With the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) at the Fourth UN World Conference on Women, 180 governments committed themselves to gender equality.
The enhancement of women`s political participation is a crucial element in both of the documents. In the year 2005, only two countries, namely Rwanda (48.8%) and Sweden (45.3%) have achieved almost equal participation of women and men in politics. At the national level, on an average of the representation of women in parliaments stands at about 15% worldwide. According to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, out of 183 countries, the ranks of the leading South Asian countries are Pakistan (41), Bangladesh (77), Nepal (120) and Sri Lanka (123). Examples from all over the world show that there are different strategies to enhance women`s political representations in different electoral systems.
In 2002, Pakistan introduced a reservation law which 60 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly (17%), are to be allocated to women. Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal also have some kind of reservations for women to improve their representation at the national level.
In India, there is no reservation at the national and state levels, though the debate of the fine print for the Women`s Reservation Bill is going on since many years. At the local level, in South Asia, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh have all adopted the strategy of reserving seats for women in local government bodies. These affirmative actions have been introduced within the last ten to fifteen years in all these countries. `The experience with quotas so far has been mixed, good in some instances and indifferent and even regressive in others. The framework conditions, supportive mechanisms and the political will along with social realities have all influenced this outcome. Just the introduction of quotas is thus not enough, though it may be a crucial initial factor. In order to understand how women`s issues are addressed in this new dispensation, and what have been the enabling and detracting factors, it was proposed to organise a conference on `Gender concerns in Politics: Quotas and Beyond.`
`As Sri Lanka does not have a quota for women at any level, this appeal will also be focused upon,` said Astrid Becker, resident director ? Sri Lanka of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in her welcome address at the workshop on `Gender concerns in politics ?Quotas and Beyond`, which commenced in Colombo on Monday, February 13, 2006.
The organisers also arranged for a meeting with Sri Lankan politicians and NGOs, lobbying for quota implementation in Sri Lanka. Women`s representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan attended the workshop.
Speaking on the aims of the 3-day workshop (Feb. 13-15), Renate Tenbusch, Project Director, FES, India said that, `the conference will provide an opportunity for an exchange of experiences regarding women`s representation in local and state politics in South Asia. The participants will discuss strategies for strengthening women`s effective participation in politics and share best practices. Since more representation of women in politics does not ensure gender-sensitive policy-making, participants will also discuss possibilities to monitor the performance of elected representatives and the fulfilment of the promises made during campaigns.`
Prof. Kamala Liyanage, made an address on: `In how far are quota regulations a suitable tool to achieve a significant gender quantitative and qualitative change?
The conference was organised by the Fredrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Sri Lanka, jointly with Fredrich Ebert Stiftung. India.