Women and Media Collective introducing the group to the media. Pix
by Gemunu Wellage
roar of rural women
A women-only independent group enters
local council polls, says it understands problems at community level
By Nadia Fazlulhaq
Fighting for equal rights is nothing new to women but the majority
of Sri Lankan women, save those from ‘political’ families,
generally steer clear of politics. For a country that boasts a high
literacy rate and was one of the earliest to gain universal franchise
with women winning the right to vote way back in 1931, women’s
representation in Parliament stands at a dismal 5.7% or just 13
women MPs in the 225-seat assembly.
local government level, too, the figures are not much better. In
1997, women’s representation stood at 3.5% in Municipal Councils,
2.6% in Urban Councils and a mere 1.7% in Pradeshiya Sabhas.
women’s representation, many people believe, will help change
the prevailing political culture in the country and also see a stronger
focus on issues that women are more concerned about at community
this backdrop, it is heartening to note that an all-woman independent
group has entered the fray to contest the upcoming local government
Tuesday, the group comprising 28 candidates, came to Colombo to
outline their vision and display their strong determination to create
a new political culture.
independent group is contesting the Kurunegala Pradeshiya Sabha.
Some members of the group come from rural areas such as Bamunugedara,
Mahiella, Boyagane, Ranawana, Malpitiya, Doratiyawa, Thorayaya,
Wilbawa, Keliyagoda and Alakoladeniya but almost all of them are
active members of various social groups such as death donation and
women’s welfare societies within the Kurunegala Pradeshiya
Malani, leader of the independent group, is from Boyagane, Rathgalle.
An old pupil of Pothuhera Dutugamunu Vidyalaya, she played an active
role in community projects after she completed her Advanced Level.
She headed several welfare societies in the village.
her husband, a soldier in the Sri Lanka Army, was killed in action
in Weli Oya in 1991, her biggest challenge has been raising their
three children. Malani has worked with many war widows and in 2003
was the head of the Kurunegala District’s Ranaviru Seva Authority.
organized many workshops on women’s and children’s rights,
Malani has wide knowledge and experience in communicating with village
women. “In Kurunegala, 80% of the women actively participate
in community workshops, but when it comes to decision making, men
play the lead role. Men are usually unable to understand women’s
issues and problems,” she says commenting on why there should
be more women Pradeshiya Sabha members.
some areas pregnant women walk more than four miles to reach a clinic
or several miles to reach a well. Situations like these arise because
there are no women in the decision-making process at Pradeshiya
Sabha level,” she says adding that women have a good sense
of managing funds. “A woman knows to make the maximum use
of money. A village woman has the ability to earn a hundred rupees,
manage it so well that she can do things worth a thousand rupees.”
their campaign, Malani says this is their first step in politics
and they are conducting the campaign without violence or resorting
to any illegal practices.
group’s deputy leader Soma Hettiarachchi says people in the
Kurunegala Pradeshiya Sabha area are curious about our plans, “because
we are quite different from other political parties and independent
if we fail this time we’ll never lose hope. We will continue
to train young women and make our group a force to be reckoned with,”
Soma is a resident of Ranawana and has been active in political
and social work for more than 30 years. She has been a member of
the board of the local Samurdhi Bank.
Fatima Dilsha from Keliyagonna is the only Muslim in this all-woman
independent group. She says she must set a good example to all young
Muslim rural women who tend to be more homely and seldom participate
in social activities.
our groups can get at least one vote from one family unit, it will
be a huge achievement for us,” Dilsha says adding that her
entry into politics is not aimed at uplifting Muslim women alone
but all rural women in general.
The group says they have no time to go campaigning because most
of them rely on their daily wage to make ends meet. But determination
and hard work have been their strength all the way.
Women and Media Collective has been supporting the group in its
bid to enter politics. The WMC members say they strongly believe
that women’s representation in political institutions and
the decision-making process is vital for the development of the
community because women have a solid understanding about the needs
at community level.