Sri Lanka granted women the right to vote at the same time as men and the first to produce a female Prime Minister, a pioneer in offering women leadership opportunities… - Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena

Commonwealth Women in Local Government Network (ComWLG), partnering with Federation of Sri Lankan Local Government Authorities (FSLGA) held their South Asia Regional meeting at CEWAS at Rathmalana, under the topic of ’Reinforcing Social Resilience Through Women’s Political Representation’ from 25-27 June where Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena was the Chief Guest and keynote speaker.

A large number of distinguished guests and diplomats, especially women leaders from many Commonwealth nations including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Bahamas, Caribbean nations, African nations and Europe were present with many inline to make presentations and take part in sessions in the two day program and the third day training workshop.

This event is dedicated to debate some of the challenges facing women keen to get involved in local government; discuss and develop the Commonwealth Local Government Forum Gender Charter. Also, to exchange experience and good practice from their respective programs designed to support women in leadership at the local level as well as to explore ways to expand these and the importance of mobilizing resources at the local level to strengthen equality.

The ComWLG was established in 2017 to promote women’s political inclusion, to support more women to get involved in local government as politicians and practitioners, and to increase the influence of women in the decisions made about local priorities.

Addressing the large crowd of international guests, the Prime Minister stated –

“It is a matter of continuous, agitation, continuous influence and continuous change, that all of us, especially these organisations could deliver through all governments across the world, the women to demand the right to share the responsibilities of political representation. I commend the collective commitment to strengthening gender equality within local government institutions.Despite continuous efforts, including those in Sri Lanka, women’s representation in elected bodies remains unsatisfactory.

Recognizing the need to further increasing women’s representation, the Parliamentary Special Committee in Electoral reform which I chaired a few years ago, brought about the 25% reservation for women and also for youth in elected bodies. In 2018, we introduced this quota system which we believe needs further expansion. Although there is consensus among political parties, necessary constitutional amendments are still pending. As the Prime Minister and the Minister of local government, these are issues, that all of us face. A simple majority can pass legislation. A reserve majority of two thirds approval also could pass legislation but constitutionally in our country a Supreme Court declares a necessity of a referendum… “

With the opening remarks by Councilor Frazette Gibson, Chairperson ComWLG and Chief Councilor, Freeport, Bahamas, and Anura Premaratne, Municipal Commissioner, Rathnapura, stressing the challenges faced by women facing barriers in political systems and the need to increase awareness and ability of elected leaders to include gender perspectives in all aspects of their work,

Prime Minister further added

“Amidst the difficult economic and monetary crisis Sri Lanka going through, virtual collapse of economy 20 months ago, we have come a long way and come back to political stability and economic stability. We hope by the end of the year we will be able to hold the local government elections, bear local representations and especially gender representation would take the cause further on this platform. Sri Lanka has been a positive contributor in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in relation to gender. And other related areas too. As the chairperson just mentioned, long years ago, UN declared that food, clothing and shelter is essential right of every human being. Have we reached this place? No, all over the world many societies still struggle to reach this…. Sri Lanka can take pride in its history of gender equality. Our women were granted the right to vote at the same time as men when universal adult franchise was introduced in 1931. Moreover, Sri Lanka was the first nation to produce a female Prime Minister and has long been a pioneer in offering women voting rights, leadership opportunities, and equal pay…”

Dr. Carl Wright, Secretary General Emeritus, Commonwealth Local Government Forum, Ms. Lucy Slack, Secretary General, Commonwealth Local Government Forum, Councilor Frasette Gibson, Chairperson, Commonwealth Women’s Local Government Network, Excellency Eric Walsh, High Commissioner of Canada to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Anura Premaratne, Municipal Commissioner, Rathnapura, Hemanthi Goonasekara, Chief Executive Officer, FSLGA, Johann Hesse, Head of Cooperation, Delegation to the European Union, Members of the Board of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum and Federation of Sri Lankan Local Government Authorities as well as over two hundred distinguished delegates from Commonwealth countries were present on this occasion.

Prime Minister’s Media