The impact of the war on women, and the wounds and losses they faced due to the war are the reasons for me to enter into politics.
I am Mrs. Mathini Nelson. I was born in Point Pedro. I followed my primary education at St. Thomas Roman Catholic Girls School and my secondary education at the Jaffna Hindu College. I was only able to study up to my Advanced Level due to some of the problems which prevailed in the country at the time. I have four children. I faced many problems due to the problems which prevailed in the country, and also lost my brother in the process. These were the fundamental reasons for me to enter into politics.
My concern towards social activities is something which was within me from the beginning. I inherited it from my father and members of my family. It had a severe impact on me when it took the form of politics. Many told me that I could continue to do social work through various avenues, and that I would have to face criticisms if I were to indulge in political activities. Unwanted vain reproaches and inappropriate action are often the main feedbacks that are placed before us as challenges. As a woman whose orientation is towards social work, I did not get 90 percent of the support for my political work. Some males who understand our problems lent their support to us. But we do not receive full support from the members of our own families. What is notable is the fact that many prefer to carry out social work through women associations, welfare associations or voluntary organisations, but do not extend their support to carry out such activities via political means.
A situation prevails where women are not in a position to decide assist society-based or family-based individuals, or to provide economic assistance to them. Women have to obtain separate permission from the family to handle finances, regardless of their role in their respective families. As far as social perspective is concerned, male politicians, whether within the same political party or among the friend circle, generally do not show interest to pass proposals made by female politicians.
As far as our community is concerned, security of women has become a matter of concern during the post war period. Women face various challenges pertaining to their income, improving their standard of living, and ensuring proper education to their children. Various voluntary organisations have been involved in providing assistance to these women through various phases after the end of the war. this has resulted in the women losing confidence in themselves. The lack of a proper foundation for women, and their dependency on others have created the mindset that they need someone else to help them.
Families without males as breadwinners have been labelled as women headed households by our society. This very society seeks sexual bribes from these women who reach out to them for help. At the same time, they bargain with these women, and delay the process to provide their needs. If they consider them too weak, the men themselves decide that the women do not need it. Therefore, these women go through severe mental agony. To be frank, a woman who has children fears that she might be pushed towards prostitution if she cannot feed her children. This community does consist of such evil individuals who push her to have such thoughts.
As a solution to these problems, there needs to be a change within every individual in the society. In addition, women do not receive justice when they seek the help of judicial officials for their needs as well. Many voluntary organisations are involved in helping the women to recover. We have now joined with such organisations to carry out our activities. We are in the process of forming a women’s team for this purpose. We carried out certain initiatives through women’s associations that were working in villages. We have also commenced initiatives to encourage women who are reluctant to work towards addressing their basic needs.
We have commenced a national-level programme regarding women in politics. We have initiated protests demanding 25% women’s representation in politics. Threats faced by women should be given voice regardless of race, religion and language. I did not have anyone as a role model as I entered politics. The attacks carried out on Tamil people, the injustice we faced, and the pain we had to endure are the aspects which motivated me to enter into politics. From the beginning itself my political journey has been with the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi. As a female politician, it is very difficult to move forward with male politicians.
Every male who has stepped into politics did so after having studied politics, and with substantial political backing. Soon after stepping into politics, I realised that politics was all about piggybacking. If a wife talks about politics with her husband, whether in a good way or critically, that husband would not treat his wife properly at home. There are many men who have such mentality. Women are chosen for politics due to certain conditions, and not with the intention of providing a proper platform for women.
As far as my political journey is concerned, I contested the Local Government election in 2011 in Point Pedro and got elected. I then contested the General Election in 2015. That became a turning point in my political life. I was the only female who contested from the party, and therefore, I expected that I would get an opportunity. During the later years I faced many economic-related problems. I then contested the Local Government Election in 2018 and I am currently the Vice Chairperson of the Point Pedro Urban Council. I have also come to understand the vast difference between an election and party politics. The party has given me the rightful place by appointing me as a member of its central committee, as well as the head of its women’s wing. As far as the 2015 election is concerned, I did not have proper experience nor the guidance. I faced many problems pertaining to manpower and implementation of the process. Funding for the campaign alone was a significant problem. it was an incurable scar. It was only after I was elected to the Urban Council that I learnt many aspects of politics. I was able to learn about women’s contribution in politics through various workshops that were conducted by voluntary organisations. Women do get support when they table proposals at the council sessions. We had the authority to question in the event of confusions and discrepancies. There are times when female members who table proposals are looked at in a scornful manner by the male members of the council. However, I was able to carry out various projects through my works related to politics and development. In 2011, when I was elected for the first time, I did not have much clarity on the process on obtaining the necessary fund allocations. However, I was able to the proper process and obtain the allocations later on as I progressed. Subsequently, I was able to obtain funds for various projects under the Gamperaliya initiative.
Women should be provided with the awareness on what politics is. Women should be enlightened on aspects such as the nuances, obstacles, and betrayals that they could face in politics. It is best that these awareness programmes are carried out by voluntary organisations. They should be enlightened on the importance of tactics, linguistics, and developing their personality as they first enter into politics. They must improve their skills on languages spoken locally and internationally, and on technology. They should know how to handle certain issues, how to solve certain problems, and on how to handle issues in a subtle manner when needed. A woman must have the courage to reveal a problem to the public.
Sri Lanka’s law does not prevent women from taking part in politics. The limit regarding female representation in politics is a result of extreme acts of those of male chauvinistic mindset. The proposal to bring in 25% representation for women was brought in to break this mindset. If that is made law, only 25% of women will continue to be included into politics. My view is that women who enter into politics should be trained properly before absorbing them into politics.
By the time we prepare for the next election, we begin to face economic constraints. At the same time, there are many who use money to exercise influence on the election. In the event the party nominates me at the next election, whether I would be a strong contender or not largely depends on the financial aspect. I continue to do my part to push women with strong personalities to the next level, regardless of the political parties they represent. Women should build strong personalities for themselves to enter into politics. Society’s perception and their criticisms about women in politics have a great impact on their political growth. In addition, they should be economically empowered as well. Steps should be initiated to instill self-confidence among them. taking the situation of my children into consideration, I intend to carry out initiatives that would be of help for their future endeavours, and move away.
This was prepared as part of the Female Councillor’s Capacity Development Project of One Text – with the permission of the councillor to publish the document.