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7 March 2014 09:33 pm - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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TODAY IS THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

The world celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) on the 8th of March every year. It assesses social, political and economic achievements of women while focusing world attention on areas requiring further improvement. The theme of the current year is “inspiring change”. Over the years Sri Lanka also has been celebrating “The day” along with other countries under different core subject areas. The main aim of the day is bringing solutions to constraints encountered by women. To ascertain the level of achievement in relation to objectives of IWD in each year needs a different exercise. The intention here is to pick some ideas from the Buddhist doctrine in overcoming key issues faced by Sri Lankan women today, enabling them to enjoy their responsibilities in the family and socio-economic development in the country. According to data produced by the Department of Census and Statistics, 2010, the female population in Sri Lanka accounts for 53% which is slightly higher than the male population. Proportionately, Sri Lankan women have gained many achievements in political and the socio- economic fields over the last several decades.

"It is estimated that there are 1,100,000 female-headed households in Sri Lanka. They have to bear the entire burden of the family"


Literacy rate and health indicators of Sri Lankan women are much better than those of Asian countries. There are women representatives in the political sphere, at the levels of parliament, provincial councils and local authorities. Females are increasingly entering the employment field as doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and many other significant categories which are socially recognised as prestigious careers. More girls become qualified and gain access to higher education at universities in Sri Lanka and overseas countries than boys. Women employees working in foreign destinations contribute a significant portion of foreign exchange earnings to the national economy. The majority of the home-based workers in  the informal sector are women who earn either total income or supplementary income to meet their family expenses. It is observed that women in many fields have excellent performance records than their male counterparts.



Despite these encouraging achievements there are certain issues and concerns pertaining to Sri Lankan women requiring attention. It is estimated that there are 1,100,000 female-headed households in Sri Lanka. Most of them represent the lower strata of society. They have to bear the entire burden of the family in earning and undertaking responsibilities of building up kids and handling affairs of the family. Over one million Sri Lankans are employed in foreign countries. Nearly eighty per cent of them are in the category of unskilled workers. It is a widely known fact that many of the women workers suffer painful constraints at their home front in Sri Lanka and places of work abroad which are not attended to adequately and settled yet. Further, it appears that incidents on women/girl trafficking, physical and sexual harassment at work places, and torturing of women in the domestic front are increasingly reported within the country. Many such incidents remain unrecorded due to the social stigma attached to them.


"The intention is to pick ideas from the Buddhist doctrine in overcoming key issues faced by Sri Lankan women today. For instance the first women’s association in the world is considered to be the Bhikkuni order"


Scarcity of information prevents assessing the magnitude of the overall situation pertaining to gender issues in Sri Lanka. However, it is evident from the statistics available in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Child Protection Authority and police stations that there is a rising tendency of  such incidents. Women have become victims of unintended pregnancies, Sexually Transmitted Diseases and various kinds of other unpleasant experiences.
Under the circumstances, International Women’s Day is a potential forum providing an ideal opportunity to study the predicaments of women and prepare a set of programmes containing practical solutions focusing each issue and arresting the key causes of such incidents. Interventions through IWD should be objective and results oriented. The government alone cannot be held responsible for finding solutions and implementing programmes.



The state is directly responsible for policy directives and regulatory functions. Apart from the government, all other stakeholders including non-government organisations, community based organisations and local authorities that can play a vital role, need to get together and work out a sustainable programme. The caucus of women parliamentarians established recently in parliament and state agencies functioning under the Ministry of Women’s Affairs can take the lead. Such an endeavour should not be a once a year programme only for IWD, but a continued one throughout the year until the situation is improved.



Sri Lanka has a long history of maintaining a concept called an ‘extended family’ where a few generations including grandparents and grand children lived together in one household. Husband and wife had a strong relationship having reverential attitudes towards each other. Even today the constraints encountered by Sri Lankan women are not as grave as women issues seen in other parts of the world in their struggles for equal status. Therefore, the IWD programme can have many ingredients from Buddhist ideas to remind and bring back ancient Sri Lankan family bonds maintained among people shaped by Buddhist civilisation.



During Buddha’s period there were social constraints and rules for women. Women were considered inferior to men. The husband enjoyed rights and privileges. Responsibilities and duties remained with the wife. It was against this background that The Buddha said that women have the same spiritual strength to attain the higher state of emancipation. This statement was confirmed once the Bhikkuni order started to function. Many women from different levels and different castes of society entered the order and attained final bliss. Some of the bhikkunis had outstanding performances in certain subjects. To mention some of them were, Dhammadinna - the foremost in wisdom, Bhadda Kapila - foremost in remembering past lives and Kundalakesi - the foremost in swift intuition etc. The first women’s association in the world is considered to be the Bhikkuni order. Buddha has mentioned that queen Kosala Mallika had been an intelligent woman to advise the king in many occasions when the king made impractical decisions.



Buddha’s advice for a successful marriage life focused on both husband and wife (Sigalovada Sutta). Both have to fulfill their respective responsibilities towards each other. Motherhood was highly honoured by The Buddha. He visited a heavenly realm, Thusitha, to preach Abhidhamma to his mother. The Buddha followed several steps behind Arahanth Prajapathi Gothami, His foster mother in lay life when she departed Jethawana after getting permission for her passing away. Bhikkus were instructed to treat women as their sisters and mothers according to their ages when approached by them. It is The Buddha’s teaching to utilise the energies of both men and women for the development of the social order.

"The International Women’s Day is a potential forum providing an opportunity to study the predicaments of women and prepare practical solutions to them"


These teachings of The Buddha would be of immense use to educate the community at risk. Excepting a few, most victimised women belong to low-income groups of society. The leading cause for their plight is poverty coupled with ignorance. These causes must be addressed simultaneously while attending to the issues of victims. A comprehensive implementable programme consisting education and awareness creation along with the teachings of The Buddha and interventions for strengthening the family economy would be of importance. Milestones need to be indicated for monitoring the achievement at regular intervals annually or bi-annually. The objective of the IWD should be not to celebrate the day for the sake of celebrating it, but to harness potentials available in women such as patience, resistance to difficulties, and courage for the development of the country.

mohanlalgrero@gmail.com

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  • mother lanka Saturday, 08 March 2014 02:31 PM

    What nonsense to celebrate IWD? Sri Lanka produced the world's very first woman prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike which we always boast and no country can take that away. Our culture always recognize the women, (mother) highly than the man. Father figure mainly the bread winner of the family, and to better describe mother famous saying ''Gedara Buddhun Amma" to give the highest recognition to mother. Why SL need to follow other countries garbage? North America and many western countries have vey strange attitudes and cultures which are obvious garbage issues based on business if not money making propaganda viruses spreading by mafia type organizations. Wake up Sri Lanka do we really need to follow others'?


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