Even though Sri Lankan women have been in the highest seats in politics, even though Sri Lanka produced the first woman prime minister in the world, and even though the current President of Sri Lanka is a woman, such leadership did not significantly improve the quality of Sri Lankan women. It is somewhat deceiving and misleading to state that in general women are in the leading decision making positions. A deeper analysis shows a different story. The elected women leaders belong to a dynasty, with privileged socio-economic and political family backgrounds which provided them with exceptional opportunities specially to fill a vacuum left by their husbands or fathers. Still it is a male dominated society. Male supremacy is nurtured and enhanced in every possible way. It does not guarantee any equal rights for women.
In Sri Lanka, women in the bottom strata of the society who constitute the majority of the population are struggling to lead a decent life. They are faced with many issues on a day to day basis. Even the women movements, mostly headed by upper class women, have not been able to lift the poor women from the harsh realities in life.
In Sri Lanka, grassroots women are at the periphery of the decision making process. In spite of two women leaders running the country for more than a decade, elected women politicians are extremely low -- below 2%. Women shy away from participating in politics because involving in politics means getting involved in violence. Lack of grassroots women participation in the country's political machinery has led to the neglect of issues of the majority of the women population receiving due attention. Women representation in Parliament is a dismal low as 4.9% as of 2015, the lowest in the SAARC Region.
Unemployment among women is high and it is double that of men, even though Sri Lanka constitution guarantees absence of discrimination in employment. Women are basically the suppliers of cheap labour. Even though there is a considerable participation by women in the top-level jobs, as administrators, doctors, and lawyers, majority of women work in low paying jobs in garment industry, free trade zones, migrant labourers (100,00 a year work in the Middle East), and as labourers in the tea plantation sector.
Violence has started to creep into the society at a fast rate. Gender-based violence has become a fact of life. Issues around women migrant workers have brought physical and mental damages to the entire family. Rape related violence, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual harassment, domestic violence; violence related to spousal alcohol abuse is common. These have become facts of life in the lives of poor women in Sri Lanka. Socio-cultural practices such dowry systems are still there not to the extent as it used to be. But it still exists as a subtle cultural feature in the society.
The hardest hit are the women in the conflict zones. The war has forced women to take greater responsibilities in economic and social life, making them to be the main breadwinners. The stories about women in conflict zones are heart throbbing in every respect. Violation of human rights with regard to women is worse in war zones.