IFES Launches POWER Program to Promote Women’s Political Participation in Sri Lanka
Building on decades of advocacy by women’s rights groups, Sri Lanka’s government passed a 25 percent gender quota at the local level in 2016. The new quota marks an important opportunity to strengthen women’s political participation in Sri Lanka, where women currently make up just two percent of local government representatives, the lowest of any country in South Asia. While the newly-adopted quota will substantially increase women’s local-level representation, additional efforts are needed to address the persistent gender barriers that continue to inhibit women’s ability to contest for office.
On October 11, Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja, launched an Australian-funded program to enhance women’s participation in local governance in Sri Lanka. Ambassador Stott Despoja was joined by two women political leaders – Member of Parliament (MP) Sudarshini Fernandopulle and Ms. Rosy Senanayake, a former MP. As part of the program, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is working with the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, the Institute for Local Governance, and local partners to implement its “Promoting Women’s Electoral Representation” (POWER) project.
The POWER program seeks to strengthen the implementation of the local-level quota, address persistent gender issues in the media and electoral security sphere, and build momentum for a more gender-positive electoral environment. Key program activities will include conducting gender-sensitivity trainings for media and political parties, in collaboration with the Election Commission; working with the Institute of Local Governance to train a new cadre of women leaders through a nationwide “She Leads” Sri Lanka program; implementing a public awareness campaign on the importance of including women as elected leaders; and working with observer groups to address violence against women in elections.
As Bryce Hutchesson, Australia’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, noted at the launch event, “It is important that more men, especially those in positions of power and influence, help advance this work” of strengthening women’s representation. Reflecting this need, POWER will seek the proactive engagement of a broad network of male and female stakeholders to leverage new opportunities to promote the election of effective women leaders.