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Attacks on Sri Lankan female political candidates

Cleric tarnishes reputations of women seeking local government positions

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

Published: February 02, 2018 05:49 AM GMT

Updated: August 02, 2018 07:49 AM GMT

Attacks on Sri Lankan female political candidates

Tamil women from Sri Lanka's war affected Northern region participate in the 'Women for Change' march to pressure political parties to give more opportunities to women in politics, on Nov. 14 in Colombo. (Photo by Niranjani Roland/ucanews.com)

Women candidates for forthcoming Sri Lankan local government elections have been subjected to physical attacks and verbal abuse.

Voting for membership of local governments across Sri Lanka is set for Feb. 10.

In one recent case during election campaigning, a Muslim cleric vehemently spoke out against women competing against men.

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This follows passage in 2017 of a new law requiring that females constitute 25 percent of candidates for local government positions.

Women make up 52 percent of Sri Lanka's population, but their representation in politics has been the lowest among South Asian nations.

Uma Chandra, currently a local government candidate in the capital, Colombo, reported to police that a vehicle she was travelling in was attacked on Jan. 29.

She also filed a complaint over the incident with the country's Human Rights Commission.

Another woman candidate, in southeastern Monaragala district, was admitted to hospital in a serious condition after being assaulted.

A woman candidate in northeastern Mullaitivu district was allegedly physically attacked and kept locked in a house where she was pressed to withdraw a complaint to police about a rival candidate.

Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, co-convener of the Center for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), has written to the Elections Commission and the Inspector General of Police complaining about hate speech.

This included 'viral' videos disseminated through social media insulting female candidates.

The complaint stated that a Muslim cleric known as Niyaz Maulavi, based in the country's west, was responsible for profane, vitriolic and inflammatory criticism of women being involved in politics.

Some Islamic groups maintain that it is the responsibility of women to look after their husbands and children and that it is shameful for them to seek positions of authority over males.

Sri Lanka's last official census put the Buddhist population at 70.2 per cent with Hindus comprising 12.6 per cent and Muslims 9.7 per cent.

Women's rights' activists and election watchdog groups condemned recent verbal and physical attacks on women and urged the government to protect the integrity of the electoral process.

Nayani Hettiarachchi, a women's rights' activist who fought to get the 25 percent quota for female candidates, said both psychological and physical abuse were used to pressure women into withdrawing as candidates.

As well as some religious groups, patriarchal elements in society sought to discourage women from political participation.

However, Hettiarachchi called on female candidates to not give in to such pressures.

The country's Women's Action Network (WAN) said fear of violence against women had been a key factor in limiting their political role.

There had also been slurs against the honor of families because a female member was seeking to become a local government member, WAN complained in a Jan. 28 media statement.

R.G.Podimenike is convener of the Eastern United Women's Organization (EUWO), which is backing 27 female candidates in the Feb. 10 election.

She complained about a lack so far of strong official action against those engaging in stirring hate and violence against women seeking political office.

Sri Lanka's Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world's first female prime minister in 1960 and her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga was elected as the nation's first female executive president.

However, Sri Lanka is ranked 180th out of 190 countries in terms of female representation in parliament.

And the average percentage for women serving in the country's parliament, provincial councils and local government is presently less than five percent.

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