Women in elected political bodies was extremely low in Sri Lanka
Representation of women in elected political bodies was extremely low in Sri Lanka. One major reason was the low number of nominations given to women by the major political parties. Sri Lanka is the only country in South Asia without a quota for women at the local government level said Chulani Kodikara, of Women and Media Collective.
She said this while attending the Committee on the Elimination Of Discrimination against women meets with non government organizations. The meeting was held in Dhaka Bangladesh.
They discussed the situation of the Rights of the women in Bangladesh, Belarus and Sri Lanka.As part of its work, the Committee invites non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions to provide information and documentation relevant to the Committee’s activities. This was the second of two meetings the Committee has held with civil society groups this session.
Speakers from non-governmental organizations in Sri Lanka said that the country had one of the world’s largest populations of internally displaced persons and within this context women faced routine discrimination vis-à-vis housing, land and property.
Chulani Kodikara of Women and Media Collective, said that Sri Lanka was the only country in South Asia without a quota for women at the local government level. A new law which was tabled in parliament, but had not been passed, provided for a combined quota for women and youth with no specific guarantee of a minimum quota for women. Furthermore, this quota was discretionary and non-compliance would not result in any penalties. Ms. Kodikara requested the Committee to urge the State party to mandate a quota for women in local government.
Jayanthi Kurutampala, of the Women and Media Collective, said that with regard to conflict affected women, rehabilitation activities had been sporadic with mainly stereotypical vocational training such as sewing and beauty culture provided to former women combatants. Continued militarization and military dominance of civil administration had exacerbated the vulnerability of women to violence and harassment.
Shyamala Gomez, of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, said that Sri Lanka had one of the world’s largest populations of internally displaced persons and within this context women faced routine discrimination vis-à-vis housing, land and property. Ms. Gomez said that the application of the “head of the household” concept had resulted in discrimination against women. This was seen in the aftermath of the tsunami when women were disentitled to property as a consequence of the “head of the household” rule, seen as synonymous with being male, and thus not being authorized to sign official documentation. Secondly, while the State had been giving land to landless peasants for many years, this process systematically excluded women. Most often it was the man who applied for land and he was given the land as single ownership as head of the household which meant the land was not held jointly by a married couple, but solely by the husband.
A Committee Expert asked whether there were any attempts by the Government or civil society in Sri Lanka to have the ban on judicial review removed? How did the Sri Lankan Government disseminate information on the Optional Protocol and how did non-governmental organizations use this tool to mobilize their activities? Apart from land allocation, were there any other areas in which women were adversely affected by the “head of household” terminology?
An Expert asked whether there was cooperation with the Governments of Sri Lanka and Belarus with non-governmental organizations or was it a restrictive situation?
A representative from a Sri Lankan non-governmental organization said that the constitution did not recognize judicial review of legislation, but it was possible to challenge a bill before it became a law if it discriminated against women. The constitution also allowed discriminatory laws that were in place when it was promulgated in 1979 to continue.
Another non-governmental organization representative from Sri Lanka said that cooperation with the Government was difficult and they had trouble getting meetings with government officials.
On the questions of the “head of household” rules, another NGO representative from Sri Lanka said this terminology was used in every area of public administration on all their forms and it was generally understood that men were heads of household, although the language in and of itself was not discriminatory. It pervaded all areas of public administration. The Government also gave land in single ownership, not joint ownership, which meant that when a couple applied for a land grant, it was granted to the husband, but not the wife. In terms of cooperation with Government, the representative said there had been tremendous difficulties in dealing with various government ministries.
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