Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday announced in Parliament the good news that the Local Council Elections will be held before the National New Year in April and the even better news that laws will be introduced for 25 percent of the seats to be reserved for women.
According to the latest figures from the Department of Census and Statistics, female formed a majority of Sri Lanka’s population—10,715,000 compared to 10,056,000 males. But in the economically active population or workforce, 5,650,690 or 63.3 percent of the jobs are held by males while 3,274,026 or 36.7 percent jobs are held by females. These include more than 1.5 million girls and mothers who are forced into Middle East slave labour with one mother now in the spotlight because she faces death by stoning in Saudi Arabia. Even the other jobs for girls and women are in garment factories where again it is virtual slave labour. So is it in the most oppressed plantation sector where most of the tea plucking and other work is done by women or girls, as pointed out by Dr. Yasa Siriwardena, health education medical specialist and President of the Amuthu Amuthu Association whose goal is to create a noble humane environment, opening the doors to people’s hidden dimensions for social advancement.
Addressing a seminar on Thursday, Dr. Ms. Siriwardena quoted the widely known but time tested proverb that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. She told mothers and women that if they did not play this vital role of symbolically rocking the cradle some stranger would do it with disastrous consequences for the children and the country. According to Dr. Siriwardena though there is a common conception that Sri Lanka is a male dominated society she believed it was more female dominated because mothers and women played key roles including the unique responsibility of turning her blood into milk and moulding healthy and productive children who will be free thinkers, innovative and enterprising not for selfish purposes but for the common good of the country.
With environmental protection becoming the key issue in the coming months and years after the historic Paris summit which ended yesterday, Dr. Siriwardena said women had a key role to play in this crucial or crunch area also. They could start by creating green homes with home gardens where only organic fertilizer is used, saving fresh water and electricity, recycling of used water or garbage. For instance she and other speakers pointed out that if regular ironing with an electric iron is regulated or stopped Sri Lanka could save million of rupees spent for the use of fossil fuels needed for electricity generation. It is essentially the mother who should regulate this, either going back to the coconut shell iron or some other means, keeping in mind that Sri Lanka’s ancient people with our historic culture and civilisation are not known to have ironed their clothes.
Sri Lanka has the proud distinction of giving the world its first woman Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike who ruled this country effectively for 12 years in two terms, though there is some validity to the claim that she was largely a “weeping widow” emerging out of the tears over the assassination of her husband S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. Later their daughter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga also was the executive President from 1994 to 2005. We also had a woman Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake whose term was unfortunately cut short for political reasons while today we see Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe, Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption playing a prophetic role in the vital battle against corruption. Last month Indira Samarasinghe, a President’s Counsel who had three decades of experience in the field of law, was appointed as the first female Principal of the Sri Lanka Law College in its 140-year history.
We hope that without just quoting stories about the cradle, there will be structural and attitudinal changes for women to play their role from the cradle to the grave, from the womb to the tomb. As Glen Campbell says in an inspiring song, there ought to be a hall of fame for mamas, creation’s most unique and precious pearls.