Featured Commitment - Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka – AP1 2015-2017 (2016-2018)
Theme: Women in Political Governance
Commitment 15: Strengthening Women’s Participation in the political decision-making process at the local level

Across the globe, women have seen slow-moving and limited progress on advancement of rights and representation of interests. OGP Steering Committee co-chair, Canada, has established women’s advancement as one of its priorities and has worked with OGP to develop a Feminist Open Government Initiative. To open the “Women and the Right of Access to Information Conference” at the Carter Center Atlanta, OGP CEO Sanjay Pradhan expressed in his remarks, his hope to ensure the right to information typically discussed in open government settings ultimately delivers to girls everywhere the right to proper nutrition, education, and more.

While we’re excited to see new advancements as a result of this initiative, this issue is already important to the OGP community as seen in Commitment 15 in the Sri Lankan OGP National Action Plan. The commitment ties together two seemingly disparate issues that are relevant to the open government community to increase Women’s Political Representation (WPR): political party financing and public participation in government. Over the past ten years, Sri Lanka has been a leader on issues surrounding women’s rights, including education and health. Sri Lanka’s Minister of Women and Child Affairs has said that in 2015, the literacy rate of women in Sri Lanka was 98.6 percent, and the percentage of women entering state universities had increased to 62.2 percent.  According to UNICEF, Sri Lanka’s maternal mortality ratio is only 35 deaths per 100,000 live births, or .035 percent, lower than the rest of the region.  

The Sri Lankan constitution also commits to gender equality, and Sri Lanka is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), committing to relevant actions for the advancement of women. In 1996, the government developed the National Plan of Action for Women that reflects constitutional and international commitments to CEDAW. Despite strong legislative foundations, lack of enforcement of these actions results in women making up only 5.8 percent of parliamentary and less than two percent of local government representatives, placing Sri Lanka last in the region.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified multiple reasons for the under-representation of women in government: an enduring patriarchy reinforced by political elites, inadequate financial support for political campaigning, and deficient political leadership training and education. In Sri Lanka, candidates are entitled to direct funding from constituents after nomination from their party. Currently, women are not able to win nominations within male-dominated parties, and therefore are not able to receive enough funding to run a campaign. In 2016, a legislative solution to the lack of WPR was proposed and passed in parliament. The Legal Authorities Election Act (LAEA) was amended to include a twenty-five percent mandatory quota for female representatives. Realization of this quota could provide potential female candidates with the opportunity to collect funding, run campaigns, and ultimately win seats in parliament.  

Studies show that women tend to adopt a leadership style distinct from male leaders, and are more inclined than men to embrace the ideals of responsibility, care, and interconnectedness. Therefore, more WPR at a local level may indicate that municipalities will be closer to citizens, aiming to serve them and ensuring accountability and transparency. Increasing transparency plays a crucial role in establishing good governance, reducing corruption, and government inefficiencies. Studies also record that a quota for female representation can kick start WPR by establishing a mandatory presence of women close to the principle of parity in public bodies.

Prior to the development of Sri Lanka’s OGP National Action Plan, there was no concrete plan for implementing the LAEA legislation. To remedy this, Sri Lanka included a commitment to meet this quota with the nomination and election of qualified women into local government across Sri Lanka in its first OGP action plan. The commitment is designed in such a way to facilitate the realization of the set quota to give candidates access to funds. It also aims to increase public participation and transparency through increased WPR. The commitment contains milestones specifically aimed at organizing qualified female candidates, guiding political parties to nominate and financially support selected candidates, and releasing profiles of all candidates to the public prior to the election dates. The quota, and subsequent implementation of this commitment, could potentially increase the number of women in local government from around ninety at present to two thousand following the next local elections.

This commitment is exciting because it combines efforts in two seemingly unrelated issue areas - party financing and public participation - to reform political party organization and financing with the explicit aim of opening up government to more of the population, namely women. The efforts in Sri Lanka so far are the beginnings of a broader initiative undertaken by OGP and Steering Committee Co-Chair, Canada, to advance the interests of women through open government around the world.

Authors: Markus Sherman
Filed Under: OGP News