Female MPs complained of a litany of issues plaguing their productivity and effectiveness in law and policy making in legislative platforms. Their grievances included – inadequate time allocated for speaking; discriminatory party policies in relation to the allocation of speeches – both in terms of unfamiliar topics being assigned and insufficient time provided for preparation; having to outshout one’s male counterparts; little or no male participation in forums addressing women’s issues; and seniority bias.
Female Parliamentarians complained that they were not given adequate time to present their views in Parliament and called upon the respective political parties to give prominence to women to make their case heard.
Recently, manthri.lk, a Parliamentary monitoring platform conducted a survey and ranked MPs based on their overall performances in Parliament.
The results which were released by the platform indicated that none of the 13 female parliamentarians were ranked within the top 20.
Deputy Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife and former Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Sumedha G. Jayasena told Nation that on many occasions, the women MPs were given slots at the end of a particular session where they do not get the adequate time to present their issues.
“What happens is that on many occasions, the MPs who speak before us would take a few additional minutes and therefore the time allocated to women becomes inadequate,” she said. “It affects new Parliamentarians too. It is a cause for serious concern for female MPs.”
Meanwhile, MP Hirunika Premachandra who was elected to Parliament for the first time last year said that there were several factors that restricted the performance of female MPs.
She agreed with Jayasena in her claim that female MPs were slotted in at the end of a session where they do not have adequate time to give their speech. “However, there are the question and answer sessions and the private member motions where people like us could bring out issues,” she said.
When queried as to why no female MPs made their way to the top 20 rankings of manthri.lk, they opined that the questions submitted as ones to be taken up at the House Q&A sessions were in prior vetted by a committee appointed to look into their usefulness.
“The speeches are generally given to MPs who are very eloquent in the subject. The newcomers and women do get their chances. But there are times when we are asked to give a speech the following day and we are only informed of it the day before. Therefore, we do not get enough time to prepare and research the facts. Therefore, some women decline the offer made by the party,” she added.
In addition, the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus intends to write to the Speaker pertaining to the inadequate time slots given to female Parliamentarians. “The Parliament sits four days a week. We suggest that one female MP be given the opportunity to give a speech each day so that their issues would be presented properly,” Premachandra opined.
“Women also find it difficult to raise their volume when they are interrupted while speaking in Parliament. It is something that the male MPs should understand. We anyway do not get enough time. So when we are interrupted, then it once again prevents us from presenting our case effectively,” she added.
Jayasena meanwhile said that while the time allocated was inadequate, on certain days, women Parliamentarians are given prominence when issues pertaining to women and children are taken up at Parliament.
“We do get a lot of time during debates pertaining to issues relating to women and children. But on other days it is not so,” Jayasena added.
Premachandra also raised another issue where predominantly women MPs are appointed to committees and sub committees that looked into matters pertaining to women and children.
“All 13 female MPs are in the committee to look into women’s and child issues. The male representation in this committee is very minimal. On the other hand, I wanted to be appointed to the committee which looks into education or sports but was not afforded an opportunity due to the preconceived notions of what women are capable of,” she said.
Another aspect Premachandra highlighted was the fact that one’s seniority within the Parliament’s hierarchy also played a role in one’s voice being heard.
Premachandra who was also a member of the Western Provincial Council (2014-2015) said that it was important to change the mindset of male politicians at the grassroots level, adding that women politicians in such councils faced more difficulties than MPs.
Speaking on grooming young women to enter politics, Premachandra advised that women who enter politics should be prepared to face situations where they are treated not so well. “At the same time, they should have a clear vision. They should not just come because it looks glitzy and glamorous. It is tough,” she added.
Monitors call for national level plans for female politicians
Election monitoring bodies called for a comprehensive national level plan and plans at the level of the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government, the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and the Ministry of Youth Affairs, to develop the skills of potential female candidates for the Local Government elections.
Polls monitor, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) criticized the Local Government laws for the removal of opportunities for youth participation as candidates at the Local Government elections, adding that such should be reconsidered.
Executive Director of PAFFREL, Rohana Hettiarachchi said that in order to ensure meaningful female participation in politics, female representatives must be included in the key decision-making bodies of political parties, with a certain percentage of females included as members in the central committees, working committees and politburos.
Political parties must put in place a mechanism through which they can recruit a certain percentage of their candidates from the Youth Parliament and youth societies, he observed.
“The development of the skills of female representatives who are selected, nominated and elected must definitely be done. Their knowledge of the subjects, their public relations skills and their political literacy must definitely be increased. There must be awareness. The leaderships of political parties must play a pivotal role in this regard. It is in the contexts and environments of the party top decision making bodies that females get to raise a voice and build themselves. Men cannot solely occupy the high posts in the parties and have the women be at the bottom. National, provincial and local level plans for skills development are needed. It must be understood that organizing a couple of workshops will not suffice. This must be island-wide. There is going to be 25 per cent of females in the local authorities and bodies and at the forthcoming Local Government polls, over 50 per cent would be newcomers. There should not be a gender bias. Productivity is what counts,” he explained.