No space for women to join the political conversation: NPP candidate Chamila Thushari

Chamila Thushari, NPP Gampaha District Candidate

ECONOMYNEXT – Women who were democratically elected were deprived of their rightful chance to enter parliament in recent years, human rights activist and National People’s Power (NPP) Gampaha District candidate Chamila Thushari said.

“Only the Local Government councils have a 25% quota system for women. However, when it comes to representation in parliament, women are overlooked. Why are women in politics so threatening?” Thushari told EconomyNext in an exclusive interview yesterday.

Addressing the lack of representation with regards to women in politics, she said: “52% of the population of Sri Lanka comprises women. However, when we look at women in politics, the numbers are extremely low. For the past 72 years, we’ve seen little progress in the country, not just in terms of economy and culture but also in terms of representation. We know that their needs are the least addressed. This is due to the lack of representation in political debates. The traditional patriarchal values that our country upholds leave no space for a woman to join the discussion, which needs to change.”

Thushari also expressed her views on the government’s decision to discontinue repatriating domestic workers employed in the Gulf States in light of the pandemic. “The most important group of people who contribute to our foreign remittances are the domestic workers employed in the Middle East. However, around 40,000 of them were stranded there at their time of need when COVID- 19 threatened the world.”

According to a report published by Amnesty International, COVID 19 has left migrant workers in the Gulf nations in a vulnerable state with “dire living conditions, scarce legal protection, lack of information, and restricted access to preventive health care measures and treatments.”

Explaining the stigma that surrounds women in politics, Thushari said that women go through constant sexual and mental harassment. “Even if we campaign on social media, the comments are harassing. This is the mindset that needs to change. All this time, women were considered an ornament on the political stage for modern voters who want to see representation. We are women with hands-on experience who have worked in the name of social justice, which is why we thought of taking an initiative, “ she said.

Thushari further expressed her distaste towards the government and their promise of social security.

“The current president was elected because of his promise of social and national security. However, we’ve seen little or no improvement with regard to the security of women. In fact, there has been an alarming surge of child sexual abuse victims in the country.”

She also called out the government for not addressing the systemic racism that exists within Sri Lanka. “They call it the post-war period notwithstanding that the war ended a decade ago. I think this is a terrible excuse for not doing anything to combat this menace. Everything from birth certificates to bank slips is predominantly done in Sinhala, which is unjust for other communities whose mother tongue is not Sinhala. The subtle systemic racism that exists within our country is only holding us back,” she said.

Thushari also elaborated on the NPP’s stance on the controversial Millennial Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement, stressing that the party is against its signing. “The government has managed to confuse the general public by frequently changing their position on the matter. When they’re in opposition they’re vehemently against it, but when they’re in power they work in favour of it. This in itself is proof that they don’t care about the future of the country and that they’re merely playing the game of politics. The impression we have is that they have already gone ahead and signed certain aspects of the agreement without disclosing the full details. The political game that is being played right now by the Rajapaksa- led government is to secure their political power and future,” she said.

Thushari also addressed the alleged social stigma that is associated with the NPP’s association with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and its violent past. This has been theorised as a key reason as to why the party has repeatedly not acquired enough votes to secure more than 10 seats in parliament since they acquired 39 in 2004, she said. She further questioned as to why the United National Party (UNP)-led government in power back then was not held accountable for the atrocities they committed during the second JVP insurrection, referring to the alleged torture chambers which allegedly in operation under current UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe. “Every party has made errors, and we have new leadership. We have moved on and we will ensure that such a situation will never arise again. We’ve never engaged in corruption, and we’ve done our service to our country. My only request is for the public to forget the past and give our new leaders a chance,” she urged the public. (Colombo/Jul31/2020)

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