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Women Representation in Sri Lankan Politics and Hate Speech Against Them

In Sri Lanka, a woman is not rejected from entering politics by her party, but there are various misconceptions in society that women should not be involved in politics.

It can be pointed out that the rights of women and women’s political representation in various parts of the world are more secure today than in the 18th and 19th centuries, but hate speech and anti-feminism against women in politics and women who talk about politics occur more often than for men. In particular, hate speech against women has become a major challenge and threat to women who enter politics.

The entry of Srimavo Bandaranaike, the world’s first female Prime Minister, into politics is the biggest leap in Sri Lankan female political history. But she continued her political journey in the midst of various challenges and criticism. “Although her party won the 1960 election, the rightwing forces started saying the nastiest possible things, running down women, but she was courageous and patient in front of all those challenges“, Sunethra Bandaranaike mentioned during an interview with the BBC news service.

As the country that produced the world’s first female Prime Minister, we are still boasting. But it is a well-known secret that since then, women in politics have been exposed to a hostile expression of hatred about their clothing, behaviour, family background, education, abilities and personal tastes.

The experience of women politicians exposed to hate speech

Regarding the discussion program that happened between Geetha Kumarasinghe and I (Harini Amarasuriya) which was broadcast on December 10th, 2020, I saw some of the opinions that expressed on social media have criticized our external appearance, our educational background and our level of intelligence. This is a challenge often faced by women engaged in politics“, Dr Harini Amarasuriya posted on her Facebook account.

Being from a media background, I have the ability to face such hate speech challenges successfully. But I am also one of the victims of active violence against women in the social media atmosphere. During the parliamentary elections, the opposition created various fake news on social media insulting me that I’m a corona infected patient and that people who are close to me should be quarantined. Incidents like this have had a huge impact on my political career as well”, Opposition Leader Coordinating Secretary Uma Chandraprakash mentioned.

All the other politicians with me are indirectly expressing hate speech at me. They think I can be influenced by them creating fake news based on my language, clothing style, how I walk, my age and spreading them on social media and social media. It is unfortunate that people who share this hate speech on social media do not know anything about me personally. There is a misconception among the majority of the society that in order for a woman to be involved in politics, she must be a person with a political background, or be an older woman, or conduct her political activities only under another male politician. That is the main reason for the spread of hate speech against women politicians”, said Gayathri Wickramasinghe, member of Colombo Municipal Council.

I became a political party member of the Puttalam Municipal Council under the bonus seat scheme. I am also the first Muslim woman politician to be elected to the Puttalam Municipal Council. So about the party that gave me membership and when I made my own unique decisions during the vote on the budget, many hate speech were published in the guise of women, citing reasons such as race and religion”, said Yameena, a women politician in the Puttalam Municipal Council.

I was strongly prepared for that before I ran for election. But the opposition’s various unsubstantiated allegations against me created an atmosphere in which many women interested in politics who had gathered around me during the election campaign could not stand with me. But I continued my political journey without caring about it. After realizing this, the opposition party launched a campaign against me, claiming that my name did not contain my husband’s name to block my political journey”, said Anna Chandrasekaran, General Secretary of the Labour Party Anusha Chandrasekaran.

It is possible to observe an increase in hate speech against women during election periods in general. According to an observation report issued by ‘Hashtag Generation’, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that monitors hate speech on social media during the parliamentary election period (June 05 to August 14), in Sinhala and Tamil, about 3% of all hate speech against Muslims is identified as hate speech against women.

(https://drive.google.com/file/d/1qQKubeK1HtAtom3J5v2BKoQ5hToH9ma_/view)

Why is hate speech created around women in politics?

Most of the fake news spread on social media is deliberately created by people who work closely with political parties, and the use of words used therein intensifies the violence. Listening to such malicious statements and reading them on social media not only makes us believe that the information is true but also creates a false image of ourselves politically. That seems to be the sole purpose of those who create and distribute such hate speech. Moreover, it directly affects the mental freedom of the individual“, expressed Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Dr Harini Amarasuriya.

When a woman enters politics, she is subjected to various challenges due to the hate speech made against her by other members of society. It is also a strong reason why the majority of women do not enter politics“, said Gayathri Wickramasinghe.

Politicians in the North and East, rather than of gender, gave priority to the heritage of the Tamil people. And people often weigh on the role of female politicians who have come through the sympathy, or of a man who is dependent on her as the husband or father of a woman in politics. Accordingly, such hate speech is a great threat to a woman with a normal family background with no political background when trying to enter politics as a Member of Parliament from a national party or a Tamil political party”, emphasized Uma Chandraprakash.

The majority of women in estate areas, about 75%, are tea plantation workers, and the rest can be identified as living in various occupations and at various levels, but any worker is subject to the rules of the trade unions to which they belong. Either way, the social environment in which they live has created an environment of obedience to the orders of the top officials of the estate owners and their associations or unions. Women living in such areas have exciting and powerful traits, but no environment has been created for them so far to go beyond the social boundaries in which they currently live and thrive in society. For this reason, women are confined to a certain framework, create a set of bonds of their own and live only on them, thus creating a background in which they cannot enter politics successfully. Overcoming all these challenges, the woman who seeks to engage in politics continues to be physically and mentally debilitated due to various insults, hate speeches and violent behaviour against women”, said Attorney-at-Law Anusha Chandrasekaran.

The majority (52%) of the Sri Lankan population are women. However, women’s representation in Sri Lankan politics is still low. The representation of women in the parliament of this country is only 5.38%. With the granting of universal suffrage to Sri Lanka in 1931, men and women were given equal rights. Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to allow women to exercise their voting right in elections, even in many developed countries, where women were not allowed to vote in elections. Despite inheriting such a rich history, Sri Lanka is still considered to have the lowest female political representation in South Asia.

It has been a long time since a woman has already developed the mentality that engaging in politics is essential. Now they are looking for a society that is equal to their ability and courage to engage in politics equally with them or talk openly about politics. It is the duty of all of us to create a healthy political environment without spreading hate speech in a divisive manner.

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