11th March 2001
What exactly do we have to celebrate?
That little priority is accorded to women's representation in legislative bodies at policy level is clearly seen in the ignominious fate meted out to the clause in the Regional List of the Draft Constitution which stipulated that "…..election laws shall ensure that not less than 25 per cent of the members elected thereunder to local authorities shall be women…."
On each commemorative day, whether it is Independence Day or International Women's Day, the precise realities of how we have failed as a nation to bring about our collective development become despairingly evident. For this week, women's political empowerment has been very much in the news with none other than President Chandrika Kumaratunga herself saying that women should be given greater incentives to enter politics. But if one disregards the political rhetoric, one is left with precious little to hold on to. For the reality is that women's political empowerment, (excepting of course the fact that the executive presidency is commandeered by a woman) is at an abysmal low in this country, now more than at any other time in the recent past.
That little priority is accorded to women's representation in legislative bodies at policy level is clearly seen in the ignominious fate meted out to the clause in the Regional List of the Draft Constitution which stipulated that "…..election laws shall ensure that not less than 25 per cent of the members elected thereunder to local authorities shall be women…." This was taken out of the revised proposals for constitutional reform in August, 2000 without further ado after some political parties argued ironically enough that they would not be able to find the requisite number of women candidates. At that time, the Ministry of Women's Affairs appeared to feel that the situation could be saved by appeals to all parties to make "an effort to include more women in their nominations" in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Regardless and quite unsurprisingly, these exhortations were not of much practical effect. Some 117 women did contest the October 2000 elections out of a massive 5000 candidates. The polls brought in only nine women to the House, the lowest percentage (4% representation) estimated ever since electoral systems were changed 13 years ago to bring in greater and more diverse numbers to parliament.
When the change to proportional representation came about in 1978 and was practically implemented in 1989, it was hoped that women would also benefit from the revised mechanisms of electioneering as this had, in fact, brought in bigger numbers of women into legislatures in other parts of the world. But, as usual, Sri Lanka ranks among the negative exceptions to this rule. After a decade of the practical workings of this system, this country most eloquently illustrates the fact that a mere systemic switch over to proportional representation is of little use for an empowered political participation of women. Corresponding changes in party structures and measures to help women come to terms with their social and cultural burdens are also necessary. In their absence, the consequences can disastrously hinder and not help women's participation. This is evidenced in Sri Lanka where high levels of party infighting spurred on by the prevalent methods of electioneering operate, in fact, as an even greater restraint on independent women voluntarily entering the political process. Which, of course, leaves the political space to be dominated by women of particular regional or national political families, many of who are in fact, worse than their male relatives in perpetrating the presently highly corrupt political ethos. This, in a sense, is our continuing dilemma.
And it is only when one draws comparisons with similar political processes in other countries that one realises just how much Sri Lanka has lost out. One example would suffice. South Africa and Sri Lanka have entrenched enmities in their national psyche. Significantly, South Africa's historical bitterness is far greater than ours can ever be. Yet, the development and constitutional processes in that country since apartheid systems were dismantled have consistently and deliberately brought women into its political space. There as here, it was feared that an intimidatory combination of high levels of violence and male dominated party structures would keep women out of politics. However, women pressure groups focused on lobbying for women as a specific electoral constituency in South African politics. South Africa's electoral system is also based on proportional representation except that parties are given the authority to select their candidates from the list unlike in Sri Lanka where voters have to indicate three preferences.
The argument there was that if the parties were sufficiently mobilised, getting women into parliament would be far less complex. Within the political parties themselves, women formed effective pressure groups. At one point, the Women's League of the African National Congress (ANC) was so arrogant as to push for women's representation in constitutional talks on the basis that otherwise they would boycott the first non-racial elections. Their slogan appropriately enough was 'no women, no vote'. The League successfully lobbied for a quota for women on the party's electoral lists resulting in a 30% quota adopted by the ANC for the 1994 and 1999 elections. Though the ANC was the only party that formally adopted the quota in choosing their lists on the proportional representation systems, this had a boomerang effect on other parties as well.
As a result, women counted up to a record 27.7% of all parliamentarians elected in 1994, placing South Africa as the seventh highest in the world in terms of women's parliamentary representation and among advanced democracies in this respect. These percentages increased to 29.5% in the June 1999 elections. These elections also shifted the debate from a preoccupation with numbers to a preoccupation with the nature and quality of representation and participation. Political parties were compelled to consider both the quality and the extent of women's representation on their party lists and the gender implications of their manifestos. In addition, women organised interest groups around the wide ranging constitutional right to gender equality, engaging in specific policy initiatives to help women access and remain within the political process.
One consequence of these initiatives was the obligation laid on both political parties and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to guarantee that women's participation is not negatively affected by the nature of electoral campaigns or by any other aspect of the elections. The Commission has gender activists among its members.
From the political process to the legal process is but one short step. The heightened awareness in the South African legislature on issues that critically affect women inevitably impacted on engendered lawmaking as was evidenced when the Termination of Pregnancy Act providing women with access to abortion under broader and more favourable conditions than previously, was passed in 1996. Two years later, the Domestic Violence Act of 1998 provided protection against abuse for people who are in domestic relationships, regardless of the specific nature of the relationship (i.e. whether marital, homosexual or family relationships while the Maintenance Act of 1998 substantially improved the position of mothers dependent on maintenance from former partners.
In contrast, we are still struggling to enact a Domestic Violence Act here while amendments to the Penal Code in 1995 passed down mandatory sentencing for rape but failed to acknowledge the full concept of marital rape and failed to even faintly liberalise unrealistically strict laws with regard to abortion. The social impact of even those laws that were amended for the better has meanwhile been minimal. But then, should we be surprised? This is, after all, yet another consequence of the profound collective failure to properly work our democratic institutions that we celebrate once again this week.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Members of U.S. Congress have said a European Union law that limits how businesses may use personal data imposes a harsh standard on the rest of the world and could trigger a trade war over privacy standards.
At a hearing in front of a House of Representatives subcommittee, EU representatives struggled to defend a 1998 law that would blacklist companies based in countries that do not have strong privacy laws in place, such as the United States.
The EU law came under attack from Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection and from witnesses who said it would impede electronic commerce and threaten national sovereignty.
"The EU Privacy Directive may act as a de facto privacy standard on the world ... it certainly is an effort to impose the EU's will on the U.S.," said Rep. Billy Tauzin, the Louisiana Republican who chairs the full committee, in a statement.
Others were more blunt. " I'm thankful for the good judgment of my ancestors to leave the continent," said Indiana Republican Steve Buyer.
Stefano Rodota, the chairman of the EU's data-protection group, said privacy must be considered a fundamental human right.
The new world order is compelling not only the movements that are fighting for some cause or the other, but also governments to change. The capacity of the governments to suppress the just rights of minorities and other groups is getting limited. If a ruling party follows a policy of suppressing the just rights of the oppressed, then the response it would invoke from the world community might be similar to that invoked by an organization that refused to give up the path of terrorism
By Victor Ivan
The LTTE and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran are stuck in a quagmire and they are finding it difficult to continue their violent struggle.
However, the LTTE is in such a position not because of the strength and power of the government forces. It is a combination of external factors, chief among them being the international trend against terrorism. The government forces were surprisingly able to defend the territory in the north and gain a series of military successes after the LTTE captured Elephant Pass in April last year, not because of the strength of the army but thanks to the support extended by external forces behind the scene.
According to the old world order, armed struggle by an oppressed class or a social movement is justifiable. But, the present world order gives no justification for such a struggle.
What it means is not that all avenues for an oppressed people to get justice done have been blocked, but that new avenues have been opened for securing justice when the avenue of armed struggle has been blocked.
Among the ways available in the old world order for an oppressed people to get justice done, the armed struggle was the easiest.
Under the present set up, it is becoming increasingly difficult for any revolutionary organisation to operate if they do not grasp the changes taking place in the international arena and adjust themselves accordingly. If an organisation adamantly continue regardless of these positive changes, it will soon face a sorry end.
The first to adapt himself to the changing circumstances in the world and to change his path accordingly was ANC leader and former South African President Nelson Mandela. His example was followed by the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Irish Republican Army.
Had the JVP continued to follow a path of violence after the defeat of its reberation, it also could have ended up as a movement with no future.
However, the JVP too was flexible enough to adopt democratic features in one way or the other. Now it is perhaps Prabhakaran's turn to take the same path.
The new world order is compelling not only the movements that are fighting for some cause or the other, but also governments to change.
The capacity of the governments to suppress the just rights of minorities and other groups is getting limited.
If a ruling party follows a policy of suppressing the just rights of the oppressed, then the response it would invoke from the world community might be similar to that invoked by an organization that refused to give up the path of terrorism.
In that sense, not only the LTTE, but also the PA government also is stuck in an impasse.
The world community is extremely critical of the anti-democratic policies of the Sri Lankan government.
It is said the foreign aid flow has been severely curtailed because the donor governments were not too happy about the government's human rights record.
Although the world community came to the government's rescue after the fall of Elephant Pass and helped bring Prabhakaran to a position of immobility, the government too will face the same fate if it tries to crush the LTTE without finding solutions to Tamil grievances.
Military action aimed at wiping out the LTTE is only possible if the rebels continue to go along the path of violence, instead of exploring peaceful means to achieve their goals.
If the LTTE changes over to a policy of seeking a peaceful solution, then the government too will be compelled to give up the policy of giving weightage to war.
Prabhakaran may be considered a military genius though he did not come out of any military academy.
He destroyed those in the opposing camp mercilessly and did not hesitate to destroy those of his own camp when he felt it was necessary.
A person who gives weightage to violence does not understand the limits of violence. Every victory he gains through violence pushes him towards thinking that all problems big or small can be solved through violence. There has been no other leader who has been so respected by the Tamil people and who has so inspired them as Prabhakaran. At the same time, there has been no other person who has frightened the Sinhalese and has been so hated by them as Prabhakaran.
If he had not allowed his struggle for the liberation of his people to go beyond a war against an official army, that is to say if he had refrained from attacking unarmed Sinhalese, then he would have undoubtedly become a person respected by the Sinhalese.
It must be said that Prabhakaran's inherent limitations in the matter has kept the entire Tamil national movement within narrow confines.
Prabhakaran too belongs to the same opportunist non-elite category of political leaders such as Rohana Wijeweera, R. Premadasa and Vijaya Kumaratunga. All those leaders may be considered to have been leaders who had indirectly fought against oppression in the Sinhala or the Tamil society. There were differences in the paths chosen and the ideologies adopted by them to achieve their aims, there was a similarity in these aims.
But, somewhat surprisingly, all the three above leaders leaving Prabhakaran out, have died through violence.
Vijaya Kumaratunga died in violence allegedly unleashed by Wijeweera, while Wijeweera died in violence allegedly unleashed by Premadasa. Premadasa died in violence unleashed by Prabhakaran.
Now the main challenge before Prabhakaran is what path he must take in the prevailing circumstances. He has gone too far on the path of violence.
Thus it is actually difficult for him to shift to a path of peace. However, if he manages to give up, through great effort, the path of violence, he will be remembered by the world as a freedom fighter.
(The writer is the editor of Ravaya)
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