Groundviews

Is this the beginning of women’s political representation in the Northern Provincial Council?

Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

The Northern Provincial Council Elections has concluded amidst various challenges. While WAN welcomes the conclusion of these elections the need for the full devolution of powers so as to ensure the rights of historically subordinated communities remains.  The women who contested the elections faced several additional challenges to their male counterparts irrespective of the fact that only a very few women got nominated. In the post war context when women came forward to participate in the democratic process, it’s disturbing to note that all the mainstream political parties acted in the same patriarchal manner against these women. Venugopal Gitanjali who contested under UPFA in Killinochchi was subjected to several malicious attacks through various media outlets. The harassment  by men of the opposition partyof TNA’s  Killinochchi candidate Vinubanadakumari while she was travelling to Vannerikulam, the harassment and violence perpetrated against TNA’s Jaffna candidate Ananthi Sasitharan since the day she filed her candidacy must also be noted.

Ananthi Sasithran has been raising the issue of the LTTE cadres who surrendered to the SL Army on the last day of the war and have been disappeared for sometime now. Ananthi, a mother of three children, entered into politics without any political background, financial power or backing and the same applies to the other women who contested. For example: as soon as Ananthi filed for her candidacy there was a protest against her in Jaffna, while campaigning  her vehicle was attacked at the five-junction in Jaffna town. Two days before the election her house was attacked by armed men and caused severe injuries to several of her supporters  and finally on the day of elections a fake publication replicating a popular local Jaffna newspaper was published and distributed freely which carried as a lead news item the claim that Ananthi of TNA has joined the UPFA . This false story was also spread through several radio announcements and TV broadcasts.

However, she withstood these slanders, threats and attacks and was able to secure 87,870 preferential votes and came second to the chief ministerial candidate in the Jaffna District. Venugopal Gitanjali secured 1866 votes and Vinubanadakumari secured 2953 votes respectively in Killinochchi.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 calls for women’s full and equal participation in post war/conflict governance and reconciliation measures, particularly inclusion of the very affected women’s experiences in  reconciliation, rebuilding and democratic processes. Women’s Action Network sees Ananthi’s entry into NPC in this perspective and wishes to congratulate her upon her victory and also the other women candidates who courageously ran for political office that has been dominated by men, denying women their due share in governance.

The reason for Ananthi’s victory is the vote of women and men who lost everything due to the war and have been calling for justice and accountability. Ananthi in her campaign consistently stated that she was standing for elections to combat the violence taking place against women and children in the north and the need to find sustainable methods to curb such increasing violence. She also focused on the issues women faced in the post war context and the harassment women faced when seeking justice. Now that the women have overwhelmingly elected her, Ananthi should adhere to democratic principles, values and good governance and place women at the center of her decisions as promised in her campaign. She must work towards peace and democracy while ensuring women are provided equal opportunity, safety, and reconciliation, rule of law, justice and rights. Women’s Action Network hopes that she will respect principles of good governance, transparency and accountability and prove that women indeed are evenhanded leaders.  If not, she will become just another elected representative who fails the people who repeatedly place their trust upon politicians, hoping for change and democracy.

The TNA manifesto placed emphasis on the war, its implications and aftermath. In this context it is vital that TNA places women’s concerns, needs and solutions within its framework so as to ensure gender equality. Women need to be included in all levels of decision making and developmental measures. TNA must protect the rights of all communities that live within the Northern Province and ensure that the resettlement of the Muslims who were forcefully evicted in 1990 is conducted in a sensitive, holistic manner, ensuring that the Muslims too enjoy equal opportunity and development.

At a time when racism and religious intolerance and authoritarianism is validated and unchecked by the powers that be and is gaining momentum the TNA has been provided with an opportunity to ensure equality, peace and reconciliation, to bring about accountability of all actors, including the LTTE, to establish the rule of law and justice, to establish the principles of democracy within the ambit of the powers of a Provincial Council and even to set an example to the other Provincial Councils. Women’s Action Network hopes the TNA’s victory is a harbinger of peace and justice to all Sri Lankan communities and women in particular.

By Women’s Action Network (a collective of eight women’s groups in the North and East of Sri Lanka)