low level of women’s representation has always been seen as a conundrum in a country which has performed well on other indicators on women such as education and health”. In 2016 the law pertaining to Local Government was amended to include a 25% mandatory quota for women. Issues to be Addressed: Ensure increased number of women candidates in elections to the local government by widely publicizing salient features of the Local Government Amendment Bill. Bring together women whose capacity to enter politics has been built over the years through numerous programmes. Create a pool of women ready to enter local government politics and raise awareness among political parties to select trained women. Ensure that all the names of the candidates (men and women) are publicized early by the Election Commission, including profiles of the candidates. Main Objective: To ensure the nomination and election of qualified women to local government authorities through a transparent publicized process followed by political parties.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
15. Women’s Political Participation at the Local Level
Strengthening Women’s Participation in the political decision-making process at the local level
The Sri Lankan Constitution commits to gender equality and non-discrimination and recognizes affirmative action to bring about positive changes. These commitments are enshrined in the Women’s Charter of Sri Lanka (1993) and the National Plan of Action for Women (1996) that reflect Constitutional commitments as well as international commitments to CEDAW. Despite these commitments to gender equality, women’s participation in politics is still at a 6% low level in the national and local government.
[…] This low level of women’s representation has always been seen as a conundrum in a country which has performed well on other indicators on women such as education and health”.
In 2016 the law pertaining to Local Government was amended to include a 25% mandatory quota for women.
Ensure the nomination and election of qualified women to local government authorities and thereby, strengthen women’s participation in political decision-making.
- 1 Trained women planning on contesting for local government elections brought together to advocate for nominations.
- 2 Political parties nominate trained qualified women for 2017 local government elections.
- 3 Political parties provide financial and other support for nominated women to carry out political campaigns under party banners.
- 4 Publicity campaign tracking women’s 2017 entry into local government from nomination to contesting to election.
- 5 Names and profiles of all candidates (including women) released to the public ahead of local elections.
Responsible institution: Elections Commission
Supporting institutions: Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government; Ministry of Women and Child Affairs
Start date: June 2016........... End date: March 2017
Editorial Note: The text of the commitment was abridged for formatting reasons. For full text of the commitment, see the Sri Lanka National Action Plan 2016–2018 at http://bit.ly/2wv3jXR.
This commitment aimed to strengthen the political participation of qualified, or trained,  women in local government authorities. In particular, government and civil society stakeholders anticipated that this commitment will strengthen and enhance women’s voices and representation in political decision making at the local level. 
The commitment achieved limited completion by the midterm. According to a representative from the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs (MWCA) took steps to finalise selection criteria for women candidates (Milestone 15.1). The criteria included guidelines on education, social work, and political background.  The MWCA presented and discussed these criteria with Parliament, the Elections Commission, political party secretariats, and civil society. 
Concurrently, beyond the scope of the commitment, the National Committee on Women, under the MWCA, conducted six awareness programs for over 1,000 prospective women leaders across the country.  Similarly, CPA independently conducted several activities to support training of potential women political candidates. These included interactive dialogue and discussion sessions for over 2,500 potential women leaders, visual awareness campaigns, distribution of information leaflets, and a trilingual report on women’s representation in local politics. 
However, as the local government elections had only just been scheduled at the time, all activities pertaining to the nomination of women; provision of financial and other support; campaign tracking; and publishing the names and profiles of nominated candidates, had not commenced (Milestones 15.2–15.5).
End of term: Limited
As most milestones were not completed by the relevant government stakeholders, completion continued to be limited at the end of term.
Milestones 15.1–15.2: Local government elections took place in February 2018, with over 17,500 women vying to be nominated by political parties for political office.  Out of those nominated, 1,919 women were elected—of which 535 were elected by voters through the ward-based system, and 1,384 were selected and elected by political party organisers through the system of proportional representation.  According to a civil society representative from CPA, a high percentage of women elected through the ward-based system possessed adequate training and capacity to hold political office.  This training, provided by civil society, included exposure to a range of leadership and technical skills.  Although the commitment aims to encourage political parties to nominate trained women, the provision of training itself is beyond the scope of this commitment. There was no evidence of training undertaken by government as part of this commitment.
Milestone 15.3: Prior to the elections, CPA confirmed that campaign support was largely provided by CSOs.  As described above, this support took the form of political leadership training for potential women candidates and raising awareness among voters.  As proactive campaign support may have represented a conflict of interest, the government generally played a minimal role in providing campaign support. A notable exception was the MWCA, Ministry of Local Government, and Parliamentary Women’s Caucus pooling all women candidates together in a public walk event in order to raise awareness. 
Milestone 15.4: Civil society noted that campaign tracking of women from nomination to elections did not take place.  The Elections Commission engaged in other types of publicity campaigns covering topics ranging from voter education, the new mixed member election system, and the 25 per cent quota for women in local government. CPA also conducted its own publicity campaigns, including support and encouragement for women to publish manifestos. 
Milestone 15.5: CPA further confirmed that the Elections Commission had not adequately published or publicised the names and profiles of all candidates ahead of the local elections. Instead, the list of candidates was available only upon request. The list was not published online or on any other common platform. 
The Ministry of Local Government and/or the Elections Commission could not be reached for verification of completion at the end of term. 
Did It Open Government?
Access to Information: Did Not Change
Civic Participation: Marginal
At the outset of the action plan, women’s political representation in local government stood at 1.8 per cent of total councillors.  There were many reasons for underrepresentation of women in political decision making.  These include, for instance, patriarchal customs reinforced by political elites;  and disinterest in, or limited awareness of, opportunities for political participation. 
Despite parliament amending the Local Authorities Election Act in February 2016 to mandate a 25 per cent quota for women, many recognised that a quota alone was insufficient to ensure that trained women would be nominated or elected, or even that women would be able to translate representation into meaningful political participation. 
This commitment, aimed to increase access to information and ensure that trained or qualified women can be nominated and elected in local government elections. However, as the Elections Commission did not publish the names and profiles of all women candidates prior to the election, there was no change in access to information as a result of this commitment.
This commitment also stood to improve civic participation at a macro-level. Election of trained women to local government would, inherently, increase opportunities for a wider cross-section of the public to inform decision making. In this context, the government’s provision of limited support for women candidates, such as the public walk event, contributed to the broader engagement of women in civic life. This, in turn, constitutes a marginal improvement in civic participation.
Sri Lanka’s second action plan was not released at the time of this report.
In the 2016–2017 IRM midterm progress report, the IRM researcher recognised that much more can be done to facilitate the nomination, election, and participation of trained women to—and in—local government authorities. Specifically, the IRM researcher recommended that efforts advance beyond advocating for nominations and meeting mandatory quotas, to ensuring that women are empowered to participate meaningfully in local political decision making. These recommendations included: publishing model case-studies of individual women who have been successfully nominated and elected to local government; and conducting public awareness programs targeting potential women leaders.  For more information, see the 2016–2017 IRM midterm progress report.
According to a representative from CPA, discussions with commissioners of local government at the provincial level revealed that there are numerous issues and/or differences between elected men and women councillors.  These issues were premised on inadequate orientation of women councillors to political leadership.  Civil society has been driving such initiatives—CPA, for instance, reported that it has pursued various activities to strengthen the capacity of women councillors to better execute their work.  The IRM researcher recommends that the government carry similar initiatives forward into the next action plan.
 Generally, trained women may include those who have benefited from government or civil society programs that aim to strengthen political leadership through raising awareness on various pertinent topics. These topics may include gender, good governance, human rights, local government legislation, or even practical competencies such as mobilizing grassroot support and campaign financing. See also C. Kodikara, The Struggle for Equal Political Representation of Women in Sri Lanka: A Stocktaking Report for the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment and the United Nations Development Programme (New York: United Nations, 2009), http://bit.ly/2HXpyJg.
 S. Boralessa (Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government), interview by IRM researcher, 27 September 2017; S. Sumanasekara (Ministry of Women and Child Affairs), interview by IRM researcher, 13 October 2017. See also Law and Society Trust, Women’s Political Representation in Local Government Institutes: 25% Quota and Way Forward (16 February 2016) http://lawandsocietytrust.org/content_images/publications/documents/english-20160602150738.pdf.
 Sriyanie Wijesundara, interview by IRM researcher, 10 October 2017.
 Swarna Sumanasekera (Ministry of Women and Child Affairs), interview by IRM researcher, 10 October 2017.
 Wijesundara, interview.
 Sriyanie Wijesundara, interview by IRM researcher, 14 September 2018.
 See note 1.
 Wijesundara, interview.
 Wijesundara, interview.
 The IRM researcher made several unsuccessful attempts to reach relevant representatives in August and September 2018. Attempts were made via telephone and/or email, and through the point of contact at the Presidential Secretariat.
 T. Ariyaratne, “Electoral Reforms: Where Are the Women?” (Sunday Observer, 17 May 2015) http://archives.sundayobserver.lk/2015/05/17/fea10.asp; C. Kodikara, “Sri Lanka: Where Are the Women in Local Government?” (Open Democracy 50.50, 7 March 2011) https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/chulani-kodikara/sri-lanka-where-are-women-in-local-government/.
 C. Kodikara, The Struggle for Equal Political Representation of Women in Sri Lanka; Hemanthi Goonasekera (FSLGA), interview by IRM researcher, 22 September 2017; Prof. Swarna Jayaweera, Prof. Chandra Gunawardena, Dr. Ramani Jayatilaka, and Girty Gamage (CENWOR), interview by IRM researcher, 3 October 2017.
 Kodikara, “Sri Lanka: Where Are the Women in Local Government?”
 Goonasekera, interview.
 Dr. Ramani Jayasundere (The Asia Foundation), interview by IRM Researcher, 17 October 2017; Goonasekera, interview; Dr. Gopa Kumar Thampi, interview by IRM researcher, 15 October 2017.
 Wijesundara, interview.
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LK0023, 2016, Legislation & Regulation