I recently attended a forum on women and business. There were Provincial Councilors like Rosy Senanayake and also PCs from Trinco, Batti, and down south. There were also business women (mainly from Colombo) and they were interacting. What’s interesting is that they weren’t talking about women’s issues as much as plain old issues. I think that’s why having women in power is important.
The main take-aways I got from the event were that these women are powerful, that they can address national issues and that there’s still a big divide between business and politics.
One woman there was the gregarious PC from Trinco. In a world of thuggish, rough politicos I think she can hold her own. I heard that she was that she was married very young to someone who had a hotel. It turned out to be like Pilawoos Hotel, a roadside food joint. She worked there and made something of it. She raised a family too. One day she delivered a baby in the morning and went back to work immediately after, the child besides.
After a while she got into boats and fishing. Once a boat got impounded in Bangladesh. She speaks only Tamil and Sinhala and everyone told her to just give it up. She wouldn’t, she went to Bangladesh and harangued them (I assume) till she got her boat out. I certainly would do whatever necessary to get her out of my office. So she’s a powerful woman.
There were other women there, of which Rosy Senanayake was the most famous, and spoke the most.
Rosy is a former beauty queen, personality and I think an intelligent woman. She recently did well in the Western Province Provincial Council elections. She seems committed and driven and I think I’ll vote for her next time.
Another woman who spoke was the MP from Batticaloa. This was very interesting cause she was brave enough to go against Pillayan, the governor. I know a lot of people from Batti have been killed, so props to her.
These women operate as people, not really as feminists. The issues they talk about are getting more power for the provinces, more provincial control over tax revenue, more incentives for big businesses to work with small. They are concerned with more women’s representation and access to business opportunities and education, but this is part of a platform that should appeal to everyone.
Indeed, having more qualified people and opportunities for our daughters is beneficial to everyone. Not because they’re women, but because they’re able to address and I think tackle the issues that affect all Sri Lankans.
The event, however, was not about politics, though it invariably drifted that way. It was really about business and politics and how they could work together. This was hard. The Colombo business ladies spoke mostly in English and the provincials spoke in Sinhala and Tamil. The business world is still very difficult from the political arena. If they really are to connect then I think PCs and more need to learn more English. Everybody should learn Sinhala, but English is a real advantage in business.
Beyond that, the people couldn’t fully communicate to each other. But they’re starting. One women’s issue my mother is working on is setting a quota for women’s representation, as many countries do, and as Mahinda stated in his Chinthanaya. Beyond that, women candidates need to be funded and supported so the thugs don’t win. But, most importantly, I think women politicians and business people are ready to be taken seriously as politicians and business people. They can contribute on their own merits and they just need a fair chance. Then maybe they can help make life more fair for all of us.
There’s also an interesting article on the World Bank blog by Chulie De Silva, about closing the equality gap.