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Thushanthi Gunarathne

“I had no idea to get involved in politics. In the run up to the 2018 local government election, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna [SLPP] party wanted include my name to the List because of their awareness of my many years of community service assistance for women and other vulnerable groups in Gomarankadawala. They needed suitable women candidates to meet the compulsory 25% quota. I am one of the four women councilors in the Gomarankadawala Pradeshiya Sabha. Initially, male councilors would make derogatory remarks at me because I came through the List. They used to call me “bonus councilor.” But I always retorted them by pointing out that women were needed to be brought in as a result of the 25% quota system, which is a legal requirement of the amended Local Government Act. Therefore, my entry into the Pradeshiya Sabha was lawful.

I was born and raised in Gomarankadawala, Anuradhapura and I witnessed unfathomable ravages of Sri Lanka’s war in my childhood and youth. I saw dead bodies of my teachers who were killed by the LTTE [ Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam]. I am now 46 years old and I have a 21-year-old-son. My son was just three months when LTTE attacked the police station in front of our house. These experiences have not made me a bitter person. I am working hard to improve the lives of all poor communities in my area, including Tamil and Muslim.

After I left school, I joined several Community Based Organizations, including the Women’s Development Organization and Farmers’ Organization. I also mobilized villagers to help the elderly and young people. I was known among community members in Gomarankadawala because my social welfare activism. During the 2018 local government election, I organized community gatherings and got involved in house-to-house canvassing to mobilize voters for other candidates from my party. At times, I witnessed how my own party male candidates became jealous of my people mobilization skills. When my name was included on the List, they tried to replace me with their own friends.

I am SLPP’s Trincomalee District Convener for mobilization of female voters. We recently had a general assembly and I invited two women parliamentarians for it. I made a speech about the need to increase women’s representation in proportion to our total population. We are 52% of the country’s population. And this figure should reflect in all important decision-making structures in government. Women have a critical role in fostering unity in a society. Unfortunately, in government decision making platforms, we experience suppression and patriarchy. The two women parliamentarians were impressed by my public speaking skills.

At the beginning, I had hardly any knowledge about rules and regulations relating to the functions of the Pradeshiya Sabha system. Fortunately, I took part in a lot of trainings, including the ones conducted by One Text Initiative. The trainings I took part have empowered me to deal with all the challenges and problems I encounter in dispatching my duties.  Knowledge enables you to shut down detractors. I believe that learning is a life-long process. Whenever I get to know about a training program, I let other women councilors know about it as well. I speak to women leaders in my area about the crucial roles they could play in the development of our society.

I am bound by the law to serve my communities. So I question male councilors, including those from my own party, when I see them trying to manipulate their privileged position to serve their own interests. I will not leave room for corrupt practices. Our efficient responses to the service needs of the people also put male councilors in bad light. This is why male councilors see us as a problem. I can see they are already worried about the next election due to our performances and achievements.

We could do more had we been provided with necessary allocations. The Gomarankadawala Pradeshiya Sabha is small and we hardly get sufficient allocations. I have only managed to assist in access road construction and to help build toilets for poor families. But I am hoping to get more allocations after January 2021.

I see a lot of wastage in Pradeshya Sabha service delivery efforts. For example, they’d repair the same roads several times over due to the use of poor quality raw material. This isn’t limited to the Pradeshiya Sabha level. Our country is debt-ridden because of malpractices and corruption by decision makers. I point these things out irrespective of party affiliations. I used allocations to serve the all three communities.

People ask me if I am planning to contest in the upcoming Provincial Council elections. I want to improve my knowledge a bit more. So I don’t think I will contest in the forthcoming one. I will still contest at Pradeshiya Sabha level. I will establish women’s societies at village level and strengthen those women at the grassroots.

Women’s increased representation in local government has made a lot of improvements. Earlier, there was only one woman councilor in Gomarankadawala Pradeshiya Sabha. Male councilors are always profit-driven. I fight for our representation in committees, too. There is no female representation in the Finance Committee. I am in the Environment Committee. I proposed a separate Women’s Committee, but so far, they have not responded positively to my proposal. Outside the Pradeshiya Sabha system, in order to increase women’s representation, women themselves have to organize and put pressure on all relevant male decision makers. We have to learn more about the pain, the suffering and the challenges other women in our communities go through. We have to bond with them and help them. Then only can we mobilize ourselves as a larger group to demand for better representation in all levels of government. Our service delivery has to be community centered. We have to raise our voice in the Pradeshiya Sabha to represent and address their issues.

The biggest issue that women who receive nominations to contest in the Provincial Council election will be lack of funding to run their campaign. I also will have this problem if I contest although I have proven my capabilities as a councilor.”

(THIS WAS PREPARED AS PART OF FEMALE COUNCILLOR’S CAPACITY DEVELOPMENT PROJECT OF ONE TEXT – WITH THE PERMISSION OF THE COUNCILLOR TO PUBLISH THE DOCUMENT)

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