Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) take an active role in contributing to a country’s development. Engagement with civil society is critical to national ownership of development processes, democratic governance, and the quality and relevance of official development programmes. With the increasing demand for ‘good governance’ many organisations have flocked round the present government for the betterment of the country as a whole. The Women’s Political Manifesto was one such proposal which was brought forward by several women’s activists to voice their needs.
This manifesto was launched on January 2 and within this there are several pledges that they think should be given special attention to. As such they urge the following pledges to be taken up by the government which they think would immensely contribute to the 100-day programme.
- Establishment of an independent Women’s Commission to promote your pledges as in a ‘New Sri Lanka for Women’.
- Adopting a new law to provide 25 per cent quota for women in provincial and local government bodies and in Parliament.
- Speedy implementation of granting Rs. 20,000 for mothers at child birth.
- Expedite the cancellation of 50 per cent of debts for women in agriculture.
- Increase of salaries in the apparel sector within the concept of a living wage.
- Making the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) gender sensitive by appointing a Special Task Force comprised of gender and human rights experts and migrant worker returnees.
- Establishment of a Special Fund on March 8, 2015 on International Women’s Day to assist war widows and children affected by the war.
Pix by Kithsiri De Mel
Good governance and corruption are frequently used words now
Speaking at the event Attorney and Women’s Political Academy Director Nimalka Fernando said, “Good governance and corruption are words we frequently hear now. On January 8, we saw the dawn of a new era. However there needs to be some debate on this 100-day programme. We have always stayed with the people and activists. Today we will be launching our pledges and would like to urge the government to incorporate them within this 100-day battle for a better nation. We saw militarisation and a surveillance culture during the war era and the Rajapaksa regime. We want to put an end to this.”
“We saw how public resources, property and assets were being abused. There is a huge problem in the field of justice. We need to move forward and correct the places where they have gone wrong. Politicians might resort to other methods but they should try to abide by them and implement them.”
We still don’t have a Victim and Witness Protection Bill
Dr. Piakiasothy Saravanamuttu
Meanwhile, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said, “We have been citizens and we have to continue to be citizens. The 100-day programme has a direct bearing on HR, governance, right to information and getting rid of executive powers. However, we are not talking about disappearances, extrajudicial killings and allegations of war crimes. We still haven’t brought in a Victim and Witness Protection Bill. Human Rights is an integral to governance. We need to stress on the importance of the Right to Information bill. We cannot rely on the information available from politicians and media.”
“Therefore I suggest that we constantly remind the government that Human Rights are an integral to governance and also that CSOs have a rightful place in the discussion of public policies. It is not enough for this regime to only to talk to their friends. We should have democratic governance. A good example is the effort to remove Chief Justice Mohan Pieris. There have been long standing requests to take actions on the egregious cases of Human Rights violations but these cases have been ignored. We should anyway assume that no country is HR friendly.”
We need to bring a quota for women
Attorney Shamila Daluwatte said that women should take a centre stage in active decision making. “Women comprise 52% of the population and therefore they are the majority in terms of voting. Therefore women should actively participate at a decision making level. We hope to enhance 25 per cent quota for women and local and parliamentary level under ‘New Sri Lanka for Women’. Unlike other South Asian countries we are the only country that doesn’t have a quota. Though we produced the world’s first woman prime minister in 1960 and though we are enjoying universal franchise since 1931, we don’t have seats reserved for women and also a special quota like in India which has 33 per cent. So we want to demand to bring legal changes and reforms to introduce a new law for women. Also other public sector decision making bodies, trade unions and embassies should look at increasing this quota. In addition there are several commissions under a ‘New Sri Lanka for Women’, therefore we also want to establish an independent women’s commission for women’s rights and gender equality, ”she added.
“If we can work at increasing wages, give overseas voting rights for our migrant workers we will be serving justice to them. Through this we can bring about a lot of social and economic empowerment to these three sectors. We also want to urge the government to establish a special fund to assist war widows and children by March 8. Also women should play a role in decision making bodies such as the National Advisory council. Women should actually acquire at least one-third of all institutions. According to article 7 of Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) women have a right to participate in governance.”
We should maintain a critical distance with the Government
Dr. Udan Fernando (CEPA)
Dr. Udan Fernando representing the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) said that we need to be aware of what goes on around us. “Right now there is a sense of beginning and hope which is positive. But we can’t take things for granted. There is a danger that it will be a non-priority in value. So we need to push it. But now there are certain positive signs such as a new Minister of Women’s affairs. We now need to do two things. Firstly, engage with the government which is slightly different from opposing, reacting or resisting but it doesn’t completely mean that we should be at the mercy of the government. This is what we call a ‘critical engagement’. So you can construct your influence and if the government does not want to do certain things then we should do it. Civil societies can provide technical assistance, ideas and at the same time be aware of the bigger picture.”
Women working in the apparel sector are quite insecure
Shamila Thushari of Dabindu Collective stressed the fact that the working conditions for women in the apparel sector should be improved. “I have been working on behalf of women in the Free Trade Zone for thirty years. The new President has stressed on the issues of accommodation and the EPF fraud in the apparel sector and I’m quite happy about it. There are only limited facilities in many of these hostels and women are quite insecure when travelling and also in their workplaces. They don’t have transport, water for consumption, while the roads and streets are infested with robbers. The apparel sector contributes to 40-46% of the export income. Yet the workers don’t even have the basic necessities to work properly. Most women are going to be mothers in future. Due to unemployment they had to come here for work and therefore they will have to spend independent lifestyles. They don’t have much control over finances and some have had their education only until O/Ls. Some women are recruited at 16 years of age. Therefore they spend free time here and are prone to start unstable relationships. We heard of abandoning children on the streets but now these incidents have reduced. What I say is that if the government sees that the apparel sector is the only answer for unemployment then they should increase the wages of women labourers under their developmental agendas.”