WOMEN’S PARTICIPATION IN TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE: STILL FAR TO GO
The experience of war and violent conflict is a gendered one. Its impact on men and women is different. The first round impact of violent conflict includes death and disability, impacting mostly on men, sexual and gender-based violence, widowhood, loss of income, assets and related security and displacement and migration. The second round of impacts centres on adaptive responses or what victims or victim-families and communities to deal with the consequences of the first round. These include the necessary induction of women in to civic and economic activities, the attempt to ignore the impacts of violence-related trauma in the effort to inadequately move-on and resultant impact on the women themselves and children.[i]
The possible third round impact relates to state responses to those issues that gave cause and arose out of violent-conflict. In determining and designing these it is evident that the experience of both men and women during, due to and post-war must be taken into account. But the engagement of men and women in post war contexts is different. Patriarchy determines the space for women’s participation, the depth of women’s participation and the value and relevance accorded to women’s thinking and opinions. Just as much as women made little or no contribution in terms of decision making in the war effort, formally they are not being drawn in equal and representative terms to the transition/ reconciliation process. Most victim survivors of conflict are women – war widows in the north and south, but their participation in determining post war responses is minimal. And the engagement of men and women from a gendered lens is also limited or non-existent.
The presence of women in parliament went down from 5.7 per cent at the last general election.[ii] This necessarily means that even in terms of numbers women are severely underrepresented in key decision making bodies which determine the policy direction of the government in relation to transition from war to peace. When Parliament converted into a Constitutional Assembly for the first time in April this year it was with the aim of enacting a new constitution. Accordingly, 7 deputy chairpersons and 21 steering committee members were elected by the Constitutional Assembly. Only one of them, a deputy chairperson, is a woman. Not one of its 21 members of the steering committee which is responsible for coming up with the draft constitution was a woman. The Prime Minister informed Parliament that appointments for sub committees will be carried out after receiving the report from the Committee on Constitutional Reforms Public Representation before end April. No objections were raised by the opposition when appointing members for the Constitutional Assembly. [iii]
While there is a recognition in Sri Lanka today that a peaceful and just society requires multi ethnic and multi religious representation in decision making, there is still no recognition that men cannot, and should not, seek to represent the interests of the entirety of society, when more than half of the population of Sri Lanka are women.
The exclusion of women from decision making in Sri Lanka at the highest levels through what appears to be a bi-partisan consensus in the Constitutional Assembly is not a positive sign for a transformation of the polity or its governance. There is a need for civil society to encourage more and more women with qualifications to come forward for public life. There is also a need for the government to use, as a living and active policy, every opportunity for affirmative action in favour of women, such as in the constitutional reform process and the Constitutional Assembly. A gendered-response is fundamental to effectively address post-conflict –problems and to build necessary resilience in communities and sustainable peace in the country. However, efforts so far see limited women’s representative or effective participation. This is concerning as a generic response without taking into account the heterogeneity of experiences across gender and other disaggregates like geography, ethnicity, age and social class may prove to be non-effective further fuelling the existing problems and cleavages.
On the other hand, the picture is not totally bleak. At the local government level, legislation was introduced early this year in March to increase the participation of women with a dedicated quota of 25 per cent. This will clearly contribute to improved representation in terms of numbers, at least at the local government level and give some level of voice to women. This has yet to come into effect as no local government election has been held since then. In addition, the government has announced that the Provincial Councils Elections Act No. 2 of 1988 is to be amended to include a 30 percent quota for women during the nomination of candidates.[iv] However, the government has also stated that no similar quota will be provided at the parliamentary level and that the expectation is that increased women’s representation in higher levels of governance will take place through the upward mobility of women from the local level.
The basic analysis is from the point of view of inclusion that women represent women best and must necessarily be included in all decision-making processes. Sri Lanka is today in a post-war transformative state. The transitional justice mechanisms that the government has pledged to set up, including the truth commission, office of missing persons and office of reparations will necessarily see women playing a major role as victim-survivors. The first of the government’s transitional justice institutions to emerge, the office of missing persons, has special provision for gender concerns in it “to issue from time to time, rules and guidelines, which may include gender-sensitive policies, to be followed by all staff of the OMP relating to the exercise, performance and discharge of its powers, duties and functions.”[v] Those women who participate in these and other decision making forums need to empowered and on par with their male counterparts. There is a need to be focused on capacity-building and inclusion of women in the transition and reconciliation process.
Sumadhu Weerawarne-Perera is a journalist and communications consultant.
[i] Violent Conflict and Gender Inequality: An Overview by Mayra Buvinic, Monica Das Gupta, Ursula Casabonne and Philip Verwimp, H i C N Households in Conflict Network, The Institute of Development Studies – at the University of Sussex – Falmer – Brighton – BN1 9RE, http://www.hicn.org
[iii] Ensure equitable women’s representation in constitutional reform’ National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, http://srilankamirror.com/news/item/10008-ensure-equitable-women-s-representation-in-constitutional-reform
[v] THE GAZETTE OF THE DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF SRI LANKA Part II of May 27, 2016 SUPPLEMENT (Issued on 27. 05. 2016)