Stop Harassing Women
Even though verbal abuse is not something rare in the House, hurling sexist remarks to verbally abuse a woman MP in the Opposition by a ruling party legislator is not something that an ordinary civilised person of this country would expect to witness and in fact affects the decorum of the august assembly.
The recent statement made by SLPP MP Tissa Kuttiarachchi during his budget debate speech criticising the statements previously made by MP Rohini Kaviratne in her absence could easily be identified as verbal sexual harassment and was thereby heavily criticized by several people and it was also observed as a bad precedent in a society that values democracy.
According to the Code of Conduct to be followed by Members of Parliament, Members shall exercise civility and use appropriate language in political discourse and especially in Parliamentary debate while no Member shall assault, harass or intimidate any person. However the language used by Kuttiarachchi does not amount to appropriate language and also most definitely construes harassment.
The Code of Conduct also states that Members shall act in a manner that is respectful of his fellow Members and the Parliamentary Staff and people of the country with dignity, courtesy and without diminishing the dignity of the Parliament but the verbal sexual harassment by Kuttiarachchi is reason enough to deem such comments as diminishing the dignity of Parliament.
Chair of the Women Parliamentarians Caucus of Parliament, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle in a letter to the Speaker of Parliament expressed disappointment over the said incident while emphasising that such verbal abuse has been taking place against certain women parliamentarians within Parliament by MPs from both the Government and Opposition.
She added that repeated verbal abuse incidents that have taken place in the past have inconvenienced women parliamentarians while stating that no individual who comprehends the notion of civilised conduct would justify verbal abuse against female parliamentarians who are public representatives contributing to the legislation and who are also persistently involved in addressing issues pertaining to women being subject to domestic violence, harassment in public, in their work space and in public transport.
Violence against women is a complex social issue and an issue in regard to fundamental rights, she said while emphasising that any act that causes physical, verbal or psychological harm could be in itself defined as violence against women.
Female representation in politics is minimal and it is vital to create an environment in which the statements made in Parliament protect the dignity of the current female parliamentarians, Dr. Fernandopulle stressed in her letter to the Speaker.
Further according to the Standing Orders of Parliament if any offensive or discourteous words are used, whether by a Member who is speaking or by a Member who is present, the Speaker shall bring him to Order and direct that such reference be expunged from the Hansard.
It is thereby essential for the Women Parliamentarians Caucus of Parliament to insist that such sexual or sexist remarks should be incorporated in the Standing Orders as unparliamentary words by amending the already existing categories.
The manner in which several Members of Parliament including female parliamentarians reacted to the comments so made by Kuttiarachchi is praiseworthy and is a positive move towards acknowledging the depth of such comments. The Progressive Women’s Collective also in a letter to the Speaker of Parliament observed the language used by Kuttiarachchi as offensive and sexist while also stating that at a time when Sri Lanka’s woeful lack of women representation in political spaces is drawing international attention, such scenes being enacted in Parliament do us no favour.
It was also stated that such type of behaviour only reinforces negative public perception of Parliament. It is disappointing that none of the colleagues of Kuttiarachchi attempted to restrain him and in fact supported and cheered him on and the time allocated to him was also extended, permitting him to continue his abusive manner of speech, they emphasised.
Thereby the sexist remarks made by Kuttiarachchi within Parliament should not be taken lightly and should instead be viewed as a practice that is unacceptable and against the Code of Conduct and the Standing Orders of Parliament.