Closing the gender gap

According to the latest reports, Sri Lanka is ranked 109 out of 144 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index. The country has dropped nine places in comparison to last year.

The Global Gender Gap Index is designed to measure gender equality. The Index ranks countries according to calculated gender gap between women and men in four key areas: Economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.

The index is mainly concerned about the disadvantages compared to men. Gender imbalances to the advantage of women do not affect the score. For example, the indicator “number of years of a female head of state (last 50 years) over male value” would score 1 if the number of years was 26, but would still score 1 if the number of years was 50. According to this methodology, gender gaps that favour women over men are reported as equality.

Policy interventions

Sri Lanka gained 98.6% and ranked No-1 in Health and survival. (No -01 and few other ranks were shared by a number of countries.) In economic participation, Sri Lanka was ranked 123th with 54% score. In education attainment the score was 98% but ranked 123. Our worst performance was for political empowerment. We scored only 19% and positioned in 65th place. Our overall score was 67% and ranked in 109th position.

The three highest ranking countries have closed over 83% of their gender gaps, while the lowest ranking country has closed only a little over 52% of its gender gap.

The component indicators show us the areas in need of critical policy intervention and it also stimulates us to think proactively and to implement new public policy to overcome systematic disadvantages of our women.

The writer intends to discuss briefly about the political empowerment of our women in this piece of writing.

Low participation

Women represent almost 52% of the total population in Sri Lanka. They are reported as highest foreign exchange earners in Sri Lanka, declaring 5.8 billion US$ in the year 2015 through migrating as housemaids. The other highest foreign exchange generating industries are Textile and Garment (Us$ 4.8 billion), Tea (US$ 1.3 billion) in the same year. Statistics indicate that the labour force used in these sectors are mostly female.

There is no denying the fact that greater participation of women in the political process would be a pre-condition for their economic and social emancipation. However, even though a significantly large number of women vote in the country, yet only a few of them assume the reins of power.

Paradoxically, though women have held the posts of President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice as well as Ministers, the country ranks very low in terms of representation of women in legislative bodies. The women’s political representation in the country is a negligible proportion reporting 5% of parliamentary seats, 4% of seats in provincial councils, and 2% of seats in local government. Sri Lanka ranked 180th out of 190 in the IPU ranking of female representation in Parliament as of July 2017.


To remedy the low participation of women electors, the Parliament passed the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act No. 1 of 2016 to increase women’s representation at the local government level. Following the amendment, a 25% mandatory quota for women was introduced through a one-third increase in the total number of seats at the local authority level.

The quota stipulated in the amended Act will result in a dramatic increase in the number of women elected to local government. i.e from 2% to 25% (in actual numbers from around 82 to over 2000 elected women). According to the amendment, the quota does not bar women from obtaining nominations at the ward level or the general PR list. Theoretically therefore women’s representation can surpass 25% at local level.

The Government also increased the number of female representatives in Provincial Councils. The recently gazetted Bill seeks to amend the Provincial Councils Elections Act, No.2 of 1988. This makes it binding on all political parties and independent groups to field at least 30 per cent female candidates in Provincial Council elections.

This writer believes that just increasing the number of women in provincial and local government may not guarantee a great impact on governance. The political parties should field qualified and capable women to have a positive impact on the functions of local bodies. Above all, they should possess highest levels of honesty and integrity. Then only we could expect radical changes in the decision-making process at grassroot level.

However, a critical mass of women in power can bringabout transformation in leadership decisions.


In a Report by Law and Society Trust – (2016) titled “Women’s Political Representation in Local Government Institutes,” the following reasons are given for the low participation of women in politics in Sri Lanka. The reasons were identified after a series of discussions.

1. The proportionate rate system of elections has largely reduced the women’s participation in politics. To have popularity in a district, a large expense has to be incurred. Women are incapable of accumulating that much money from sponsors as women have not yet seen as competent competitors in the elections.

2. Social media and extensive speed of spreading rumours damage the dignity and respectfulness of people. Social media is filled with slander at the politicians and new entrees especially women will be discouraged through these forms of insults. These forms of insults have an adverse effect on women’s political representation.

3. Political culture and violence prevailing in the society is seen as an obstacle for women to enter into the politics.

4. The sheer goal of the political parties is to win and therefore ‘popularity’ will be a key factor to get appointed to the list. Therefore, a difference in considerations between the members in the civil society and political parties will exist.

5. Although recently gazetted locating a list to increase the women’s political participation in local government bodies is promising, there is a fear whether the proper appointment would made to the list. Revisiting the past experiences indicates that there is a trend of irregular appointments to the national list by political parties. (In most instances, access to power tends to emerge from familial, communal and economic linkages.)

6. Political institutions are seen as a male domain geared towards accommodating the male preference. For an example, some of the meetings of political parties are held at the weekends and would end mostly at midnight. Thus, does not allow the women to participate.

7. Women’s mentality is set by the socio-cultural attitudes to think that man’s success is her success. Society too looks at the ‘success’ as the image of a man. Political culture of Sri Lanka reflects the similar tradition existing in the society.

8. There is a huge gap between political parties and the civil society.


It has been universally believed that the quantity (and quality) and of women’s participation in politics is determined by 3 factors. (a) Political rights given to women by law, (b) The mental attitude of a society towards women’s’ liberation, (c) Extent of access and entry available for women to different vital sectors of social life i.e. economy, communication decision making in the community social freedom in relationships, associations etc.

Lack of financial resources can limit participation given the costs associated with elections. Independent funding and placing limits on campaign spending may support women in overcoming the barriers to political participation. Norms about women’s appropriate roles and leadership capabilities also shape both aspirations and opportunities. In countries where women have historically been present in public life, barriers are minimum or do not exist at all.

Sri Lankan women still continue to grapple with the same old questions of experiencing high levels of gender based violence, women’s labour force participation. Estimates indicate that women represent just over one third of the working population. Women continue to be under represented in upper level management and decision-making positions in both the private and public sector.

The question remains unanswered. Why haven’t gains in education translated to economically independent and politically empowered women in Sri Lanka?

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