Now the ground reality in Sri Lanka in terms of gender equality is a scenario like this. Women can enter prestigious professions such as law, medicine, engineering, civil service, etc. without any obstruction; in fact the number of females entering these professions far outweigh their male counterparts. The world’s first ever female Prime Minister was produced by this country more than six decades ago, even before the English could pull out something of that nature in the form of Margaret Thatcher.
One of the very few female Executive Presidents in the world came from this country a quarter of a century ago. We also had a top notch female Chief Justice who was second to none in that exalted seat.
At a glance, would one safely come to the conclusion that ours is a country where gender equality is existent at its best? Almost yes, but not quite.
The Executive President, the consulting physician, the commercial pilot flying a jet worth billions of rupees, being females, will have to go through a male proxy to buy a dram of scotch (or even gal) over a bar counter.
A woman who goes to the Middle East bracing herself up for all the atrocities her master or mistress could inflict including rape, abuse, slavery, nailing (literally) or the worker who works in the free trade zone 12 hours a day for a meagre salary deprived of her youth and personal life, has been banned from working in a bar or a liquor restaurant. The moral pricks, who do not give a tuppence when our women are treated as slaves in the Middle East or waste their lives in front of Juki machines, are piqued at the site of a female bar tender, as it is against the ‘cultural values’.
The flip flop stance by the authorities in removing an archaic regulation that barred women from working in bars and buying booze over the counter, only to be reimposed days later on a presidential order received wide publicity on international media. At a time when even conservative Saudi Arabia is permitting women to drive vehicles, the reimposing of these restrictions come not only as an anti climax to the liberal minded reforms the Government was intent on introducing, but also hinting at a fundamental fissure in the principles of the two major constituent parties of the coalition government.
The furore over the liquor ban was just one aspect of the discriminatory and patriarchal attitude that permeates the whole society
The bliss of self deception
Ugurata hora beheth kema or swallowing medicine without the throat knowing about it, is best demonstrated and practiced in this country when it comes to issues relating to the so-called ‘moral and cultural values’. For example, liquor bars are closed on Poya Days, which, logically would mean that liquor should not be consumed on that day. Ask any bar owner or the bar tender at a supermarket chain as to the most profitable day of the month. The ever lengthening queues on any pre-Poya day with people clamouring to buy liquor are themselves sufficient answer to that question. Then take the ban on the sale of meat on Poya days; fresh meat such as beef, chicken, pork disappear from boutiques and supermarkets on Poya days while meat products such as sausages, meatballs, lingus are freely available, bought and consumed.
One columnist in this very newspaper, sarcastically referred to the authority which reimposed the ban, super-ceding the removal by the Finance Minister, if I remember correctly, as a Polonnaruwa Moral and Cultural Authority. It not only reeks of populist politics at election times; quite apart from it, is reflective of a self deception that bugs the sinhalese from time immemorial. No wonder it reflects a backward, archaic and patriarchal mindset that militates against all Sri Lanka has achieved, at least legally, in making the ground equal for women in their social enterprises viz a viz men; yet it constitutes only the tip of the iceberg. Although technically women are on an equal footing with men, more or less, in many aspects, very few make it to decision making tiers, not due to any lack of expertise or skill, but simply consequential of a patriarchal and exclusivist system that shuts down women from being part of decision making.
For example the private or mercantile sector has a fair share of female employees almost equal to that of men; yet the percentage that makes it to director board-level is minuscule in comparison. The same applies to the percentage of women who are engaged in politics even though you see many women at political rallies as supporters. The situation when compared to our neigbours in South Asia was so bad that a minimum quota of 25% had to be introduced by legislative action to remedy it. A sexist attitude is prevalent in all spheres of social life, whether it is employment, access to state services, marriage, judiciary, etc.
The restriction imposed by the Excise Ordinance is highly discriminatory and a violation of the fundamental rights as guaranteed under the Constitution
Men of vice and women of virtue
The furore over the liquor ban was just one aspect of the discriminatory and patriarchal attitude that permeates the whole society. A country that has the highest suicidal rate in the world, one of the leading porn consuming countries on internet and the worlds leading boozers in terms of per capita consumption of liquor according to research,
A situation where the man enjoys booze and other indulgences to his hearts content and the woman is destined to pick up the pieces to keep the family in tact is, inhuman, not to say sexist.
I wonder whether it is my lack of intelligence or not, that the culture and morality that we talk so highly about escapes my comprehension; Ask a young woman widow or a divorcee who faces this ‘moral and culturally rich’ society or a rape victim who faces the justice system, they will recount the ‘moral values’ that they experience daily, from this 2,500 year old value system.
No wonder it reflects a backward, archaic and patriarchal mindset that militates against all Sri Lanka has achieved
Modern day Brahmana attitudes
Lord Buddha was criticial of the hypocritical brahmanas, who used social taboos as a means of perpetuating discrimination against women in society. Jesus Christ showed compassion to women who the patriarchal Jewish society termed sinners. If we claim to be a moral and ethical society we would do well to recognize that women should enjoy equal rights as men, not merely in terms of constitutionally guaranteed rights, as stated in Article 12 of the Constitution, but as civilized citizens of the global community, leave alone the ‘2,500-year-old something’
The restriction imposed by the Excise Ordinance is highly discriminatory and a violation of the fundamental rights as guaranteed under the Constitution. The Fundamental Rights Applications filed by a dozen brave women will set the record straight in terms of a woman’s right to buy liquor over the counter and also to work in places selling and making booze without any disability viz a viz male counterparts.
Yet as to the patriarchal, discriminatory and hypocritical attitudes of the so-called ‘2,500-year-old heritage’ as expressed by the President, obviously under pressure from the Buddhist clergy and the self righteous conservatives in society, is merely an expression of deeply entrenched gender bias and discrimination, that would not yield the field to modernist liberalism. It would require constant struggle, bravery and vigilance of the progressive minded members of civil society to expose the villainy of these hypocritical moralists and their agendas.