I am the eldest daughter in a family of seven. I graduated from
the University of Peradeniya. I am married to Shelton Ranaraja,
an attorney and have five daughters and two adorable granddaughters.
I was born into a political family. My late father was an MP in
the first parliament of Sri Lanka from 1948 -56 and my uncles,
M. D Bandaand and D.P.B Mahadiulwewa, were Minister from 1952-70
and Provincial Minister, respectively. In addition, my father-in-law
is a State Councilor and my husband is a former Parliamentarian
and Deputy Minister of Justice (1977-88).
I am a long-standing member of the United National Party (UNP).
I was a founder member of the University student branch of the
UNP and a member of the Women's Working Committee of the UNP from
1978-88. Having been a helper in my husbands political work the
people wanted me to contest personally and I wanted to serve the
people. I had the backing of the party organizations and my family.
In 1979 I was the first woman to be elected to the Kandy Municipal
Council, I served as Deputy Mayor from 1979- 89, Mayor from 1990-91
and Councilor from 1991 to June 1997.
When I was first elected in 1979 the election system was different.
It was only on a proportional basis with the Party preparing the
list of candidates on a priority basis. I was selected to run
for Deputy Mayor, a post which I held till 1989. The present election
system is a combination of proportional and preferential. Each
voter has three preferences which could be cast in favour of one
candidate. Hence personal considerations such as caste, creed,
and race play a more important role than issues and suitability.
In the last local government elections held in March this year
I was unable to get in by a few preference votes. I don't think
I could have resorted to impersonations and intimidations that
were highly prevalent throughout the elections. Women will face
this obstacle to a greater extent. However I find that a fair
number of women have been elected to other local authorities,
although Kandy does not have a single woman councilor. The new
Mayor is receptive to new initiatives, so we have hope.
At present I am a social worker, promoting advocacy groups especially
for women and promoting the concept of participatory development
in local governance through women's groups and low income settlements.
I shall continue to assist the present Mayor and Council with
some of the programmes initiated during my tenure and have been
invited to serve on some Advisory Committees. I am also concerned
about the lack of day care centres for mothers. Although I am
not in Council I shall assist in the development processes of
A Woman's Perspective
The fact that I was a woman posed no problem for me when entering
politics, as our party wanted women to participate actively. Our
leader then, the late JR Jayawardenagavea gave much encouragement
for the formation and development of women's organizations within
the Party. He invited me to be a member of the highest policy
making body in the UNP, the working committee. Hence when my name
was sent up to the nomination board they agreed to make me the
Deputy Mayor in 1979.
Likewise, while in office I did not feel I faced any specific
difficulties being a woman, as I was eager to work and nothing
was allowed to cause obstacles to my activities. If there were
any problems it was because the Town Hall did not have any provision
for a ladies toilet which was remedied. I am sure councilors as
well as the staff found it novel and a change from the usual male
environment. However, I must be quite frank when I say that I
have been generally outspoken, pointing out errors that needed
remedial action in the municipal administration. I have fallen
out of favour with persons responsible for irregularities, but
this is something that most women face in their places of work.
I was no exception.
My personal attempt, as Mayor, to improve the status of women
in Kandy was based around organizing women's groups, especially
in low income settlements. These groups have created a greater
awareness among women on many subjects, such as, dealing with
the municipality and government institutions, improving health
standards , in particular, immunization. Access to other services,
provided by the municipality and government institutions were
also improved; housing loans, contracts to build community facilities,-
wells , roads, water lines and even public buildings. Under my
tenure a full settlement with 185 households was improved. I consider
the development two low income settlements namely Nagastenna and
Menikkumbura with housing and all basic amenities besides providing
them with community centres , preschools and vocational training,
as my best achievement in office.
Breaking The Barriers
I have personally tried to initiate a programme to increase women's
participation in Kandy through housing and settlements development
in under developed areas of the city where people are poor, illiterate
and devoid of most of the basic facilities. Through this programme,
started in 1985, with the assistance of the National Housing Development
Authority I was able to start women's groups by 1990. In 1994
a network was formed and in 1996 three representatives from the
network were included in the policy making body of the municipal
council regarding this programme. The Kandy municipal council
has several women Heads of Department - Health, Library Services,
Finance Also, expansion of pre- school education has meant more
young women have been employed and mothers have become more interested
in the schools activities.
I think it is important that women take an active role in the
governance of cities as women face certain specific problems which
may not be visible to men and even if seen, are not considered
priorities. Men may not be sensitive to these issues. Women are
dedicated workers, and are generally incorruptible . I also think
that women leaders are outspoken and approachable to all categories
of the electorate.
In terms of urban issues, I believe that men and women differ
in their concerns and priorities. Women will be concerned with
basic human amenities in their settlements while men are more
concerned with employment avenues. Women think of the family needs
first, safe housing and neighborhoods, access to schools and health
care as well as marketing facilities in their vicinity. Men on
the other hand not burdened with such cares are often more interested
in sports facilities and amusements. Access to public transport
however, is a concern for both men and women.
Women's issues and priorities will receive early recognition
and attention as more women in local government hold positions
of authority however if men could be made more sensitive to these
needs, a few women with authority would suffice. As women's needs
and priorities are not on men's agendas promoting women into local
government is useful. Besides the local authorities are one of
the closest institutions to human needs and services, Organizing
women's groups to build up awareness could be done by women and
I believe that the local government election system prevalent
in our country the possibility of being elected to a ward on a
preferential voting pattern could prove to be difficult for women.
Women need more backing from party organizations or women's movements.
Issues at local elections may not always favour women candidates.
Often we are told that politics is corrupt. This will depend
on individuals and their interests. If one enters politics to
serve humanity through the power of position and ability to get
things done, corruption will not emerge. But if people get in
to serve themselves the story will differ. Corruption begins from
elections themselves. Impersonations, intimidation, political
thuggery will be obstacles to any honorable politician.