• Women’s Groups Challenge Restrictions on Women’s Right to Manufacture, Purchase, Sell Liquor

    Women’s groups have filed action in the Supreme Court on 15/02/2018 against the Hon. Minister of Finance and 49 others in respect of the Gazette dated 18/01/2018 restricting the rights of women to be engaged in and/or employed in the manufacture, collection, bottling, sale and transportation of liquor, and to be sold or given liquor within the premises of a tavern.

    The case number is SC/FR/74/2018.

  • Amendments to Local Authorities Act needed: Elections Commission

    Skandha Gunasekara

    Fresh amendments for the Local Authorities Elections Act would be essential to allow local governing bodies to establish councils, even without the mandatory 25% quota for women, under unique conditions.

    Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, addressing a media briefing yesterday, said that several Local Government (LG) bodies were faced with issues regarding establishment due to the lack of required female representation.

    “These special circumstances are when political parties cannot appoint the set number of female candidates according to law, due to having an overhang, and cannot choose female candidates from the additional list to make up numbers,” he said.

    Currently, LG bodies which do not achieve their 25% quota of female representation cannot legally establish a council.  This situation arises when political parties are unable to appoint the needed number of female candidates due to an overhang and cannot select female candidates from the additional list to fill openings.

    There are 21 LG councils which have three or more seats as overhangs at present, Deshapriya said, adding that the Commission was in a dilemma, having to choose between following the legal process to the letter, or heeding the moral beliefs of natural justice.

    Deshapriya noted that he was to meet with leaders of political parties the same day to discuss the issue.

    “However, if the parties with lesser votes refuse to nominate female candidates, then there will be a problem with establishing those councils,” he said.

    Explaining the quandary further, Deshapriya took the Ambalangoda Municipal Council as an example.

    “In the Ambalangoda Municipal Council, there are 20 members and according to the 25 percent quota, we should have five women appointed. The SLPP won the Council, and according to proportional representation system, they were assigned nine seats but there was an overhang so they got 10 seats.  In addition, the UNP won seven seats, UPFA three and JVP 1. When it came to the women’s quota, SLPP had to appoint two women, UNP 2 and the UPFA 1 but the SLPP only had one woman winning the seat and they cannot choose another female candidate from the additional list as they already have won an extra seat. This means that the other female candidate should come from either the UNP or UPFA seats in order to fulfil the overall 25 percent quota of women in the council. This seems rather unfair,” explained Deshapriya. Furthermore, the Chairman noted that when the Elections Commission brought this issue up with the Attorney General’s department during the formulation of the draft bill, their objections had been dismissed. “We informed the AG Department that this issue would happen when they were amending the Act but they said that we are speaking of extreme situations,” he said, while going on to point out that had all 25 percent of female candidates contested the election instead of 10 percent, more women would have won seats, avoiding having to face this situation.

    “When we asked the Attorney General (AG), they asked us to work according to the Act, but the Commission’s conscience is greater than the Act. We need to implement the law but what happens to those candidates who have contested and won? Do we ask them to resign? Do we put the burden of making the numbers to the other parties?” asked Deshapriya.


  • DO NOT DEFAULT ON IMPLEMENTING THE LEGALLY BINDING 25% QUOTA FOR WOMEN – Letter to the Elections Commission, leaders of political parties and Speaker of the House

    We the undersigned Civil Society Organisations, including women’s groups, and women’s rights advocates are writing to call on the Chairman and Members of the Election Commission to implement fully the 25% quota for women in accordance with the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act No. 16 of 2017.

    We understand from media reportage and other sources that following the 10th February local government elections, certain political parties feel that they have to bear an ‘unfair’ burden in fulfilling the women’s quota, which has already been clearly established by law. We understand that political parties in consultation with the Elections Commission and the Attorney General’s Department are considering revisions to the law. We are extremely concerned at these developments. We welcomed the law as a significant victory to redress historic discrimination against women and strongly appeal to political parties and the Election Commission to respect the spirit of the 25% quota and refrain from any reductions to the agreed level of women’s representation.

    We recognize that there are exceptions to the 25% quota for women. According to the law, if the number of members elected from a political party results in an ‘overhang’ and thereby exceeds the number ascertained to be elected as members and such number of members do not include any women members, then the political party is not bound to fulfill the quota. Similarly, if a political party or independent group has received less than 20% of votes in a local authority area and is entitled to less than 3 members, they are also exempt from appointing the requisite 25% women.

    While this may not appear to be fair, it was discussed in the context of women being afforded the opportunity of contesting for only a minimum 10% of the wards, which was also not an equal provision. This was thus the formulation that was discussed, debated and agreed on by all political parties in Parliament and adopted as law. Only these two exceptions have been included in the law. As noted in section 25 of the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act, No. 16 of 2017, when the number of women members elected for all wards for any political party or independent group is less than the 25% quota, then the “shortfall in the number of members shall be returned from among the women candidates in the first nomination paper or the additional nomination paper….”.

    To now reduce the quota following a free and fair election conducted under the new amendments, at the behest of the Chairman of the Elections Commission or Party Secretaries we think is not only blatantly unfair, unlawful and undemocratic, but also misogynistic.

    The 25% quota for women was the result of a long and hard struggle waged by women’s organisations and women’s rights advocates for close to 20 years. It sought to address the abysmal underrepresentation of women in local government. The representation of women in local government prior to this quota never exceeded 2%. The whole point of affirmative action for women in political institutions is that it seeks to increase the numbers of women and in doing so it may exact a penalty from men who have dominated these seats for years by enabling a more democratic redistribution of seats between men and women and forcing men to accept that they cannot enjoy the primary privilege of representation at the expense of women. This is the fundamental principle underlying quota.

    It is not for the Election Commission to subvert the very quota it is bound by law to operationalize. The law reads (see new Section 27F(1)) that 25% of every local authority shall consist of women. To say that it is unfair to let major parties carry the larger share of women representatives is in fact discrimination against women. All candidates have equal standing at elections, whether men or women and it should not matter who is appointed once they have been put forward as equal candidates. We are also deeply concerned that political parties appear to undervalue women candidates and not treat them on par with men. It is not ‘unfair’ that more women may be appointed by some parties from the ‘additional persons’ list, it will be unfair if parties deem more women cannot be elected or appointed over men.

    The purpose of women’s quotas and other affirmative action measures in political institutions is to increase opportunities for women to assume positions as elected leaders, particularly where social and cultural barriers would otherwise unfairly impede women’s ability to contest for and win a seat. There is a misperception among some political parties and independent groups that meeting the quota forces male leaders to give up their seats. In reality, the number of local government members was drastically increased from past elections, inter alia, to allow for the 25% quota and women candidates are entitled to these seats. Increasing the number of women in office and expanding the diversity of Sri Lanka’s elected leaders is not only good for women – it is critical to Sri Lanka’s democratic process.

    We also wish to remind all peoples’ representatives, especially those who legislate, that women comprise the majority of voters in this country and their vote counts in your election and therefore such blatant misogyny and discrimination as this will not be tolerated.

    We call upon the Elections Commission to operationalise fully the law with regard to the women’s quota. We also call upon all elected representatives in Parliament to honor their commitment to equality and non discrimination and not amend the law further or bring in provisions that will further diminish the rights of women rather than respect, promote, protect and fulfill them.

    The undersigned therefore call on the Election Commission to 1) ensure that political parties are in compliance with all provisions of the law and 2) recognizing the exceptions in the quota, to nevertheless encourage political parties to go beyond the minimum requirements and nominate more women to fulfill the spirit of the 25% quota, thus strengthening diverse representation.

    Concerned Civil Society Organisations, including Women’s Groups and Women’s Rights Activists

    15 February 2018


  • Progress on gender equality ‘unacceptably slow:’ UN Women

    Sophie Edwards

    The United Nations has warned that progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals for women and girls is “unacceptably slow,” and has called for better data as well as a special focus on unpaid care work and ending violence against women to drive change.

    The monitoring report from UN Women, “Turning Promises into Action,” released Wednesday, assesses progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, specifically looking at efforts to achieve gender equality — a prominent and cross-cutting issue across all 17 goals, the report states, as well as a standalone goal in itself.

    “Progress for women and girls remains unacceptably slow,” UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said in the report, adding that this “new data and analysis underlines that, unless progress on gender equality is significantly accelerated, the global community will not be able to keep its promise.”

    While there has been some progress in recent years, the report concludes that the focus on women and girls provided by the SDGs is yet to turn into practice in most countries. For example, 15 million primary school-aged girls are out of school globally, compared to about 10 million boys; women hold only 24 percent of parliamentary seats; the gender pay gap stands at 23 percent; and gender-based violence is still a “global pandemic,” the report states.

    It shines a light on huge disparities in the opportunities offered to women and girls living in the same countries. In India, for example, a woman aged 20–24 from a poor, rural household is 21.8 times less likely to have attended school, and 5 times more likely to have married before the age of 18, compared with a woman of the same age from a rich, urban household. Such disparities in education and opportunities also persist in developed nations, the report finds.

    Furthermore, new and re-emerging challenges, such as conservative attitudes towards women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as climate change and environmental degradation, which are undermining “the livelihoods of millions,” are putting increasing pressure on women’s opportunities, the report warns.

    It points to a number of key challenges holding back progress and concludes that “making every woman and girl count will require a revolution not only in gender data but also in policies, programming and accountability,” and offers recommendations to help member countries translate positive rhetoric about equality into practice.

    Better data, statistics, and analysis on gender can be used to hold governments, companies, and other stakeholders accountable for their commitments to gender equality, UN Women advises. Additional financing and policies are also needed, it says.

    Katja Iversen, head of Women Deliver, said the report contained “stronger messages, findings, and recommendations than we normally hear from a U.N. agency,” which she said is “very appropriate at a time when conservative winds are blowing” and threatening women’s health and rights.

    She also commended the report for promoting an “integrated approach — looking at the whole girl and the whole woman and how the different dimensions of the SDGs are deeply intertwined with women’s well-being.”

    “The evidence is clear: If we want to solve the world’s biggest problems, we need to break down the silos and work together across issues, sectors, and geographies — with women at the center,” she added.

    Better data

    Despite increasing attention to gender statistics in recent decades, effectively tracking and monitoring progress against the global goals is challenging in many countries for a number of reasons, including “uneven coverage” of gender indicators across the targets.

    For example, UN Women finds that only 10 out of 54 gender-specific indicators are collected with enough regularity to be classified as Tier 1 by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group, which means they can be monitored in a reliable way at the global level. For another 24 gender indicators, “coverage is patchy and insufficient to allow global monitoring,” the report states, while 17 indicators are still being developed.

    The report also points to a lack of internationally-agreed standards around how the data is collected as another fundamental challenge to effective monitoring.

    Tanvi Jaluka, program coordinator for gender and development at the Center for Global Development, said the report was right to focus on the need for more and better data to monitor the SDG’s progress on women and girls.

    “Holes in gender data exist because methodologies are not clear or because data standards are not actively being practiced by countries,” she said.

    New areas of focus

    Ensuring gender-equitable access to financial services is another major priority highlighted in the UN Women report, and one which Jaluka said currently receives too little attention.

    “Unfortunately, a lot of attention is paid to the creation of jobs in the private sector and not to reducing the gender gap in financial services,” she said, adding that “countries should work with financial institutions to invest in and test innovative financial products, as well as deliver products that are specifically targeted toward women.

    “Taking these steps will promote productive labor activities, small and medium enterprise business growth, and savings and investment,” the CGD expert added.

    The report also makes specific recommendations for change around unpaid care work which experts say is one of the key reasons why women, as the default providers of care, are less likely to have quality jobs, attend school, participate in political life, and become financially independent.

    In South Africa, for example, providing free and universal child care for children aged 0 to 5 would “at least in part” pay for itself, the report suggests, by creating between 2.3 million new jobs and bringing 10 percent more women into the workforce. The associated tax and social security revenue from these new jobs would cover more than a third of the costs of investing in free early childhood education and care, it says.

    The report also takes an indepth look at the issue of violence against women and girls, noting that despite the prevalence of violence against women inflicted by an intimate partner, there are still no laws to protect victims from such abuse in 49 countries. It offers a range of recommendations, including pushing countries to adopt and implement comprehensive legislation, and overhauling services for victims in order to reach the most marginalized.


  • What Iceland Can Teach the World About Gender Gaps

    Angela Henshall

    ‘Iceland has made it illegal to pay women less than men!’ crowed headlines in January, to a huge collective cheer and social media high-fives.

    But the reality is, in most countries it’s already illegal to pay women less than men. From the Russian Federation to Rwanda, it’s against the law. Most nations (and not just in the workers’ paradise of Scandinavia) have had some form of existing anti-discrimination laws in place for decades.

    But speaking in Davos, Switzerland, even a very upbeat Pat Milligan, multinational client group global leader for consultancy Mercer, referenced some frustrating findings from the latest World Economic Forum report. 

    The results show we’re going backwards on gender parity across health, education, politics and the workplace for the first time since 2006. According to WEF calculations, an average gap of 32% (up from 31.7%) still remains and the reversal is being driven in part by declining gender equality in the workplace. And like many other high-profile employers, the BBC is very much part of this debate.

    The latest radical step from Iceland is that the country is trying to flip the legal situation on its head

    The latest radical step from Iceland is that the country is trying to flip the legal situation on its head. What makes the Iceland plan different is that the onus will no longer be on a beleaguered employee to prove they are underpaid – which can involve years of court battle. It’s up to their boss to prove they are paying workers fairly.

    But is this really so radical? Could this model be scaled up to a much larger island nation?

    (Credit: Getty Images)

    By many measures, Iceland leads the world in gender equality (Credit: Getty Images)

    “Most countries have equal pay laws: the UK established them in 1970,” says Daphne Romney QC, one of the UK’s leading barristers in equal pay litigation. Over and above that, she says, is the European Union right to equal pay, which gives workers the right to go to civil court or a tribunal.

    Iceland has made it a criminal offence for employers not to take action on unequal pay. They’ve effectively made it like a health and safety violation – Daphne Romney QC

    Although most countries allow workers to take action against employers, the problem is that “it takes years of slog to get it to court, let alone get to the point of compensation.”

    “Iceland has made it a criminal offence for employers not to take action on unequal pay. They’ve effectively made it like a health and safety violation,” says Romney, adding there will be a penalty for inaction which will trigger job evaluation schemes.

    So why can’t this model be made to work elsewhere?

    Bridging the gap

    “I think it’s very radical but to be honest I don’t think it would get through [passed in to law] here in the UK. Nothing works. The new UK gender pay gap regulations will only apply to 34% of employees, i.e. firms of more than 250 employees,” Romney says.

    Romney is talking about a 2016 UK law requiring all larger firms – around 9,000 companies – to report their pay data. The idea is to get large firms’ pay data out in the open and subject to public scrutiny.

    But Romney feels this is as far as it goes: she feels Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative party is opposed to any changes that go further, as they could bring significant costs for the business sector.

    (Credit: Getty Images)

    This debate has been raging for decades: here, campaigners for equal pay gather outside Caxton Hall, London in 1954 (Credit: Getty Images)

    If the UK is unlikely to follow Iceland’s lead, are there any other countries looking to try something else?

    Professor Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto, points to another model that predates Icelandic legislation – Canada, which is making strides towards closing the gap.

    The policies in Ontario and Quebec, for example, focus on equal pay for equal work (through human rights legislation) and also equal pay for equal value work (through pay equity legislation). In Ontario, the Fair Workplaces Bill 148 includes a raft of new laws; from making provision for workers who suspect that they’re not receiving equal pay to ask for a review to banning employers from forcing staff to wear high-heels.

    “This is more advanced than the scope of the Icelandic legislation, which only has the former,” she says. “But Iceland has reporting and fines in place which we don’t have in Canada.” Kaplan says that some of Canada’s laws enforce detailed individual audits of a company’s payment practices, which most companies comply with.

    Even in the US, some states, such as Massachusetts, have banned companies asking job candidates about former salaries. That’s something that neither Iceland nor Canada has. “So, it is a patchwork of solutions, none of which can be fully effective without the others. No country or jurisdiction has put in the full suite of practices,” Kaplan says.

    Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies the pay gap in different industries and countries, agrees. He says that while Iceland is “at the very edge of reforms” in this space, and that it could be close to breaking real ground in the pay gap problem, it’s unwise to assume that one country’s policies can apply elsewhere.

    (Credit: Getty Images)

    Candidates take part in a televised debate on the eve of snap parliamentary election on October 27, 2017 in Reykjavik (Credit: Getty Images)

    “However, there are useful lessons to be learned here, including that gender pay equity does not happen by itself.” He feels that the more accountability and transparency, the better: in the UK, for instance, compulsory gender pay audits will help. “Just showing the scale of the problem is an important step.”

    The revolution we now need is models of masculinity, not just business models – Richard Reeves

    Reeves’s own research suggests that the gap will only be narrowed by a fundamental altering not just of organisational practices, but of cultural assumptions about the respective roles of men and women in the workplace and home. “Women continue to ‘juggle’ family and work life, which impacts on their earnings and advancement. Men are not yet doing the same. The revolution we now need is models of masculinity, not just business models.”

    The model to follow?

    Tiny Iceland, with its population of 336,483, is a heavyweight in gender equality.

    It has had the closest gender gap of any country for nine years in a row. And according to European Union data, Iceland is the world leader at including women in the labour force: participation was over 80% in 2017. This ranks Iceland not only at the top of all comparable countries but also puts the nation as the highest of all OECD countries.

    Since the 1970s, more and more Icelandic women have entered the workforce and stayed there. This can be attributed to several political decisions, such as a legal right for parents to return to their job after childbirth.


    (Credit: Getty Images)

    Vigdis Finnbogadottir (left), with Margaret Thatcher in 1982. Finnbogadottir’s 16-year reign remains the longest of any female head of state of any country (Credit: Getty Images)

    University of Iceland gender studies professor Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir says a strong women’s movement and huge pressure from feminist groups have been behind the political will in Iceland to rapidly introduce a series of radical measures in gender issues, such as paternity leave and gender quotas.

    She believes the wider Icelandic culture has also been a significant contributing factor. “There is a historical legacy of strong women [here] who have inspired other women,” she says, mentioning the election of the world’s first democratically-elected female president, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, in 1980.

    Bringing as many women into the workforce as men would be the equivalent of adding another China and another US to the global economy

    She points to other events such as the Women’s Day Off in 1975, a strike when half the country downed tools, this strike was repeated several times. “Maybe also the smallness of the country, close connections, and easy flow of information. It is very easy to mobilise actions where different women’s groups join forces [here].”

    Reversing the trend

    In some places, the gender gap has reversed slightly. One 2016 report found that full-time female workers in Northern Ireland earn on average 3.6% more than their male counterparts (although the gap between hourly earnings for each sex still widens if women become mothers.) This could be caused by a larger proportion of women working public sector jobs in Northern Ireland, which are better paid than private sector equivalents.

    And why should anyone care? Because the economic argument for extrapolating this success – albeit with a large caveat that no Icelandic woman believes it’s utopia just yet– is cast iron. More women contributing to the global economy futureproofs against another global recession. As well, bringing as many women into the workforce as men would be the equivalent of adding another China and another US in gross domestic product to the global economy. A “full potential” scenario, in which women play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, could add up to $28 trillion to global annual GDP by 2025, according to McKinsey’s research.

    So, while moving to Iceland may not be the answer for everyone, learning a little from the Icelandic model could be an excellent start.


  • Attacks on Female Candidates: A Landmark Achievement Turns SOUR

    Amra Ismail

    Over the past weeks female candidates have been subjected to attacks ranging from verbal abuse, psychological abuse to physical violence. The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence(CMEV) has received 34 complaints regarding violence against females during elections. In total 421 complaints have been received regarding election violence. However, activists point out that the number could be more as incidents are not reported due to fear of further reprisal. Sources have pointed fingers at the inefficiency of the police in investigating into these complaints and curbing violence.
    According to the Suriya Women’s Development Centre two female candidates contesting from the Manmunai Pattu Pradeshiya Sabha (Batticaloa) have been subjected to character assassination using social media. One has been threatened and stones have been thrown at her residence and windows have been smashed as well. The husband of another female candidate from the Vavunathivu ward has verbally abused her and threatened her though she had discussed with him beforehand about contesting. In a recent press release the Women’s Action Network (WAN), which is a network of 8 women organizations operating in the North and East, listed out that a woman candidate in the Monaragala District, who was involved in election campaigning, was admitted to the hospital in a serious condition after she was brutally attacked. Another female candidate from the Puthukkudiyiruppu area of the Mullaitivu District was physically assaulted, kept locked in a house, and threatened to withdraw the complaint she made to the Police, the statement said.
    Unsupportive males
    Female candidates also complained of how males were not supportive. One female candidate told us how she is coerced to provide men with alcohol, so that she could receive their support. WAN in its statement noted of how female candidates in Puttalam and other districts have been verbally humiliated by religious leaders and have been subjected to revolting comments. Further candidates and activists pointed out that female candidates were often told that they would not or could not win at the elections. The Dailymirror also learned that certain male candidates dissuade the public from voting for women.

    An amendment to the Local Authorities Act has made it mandatory for political parties and independent groups to include 25 percent of female candidates in their nomination papers. Though this amendment is praiseworthy, with candidates being dissuaded from campaigning, subjected to gender based violence and other forms of harassment and injustice, activists are skeptical of the outcome.
    In the light of recent events the Dailymirror spoke to activists, female candidates, the Center for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) and the Elections Commission to assess the nature and extent of the violence and injustice faced by female candidates.

    “Commission doesn’t have power to arrest culprits”

    -Mahinda Deshapriya

    Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said that the commission doesn’t have the power to arrest culprits or initiate legal proceedings against them. “There is a separate unit at the police to investigate such matters. We have informed the police of several incidents. If the house of a candidate has been stoned, for instance, the police should inquire. We too send a team and collect data,” said Deshapriya.

    Complaints can also be made to the Elections Commission via “This email account is checked every hour or half an hour,” he said. Further complaints can be lodged through ‘Tell Commission-Elections Commission of Sri Lanka’.

    Referring to attacks on female candidates via social media he said candidates could lodge complaints at the cybercrimes division at the police as well.   However, he noted that women did not continue with proceedings due to the backlash from society.


    Some candidates refused nominations

    – SumikaPerera
    Meanwhile the Coordinator of the Women’s Resource Centre, SumikaPerera based in Kurunegala raised concern about a different aspect of injustices that women have been subjected to. Perera pointed out that some women were given nominations to contest from areas where the opposition was very strong. “Women who were dedicated to their work in a particular area did not get the opportunity to contest from that area. Instead they have to contest in areas where the opposition is strong and where it is impossible to win,” she said. She added that this would ultimately create a notion that despite there being a quota women are not capable of winning elections.
    Some female candidates had not been given nominations, and had to join other political parties, she said.
    A minimum of 10% women candidates is required in the first nomination list. Perera highlighted that in all wards women were nominated only up to 10%. “They were nominated just to fulfill the requirement and no woman was nominated in addition to this.”
    She also noted that groups monitoring violence should take note of psychological violence too, caused by sexist remarks and discouraging sentiments that they are unfit to enter into politics.
    “One candidate came to me sobbing that she had been asked to put up ten banners and distribute leaflets as the leader of the party was visiting. I asked her to tell outright that she did not have the money,” she said.

    “Our voices need to be heard”

    – Nalini Ratnarajah   
    Political Activist, Nalini Ratnarajah said that mostly women candidates were subjected to character assassination. “This morally, emotionally and psychologically affects them. Women are supposed to be good women, home makers looking after the family. When women face sexist comments, when people threaten them that their child or husband will be abducted, that photographs and videos against them will be released on social media they are asked to stay at home.”

    “A candidate who is in her second marriage has been subjected to gossip that she was having an illicit affair with some other man. The husband was supportive at the beginning. But when he started receiving anonymous calls about his wife, though he trusted her, the woman was asked to stop her campaign,” she said.

    She stressed that the government should introduce laws to address such violence. “Women are the backbone of the Sri Lankan economy. The government runs the local authorities, provincial councils, and even the Parliament with the foreign revenue earned by women. Half of the population is women. So our voices need to be heard,” she said.

    Police hesitated to take action against men 

    The National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), Manjula Gajanayake said that under the new electoral system female candidates should be encouraged to win or otherwise the party would be at a disadvantage. “But unfortunately male candidates perceive this as a threat.”
    He further pointed out that in certain local areas male candidates were powerful and therefore the police hesitated to take action against them when they have attacked female candidates. Apart from the incidents of explicit violence Gajanayake highlighted how women have been either deceived or dissuaded especially during the nomination period. “Party organizers have made promises that certain women will be nominated but their names have not been added to the nomination list. Most women did not know that they should sign nomination papers under the additional list. Until the deadline of handing over nomination papers some female candidates were not informed whether they would be included or not. If they knew before that they will not be nominated, they could have approached other political parties. So the party organizers were able to successfully and strategically prevent them contesting from other parties,” he said.    Further, two unsuspecting women from Mawanella in Kegalle have discovered to their dismay that their names were included in the list of candidates without their knowledge. In Kandy another woman had received an invitation from the police station for an awareness workshop conducted by the police. Upon inquiry from the police she has found out that she had been invited because she is contesting.
    When a complaint is lodged at the CMEV the incidents are documented and referred to the election commission and the police for action. The alleged culprits are contacted simultaneously. Further, field coordinators are sent to inquire.

    “They think that we don’t know politics”

    A female candidate said that she had to provide alcohol to her male supporters. “After a meeting or campaigning I have to provide the supporters with alcohol which costs at least Rs. 10 000. Otherwise no man would turn up to go canvassing the next day. They think that we don’t know politics because we don’t display our credentials. Now I go canvassing with two other women,” she said.

    “Gender based violence is normalized”

    – Shreen Abdul Saroor

    Human Rights Activist Shreen Abdul Saroor of the Women’s Action Network (WAN) said that though affirmative action has been taken in the form of a quota to boost female representation, proactive action to make sure female candidates did not undergo violence has not been thought of.

    She also referred to an incident in Batticaloa involving a male candidate running a bar who invited neighbourhood men, which included family members of one candidate, for free drinks.“The male candidate has spoken about the appearance of this woman candidate including her lipstick and how she goes around with men. At the end the husband beat her up. The uncle scolded her. This would have never happened to a man,” Saroor said.
    “How can this female candidate go and complain of this as election violence? Will the police accept it as election violence? This is domestic violence as it is her husband who has beaten her up. So this is how a male candidate who saw a strong candidacy in this woman tried to weaken her by making sure that she had trouble at home,” she pointed out.

    She further said that gender based violence was normalized in Sri Lanka so much so that women can be beaten up and accused of being loose women. She added that the root cause was that there was impunity and immunity to perpetrators of gender based violence.

    “Women going around campaigning are called loose women. The Moulavis are using the Friday prayers, the regular sermons to say that the women who are contesting are unislamic, and are breaching the Quran etc. Families of some female candidates have asked them to stay back at home and not campaign as a result. How can they win?” Saroor quizzed.
    “The police should arrest at least one person for a day, so that the news is disseminated via the press that a person who attacked a female candidate was arrested. This can work as a deterrent,” she said.     “None of the leaders of the political parties have spoken about the plight of these women candidates,” she said.

    She pointed out that political parties, particularly minority parties, were unprepared and that they included women for the sake of fulfilling the mandatory requirement

    She further said the election commission, the male dominant political parties, and the law and order structures were not geared to look at how difficult it was for women to enter into politics.

    “Women educated on how to handle violence”

    -Prof. S. Rathnajeevan H. Hoole

    A member of the Election Commission, Prof. S. Rathnajeevan H. Hoole said that the EC conducts seminars, and informational sessions to women on how to handle such violence.
    Referring to the video clips by two Muslim clerics attacking female candidates he said the video has been handed over to the police. “I gave the video and a week later I was told that they were waiting for it to be transcribed and then to be translated into Sinhalese.” He pointed out that a Tamil police officer could have looked into it instead.

    Referring to the female candidate’s house which was searched by the police for weapons he said the police searched the house at night without a female constable. He pointed out that the police can trace the phone number and arrest the person who made the false complaint. However, this has not taken place.

    Angered by Moulavis’ comments

    Speaking to the Daily Mirror Bisliya Butto, currently the Puttalam District women’s wing coordinator of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and a contestant in the forthcoming election said that at some religious sermons clerics have imposed a prohibition on women contesting. “Moulavis have said that Muslim women who contest are not proper Muslims. They have also said that women cannot get up on stage and speak in public. This affected us psychologically”

    She further said that they would take action against such religious leaders who openly dissuaded them from contesting. She added that plans were underway to draw up a petition against the moulavis and obtain the signatures of about 125 persons.
    Meanwhile she said the police searched another candidate’s house forweapons based on a false complaint. She claimed that this was because thecandidate was a female.


    Posters circulated on Facebook

    Another candidate contesting from Arayampathy, Kulanthavadivel Jeyachandrika, said that she has been subjected to character assassination. A photograph taken at an opening ceremony of a road development project where an MP was standing next to her while she was cutting the ribbon has been edited and circulated around. Posters made out of the edited photographs have initially been posted on the walls of her house and later on her close relatives’. “Thereafter the posters were found in public places such as markets and bus stops,” she said.

    These posters were also circulated on facebook. “They try to portray me as a loose woman, that I am unfit to be in the community and that I should be thrown out,” she said.   Further her house has been stoned and the roof has been damaged.

    She had made a complaint at the Kattankudy Police Station on December 06 and had thereafter requested for police protection. To date no protection has been provided.

    Source: Daily Mirror 2nd February 2018

  • UN Issues More Progressive Guidelines on Sex Education

    Sophie Edwards

    The United Nations has come out with updated guidance to encourage education ministers, especially in developing countries, to invest further in comprehensive sexuality education for young people, offering advice on when and how it can most effectively be delivered.

    The voluntary guidelines offer a more progressive approach than previous iterations, promoting a “positive” and broad understanding of what can be included in comprehensive sexuality education — or CSE — with a focus on gender, avoiding early pregnancy, and rights.

    The revised international technical guidance on sexuality education, released by UNESCO earlier this month, is the long-awaited update to initial guidelines published in 2009. It is aimed at education policymakers to help them design and deliver more accurate, comprehensive, and judgement-free education programs about sex and relationships to young people.

    Effective CSE can play a major role in achieving the sustainable development agenda, research shows. Reducing unintended pregnancies improves health outcomes and helps keep girls in school. CSE can also help reduce transmission rates for sexually transmitted infections; while research from the Population Council suggests that well-designed programs can reduce gender-based violence within relationships and promote gender equality.

    However, sex education in many countries has been held back by conservative political agendas and cultural and religious concerns, advocates say. While the 2009 manual was initially met with controversy, according to Christopher Castle, head of UNESCO’s Health and Education section, it “quickly became a critical reference” and “standard” for CSE.

    But the document needed a refresh, he said, due at least in part to the emergence of new evidence about what makes CSE effective. The organization wanted to promote a more “positive” and broader approach, Castle said, by emphasizing issues such as respect, responsibility, and reciprocity within sexual relationships as opposed to talking about “risks and scare tactics.”

    Advocates welcomed the revised guidance, which they described as more “inclusive,” covering gender and LGBTQI issues in more detail than the 2009 version. But some also expressed fears that the U.N. guidelines would fall on deaf ears in some countries unless accompanied by additional financing to support advocacy around the importance of CSE.

    “Inclusion is very good and important, but the question is what happens when this is being challenged,” said Maria Sjödin, deputy executive director of OutRight Action International, which campaigns for LGBTQI rights and was involved in putting the guidelines together.

    “It’s a really touchy subject and people still get panicked about the idea of young people and sex being discussed in the same sentence.” — Lori Adelman, director of youth engagement at Women Deliver

  • Activists Fight Ban on Women Buying or Selling Alcohol

    Sri Lanka rights activists Tuesday asked the island’s top court to reject a presidential order that restored a decades-old ban on women buying or selling alcohol, calling the move discriminatory.

    The historic ban was overturned by Sri Lanka’s finance minister earlier this month but was reinstated just days later by President Maithripala Sirisena after protests from conservative Buddhists.

    The law, dating back to 1979, bans women not just from buying alcohol but working in bars or factories where liquor is manufactured or sold.

    Women’s activist Bhavani Fonseka appealed the ban in the Supreme Court, saying it violated women’s rights to equal treatment, which are guaranteed under the Sri Lankan constitution.

    “We are arguing on the basis of a right to make a choice and equal opportunity of employment,” Fonseka told AFP.

    The Centre for Policy Alternatives, a think tank, also petitioned the Supreme Court, saying the edict violated Sri Lanka’s international obligations to uphold the civil and political rights of its citizens.

    The finance minister, Mangala Samaraweera, a liberal in the conservative Buddhist-dominated government, revoked the 1979 prohibition around women and alcohol in an effort to strike sexist laws from the statute books.

    Sirisena reinstated the ban without providing explanation, but the Buddhist clergy had protested against the revocation.

    The ban on women purchasing liquor likely came about in 1979 to appease conservative elements of the Buddhist hierarchy at the time, a finance ministry official told AFP.

    Liquor vendors in Sri Lanka are also forbidden from selling spirits to police or members of the armed forces in uniform.

  • Cabinet Decision to Ban Women from Purchasing Liquor is Unconstitutional

    Verite Research

    Women are permitted to purchase liquor. On 10 January 2018, the Minister of Finance and Mass Media issued Excise Notification No. 02/2018 under the Excise Ordinance, No. 8 of 1912 (as amended). The new Notification amends Excise Notification No. 666 of 31 December 1979, and removes the ban on the sale of liquor to women ‘within the premises of a tavern’.1 A tavern is usually defined as ‘a place of entertainment…[or] a house for the retailing of liquors to be drunk on the spot’. Women are therefore entitled to purchase liquor under Sri Lankan law as at 10 January 2018. Moreover, Excise Notification No.666 does not appear to prohibit women from purchasing alcohol in premises that do not constitute a tavern (e.g. supermarkets).

    Equality before the law. Article 12(1) of the Constitution states that ‘all persons are equal before the law, and are entitled to the equal protection of the law’. Moreover, article 12(2) states that ‘no citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of…sex.’ Therefore, acts that discriminate against women on the grounds of their sex violate their fundamental rights, and are thereby unconstitutional.

    Article 16(1) of the Constitution states that ‘all existing written law and unwritten law shall be valid and operative notwithstanding any inconsistency with the preceding provisions of this Chapter’ (emphasis added). Article 16(1) only applies to written and unwritten law enacted prior to 1978. Thus any law that is enacted today must be compliant with the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution, and cannot discriminate on the grounds of sex.

    Cabinet decision is unconstitutional. On 16 January 2018 the Cabinet of Ministers unanimously decided to withdraw the above Excise Notification No. 02/2018, which removed the prohibition on the sale of liquor to women within the premises of a tavern. This decision serves to prohibit women from purchasing liquor in the premises of a tavern by reinstating the previous ban under Excise Notification No.666 of 1979. The Cabinet’s decision therefore discriminates against women on the grounds of their sex. The new decision dated 16 January 2018, is not protected under article 16(1) of the Constitution, as it does not fall within the category of ‘existing written law or unwritten law’ at the time of promulgating the Sri Lankan Constitution of 1978.

    There is an imminent infringement of a fundamental right. Article 126(1) affords the Supreme Court the sole and exclusive jurisdiction to ‘hear and determine any question relating to the infringement or imminent infringement by executive or administrative action of any fundamental right’ (emphasis added). The Cabinet decision dated 16 January 2018 falls within the category of ‘executive’ action.4 Moreover, the decision to withdraw Excise Notification No. 02/2018 amounts to an imminent infringement of article 12(2) of the Constitution, as the decision will directly result in the Minister of Finance and Mass Media withdrawing the said Notification. Such withdrawal will constitute an infringement of women’s rights to equality and nondiscrimination guaranteed by articles 12(1) and (2) of the Constitution. Therefore, interested parties anticipating an imminent infringement of their fundamental rights have valid grounds to petition the Supreme Court under article 17 (read with article 126) of the Constitution.

  • Women Candidates under Attack: Patriarchy at its Best

    S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

    The assault on 20 Dec. on Manjula Pathmanathan, intending ITAK Puthukudiyiruppu candidate, shows men feeling threatened by the women’s quota. Fissures have emerged in the ITAK that has, by and large, held up high standards in election campaigning with hardly a complaint against it. To ITAK’s credit, complaints on the incident have been initiated by two of its own MPs and supporters.

    Likewise, on 4 Jan. at Selvaa Nagar, a woman candidate of Karuna Amman’s Tamil People’s Liberation Tigers had her house broken up, reports Batticaloa News. (See picture 1)

    ITAK Infighting

    The TNA was made up of four parties, but now three after Mr. Suresh Premachandran took his EPRLF out. It was decided that the ITAK would be assigned 60% of the seats and PLOTE and TELO, the two remaining TNA partners, 20% each. The controversy arose over Visvamadu and Bharathipuram being assigned to PLOTE whereas Brathipuram was ITAK domain.


    Inter-party Fissures

    Manjula Pathmanathan is a woman of hill-country origin. She moved North during the 1977 disturbances. This is significant in that it is rare for an upcountry woman to get nominated in the North. This is a major improvement for the ITAK. She was nominated by PLOTE to stand in Bharathipuram. ITAK’s Dr. S. Sivamohan, MP, allegedly opposed her nomination while PLOTE leader Siddharthan backed Manjula.

    The TNA’s other Mullaitivu District MP Shanthi Sriskantharasa, despite being a long-standing ITAK person, backed Manjula on grounds of gender and service. A former Director in the Ministry of Policy Planning from Mallavi, Shanthi had been identified by ITAK as leadership material for her resilient social work even after her leg was blown off in Matalan in 2008 where she was witness to the horrendous murders and the rows of corpses in hospital. She recalls using her only bed-sheet to cove ra body attracting hundreds of flies.

    Indicating the status of women among Tamils, instead of asking Shanthi to stand as MP, ITAK asked Mr. Sriskantharasa whether she may. A liberally educated, 1982 Peradeniya B.Com. graduate who had been quite active in Tamil music and debating societies there, he readily agreed. As MP, Shanthi was able to increase her work for those in need. Being who she is, Shanthi stood firmly by Manjula’s nomination.

    Manjula Pathmanathan’s Description

    Manjula and three daughters live with her mother. Pathmanathan is in the Middle East. They worship at “the sabai” (free church) to which 70% of Bharathipuram belongs. On 20 Dec. she went by trishaw to meet Sivamohan at his father’s house to discuss signing her nomination papers. Her way was blocked by her neighbour Jeyatheepan (also a Christian) assisted by three of his friends. Jeyatheepan lives across her house and, she says, is unemployed and financially supported by Sivamohan. As Sivamohan’s car came out with him and his two police guards, Jeyatheepan slapped Manjula and pushed her. Her face hit the iron bar of the trishaw at her eye causing swelling. Sivamohan and his guards simply watched.

    Jeyatheepan and friends took Manula to Jeyatheepan’s home, gagged her mouth, taped it, blind-folded her, tied her hands behind her and to the window, and held her there from noon to 5:00 pm. As it gets dark early, she went to the police the following morning and lodged an entry. Jeyatheepan was arrested. That evening some 20 of Jeyatheepan’s friends surrounded her house, demanded that she withdraw her plaint and promised to ensure her daughters’ safety. When the threat of setting them alight with tyres was mentioned, she fainted so they took her to the Puthukudiyiruppu hospital, getting her to sign a letter withdrawing her complaint. From there she was transferred to Mancholai Hospital. That night, her daughters and mother were alone. Her relatives kept away out of fear. On Majula’s letter, the police released Jeyatheepan.

    In the meantime, complaints came from MPs, and Saroja Sivachandran (Centre for Women and Development) passing on what her members told her. The police responded that the complaint was withdrawn, even though Manjula had made subsequent statements to the police that that withdrawal was under threat. She revealed this to the Commission team from Mulaitivu, too. (See Picture 2)

    Other views

    I visited Bharathipuram and Mallavion 13.01.2018 to show some solidarity and to sense whether the police aimed at closing the matter to escape responsibility.

    Jeyatheepan seemed a pleasant chap. He agreed that Manjula had carried and fed him when he was an infant. He accused Manjula of having been an LTTE agent who pointed out recruits to help her own husband avoid conscription. He denied her story; claiming that she could have escaped because his house, as he showed me, has no lock on the door and that she could have shouted for help. Both had already been satisfactorily answered by Manjula – she was tied up and gagged. Ahilan who was rejected for the PR list by Sivamohan played a recording where Jeyatheepan practically agrees that all this happened.

    Dr. Sivamohan

    Dr. Sivamohan, once a JMO, denies Manjula’s story. Why were there no abrasions on her wrist if she was tied up? How did the police release Manjula without verifying her letter’s authenticity? He says Manjula told him she was not interested in being a candidate and disrupted his finalizing ITAK nomination papers; that this is why ITAK supporters chased her way. He can bring these 20+ men as witnesses. He says MP Sriskantharasa encouraged this drama. In a key give-away he says Manjula might have hit her head but no injury resulted because the hospital discharged her.


    Although Sivamohan has denied guilt, I listened to secretly taped conversations where he asks Manjula to declare that he had nothing to do with the incident. Worse, when she asked him why his policemen did not help her when she was attacked, he replies that their job is to protect only him – thereby admitting to the attack in his presence. With me too, he insisted that they were not there to protect others.

    I am convinced of the overall veracity of Manjula’s claim, and that the police just want to close the file. Shanthi Sriskantharajah testifies that women candidates are now afraid of campaigning, and when they do, their husbands, afraid of their safety, refuse to let them go out. This needs urgent addressing. “Justice!” she demands. ITAK leaders Mavai Senathirajah and R. Sampanthan have promised disciplinary action, but a month after the incident nothing has happened.

    Muslim Reaction to Women Candidates

    Attacks on Muslim women candidates, are even more virulent but bear similarities The SLMC, and NFGG have put forward many Muslim women. Their rival Muslim party, however, has avoided putting up Muslim women on the main ward list. In Puttalam particularly, their candidates are Tamil or Sinhalese! (See picture 3)

    Shreen Abdul Saroor, a founder of Women’s Action Network, working with the Election Commission and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, has been training women to be the best candidates they can be. The Commission received Shreen’s complaint that on17.01.2018 around 8:15 pm police raided the house in Puttalam’s “Karaba Safamarwa B” of SLMC woman candidate, Cader Ibrahim Rinoosa.

    Based on a 119 phone call that Rinoosa had weapons, four policemen stormed into her house in violation of the sound practice of always having a police woman and ransacked it. I visited Rinoosha at her home on the 18th working through Bisliya Bhutto (the SLMC’s Woman Congress District Coordinator). When questioned why, they threatened to lock them up. After initially refusing to record a complaint, it was only close to midnight that the Puttalam Police took it down after it was mentioned that they were in touch with the Election Commission. The Chairman of the Puttalam Urban Council, Abdul Baiz, was very worried that attacks are being escalated.

    Moulavi Niyas Siddeeq Siraj of Thihari is originally from Ottamavaddi Batticaloa. He belongs to Sri Lanka Thowheeth Jamath. In his video message, he openly flouts election laws relating to women:

    “Today, Muslim women in covered heads are contesting and showing their faces in posters to other men. Islam has no room for women to enter politics. These women are shaming the community and their husbands. They are sinners and an insult to Islam. Having their poster up on walls and Whatsapp– It is disgusting! Husbands, what are you doing? The whole world is looking at their posters. Chee! You have no shame? In Islam it is said any society that is administered by women will never do well.”

    This video has gone viral in social media to the extent that many Muslim women candidates fear getting out to campaign. Some due to family and social pressure have stopped their social media campaign and removed their posters from Facebook etc.

    The same Moulavi attacked on video, Muslim women’s rights activists and victims when they went to Parliament for a hearing before the Constitutional Reform Sub-committee on Fundamental Rights on reforming the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act. That itself, if the police had been alert, would have landed him in jail.

    Puttalam complaints said messages were blared on loudspeakers from the Nahavilu Mosque against women contesting. Our investigators could not find any evidence. Now a video has emerged from Puttalam, made by Moulavi Abbas Murshidh, publicly spewing venom on women contesting.

    Spiralling Lawlessness

    Our laws are quite clear. Will they be enforced? Will culprits be punished? Will women get justice?

    Our laxity has led to the Tamil Congress’ chief Jaffna candidate, V. Manivannan (who was involved in the political meeting at the Maviddapuram Temple that I exposed last week), making a threatening speech in Jaffna saying:

    “We wish to tell [Ratnajeevan Hoole]one thing at this time. Until 10 Feb. 2018 you do your attacks. On 11 Jan. attacks on you will begin. You are ready to face them. We are saying this pleasingly with responsibility. If you pull us into dirty work, we too will not let you be.”

    Then Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s media unit published this speech. It means they are so sure of impunity – the scourge of Sri Lanka.

Copyright © 2017 CENWOR