By Vishvanath
The SJB is preening itself on the success of its women’s rally in Kandy on Saturday (Feb. 24). Its
leader and presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa, speaking at the event, spelt out his party’s policies
towards women. The first conference of the SJB women’s wing, Samagi Vanita Balavega, took place at
the Mahaiyawa Stadium, Kandy.
The JVP-led NPP has already held several women’s rallies in different parts of the country. The SJB
is obviously vying with the NPP for women’s support, which is popularly known the kitchen vote in this
country. The NPP is carrying out aggressive social media campaigns to drum up public support for its
leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who is running for President.
The UNP and the SLPP have also been holding women’s events, but they have not received the
same public response and media attention as the SJB and the JVP for obvious reasons.
Alleged plot
Presidential election campaigns of all political parties have got underway in earnest although it is
being claimed in some quarters that the government is planning to postpone the next presidential
election due in eight months or so. The Constitution does not provide for the postponement of a
presidential election, but some political observers are of the view that the government, unable to face
elections, may try to put off the presidential contest on the pretext of abolishing the executive
presidency; it has already had some civil society outfits partial to it renew their call for restoring the
parliamentary system, they argue.
The President’s Office has sought to dispel doubts being expressed about the presidential
election, which, it has said, will be held on schedule. But Sri Lankans do not take official statements
Women to the fore
There are several categories of voters that political parties generally woo ahead of a presidential
election—men, women, youth, state employees, estate workers, ethnic minorities and, above all, fence-
sitters whose number is believed to have increased exponentially today due to the disillusionment of
the public with the main political parties.

Demographics are usually factored in at elections, and political parties base their campaign
strategies on them. But this time around, the presidential candidates have evinced a keener interest in
wooing female voters, especially mothers, than at previous elections.
The time is opportune for women to obtain commitments from the political parties to improve
their lot, but whether politicians will honor their pledges after capturing power is in doubt.
Women outnumber men
Women account for nearly 52% of Sri Lanka’s population, according to official statistics, but it is
doubtful whether this fact is taken into account when state policies are formulated. According to the
United Nations Development Programme has revealed the following:
·  Out of the?8.5 million?economically active population, 72% are males and only 35% are females. 
·  Women constitute 52% of Sri Lanka’s population, but female representation in parliament is
only 5.3%. 
·  The labour force participation of women as of 2021 is 33.6% of the total population.? 
·  According to the findings?of the study conducted in 2019 by the United Nations Population Fund
(UNFPA), 90% of Sri Lankan women and girls have faced sexual harassment in public buses and trains at
least once in their lifetime. 
It cannot be thought by any stretch of the imagination that improving women’s lot economically
by empowering them politically is the goal of the political parties that are mobilizing female voters. But
economic empowerment is bound to be an unintended benefit of their political mobilization.
It is popularly said in Sri Lanka that the elephant is not aware of its own size. Politicians’
desperation to woo them will hopefully make women, who are not organized as a political force, realize
their real strength and act accordingly in dealing with governments and political parties in a male-
dominated country.   
Mothers’ Front
The ongoing efforts on the political front to mobilize women remind one of the Mothers’ Front
that the late MP Mangala Samaraweera formed after the JVP’s abortive second uprising and equally
ruthless state terror in the late 1980s.
Samaraweera and other SLFP stalwarts at the time took up the issues such as the missing youth,
successfully mobilized grief-stricken mothers and played a significant role in propelling the SLFP to
victory in 1994. In the North and the East, several mothers’ organizations have emerged to seek justice
for their children killed during war and to pressure the state to reveal the fate of their missing family
members. These organizations are also a force to be reckoned with.
Promises that the SLFP had made to the mothers who had lost their sons and daughters during
the reign of terror in the late 1980, and/or were demanding to know the fate of their missing children,
were forgotten soon after the 1994 regime change, which brought the SLFP-led People’s Alliance to
power. The Mothers’ Front was left to wither on the vine. This is the fate that awaits the movements
politicians launch ahead of elections.

One may recall that the rape and execution of a young woman, named Premawathi Manamperi,
during the first 1971 JVP insurrection was effectively used by the UNP in 1977 to sway public opinion
against the SLFP and score a mammoth victory at the general election in that year.
Future of children
At present, the Opposition parties, especially the SJB and the JVP, are drawing on mothers’
concerns about the future of their children to garner votes.
The country is still reeling from its worst-ever economic crisis. There have been some discernible
improvements on the economic front, but the pall of uncertainty has not gone away. The educated
youth are migrating in droves, and others are struggling to keep their heads above water. Nothing
worries parents more than the insecurity of their children.
The JVP has offered to ensure a prosperous future for the country’s youth and children. It has
promised to eliminate bribery of corruption, and manage the economy efficiently while enhancing the
efficiency of the public sector and national productivity for that purpose.
Lawmaker of the JVP-led NPP, Dr. Hairini Amarasuriya, is leading the NPP’ women’s wing from the
front. She draws from Buddhist literature to drive her political points home. In one of her recent
speeches at an NPP event, she likened Sri Lankan mothers’ to Kundalakeshi, a prominent figure in
Buddhist literature, driven to kill her husband, a thief, to save her family and herself. She said there
were thousands of Kundalakeshis in present-day Sri Lanka. She added immediately that they had to use
their votes wisely instead of resorting to violence; maybe, given the JVP’s violent past, she did not want
her statement to be construed as a call to arms.  
The SJB is also focused on women’s rights and concerns over the uncertainty about the future of
the Sri Lankan youth and children. It keeps telling female voters that it will usher in good governance
and economic progress to fortify their children’s future, which is more precious to them than anything
In a bid to enlist the support of female voters, the UNP is flaunting the economic gains the country
has made during and the benefits that have accrued to the youth and children from them, during the
past one and a half years or so under President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s watch. But the UNP association
with the SLPP and the fact that so many youth are leaving the country due to economic difficulties and
fear of an uncertain future is held against it.
There is no way the SLPP, which ruined the economy, inflicting much suffering on the public, can
woo the female voters by making promises, again.
The battle for the so-called kitchen vote is therefore between the SJB and the JVP.