26 October, 2020

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A New Agenda For Women’s Rights In Sri Lanka: Smash Victoria & Her Idiots

By Sanka Chandima Abayawardena

Sanka Chandima Abayawarden

Sanka Chandima Abayawarden

The rights of people of all genders are a topic of great importance to all civilizations in history, so it also has been an important pivot to the civilization in Sri Lanka for thousands of years. The topic has come up with new life in recent years, as particularly the Sinhalese population started to put greater focus onto learning about their heritage. The generations born after 1956[1] desired the restoration of their heritage, which they felt was lost to outside intervention. Since the year 2000[2], many young people see the need to revive their cultural heritage and uphold their social independence. This new trend has no racial or religious boundaries. In this discussion, finding out about our personal opinions on women rights is very important.

In this discussion we can identify three major groups. (a). Those who misidentify our heritage with Victorian and Christian values introduced by European invaders and aggressively promote a dead Victorian ideal as the new role model for future Sri Lanka; (b) those who support Western supremacy and Colombo-centered feminist groups who mirror European campaigns as a means to seem important and elitist over the larger rural population[3]; (c) those who know the difference between the real Sri Lankan heritage[4] of liberal social values in association with Buddhist and Hindu principles and the nature of our post-Victorian cultural practices today, but want to move forward through a flexible discussion for a modernist feminist agenda that has people’s ownership. Only through a popular movement can we effectively ensure and sustain equality between men and women.

Ancient sri lankan womenThe first group constitutes the majority and is most powerful. The second group is the most supremacist and allows themselves to be used as tools for the larger geo-political agenda to keep Sri Lanka in the Western camp to prevent an Asian revival[5]. I belong to the smallest and least influential third group. However, I have the firm belief that Sri Lanka needs an agenda that is firmly grounded in the mind of our populace and learns from our heritage as one of the most sexually and socially liberal civilizations in the ancient world, instead of an agenda parachuted from on us from outside. We all have read about the rights to property, education, leadership and governance that Sri Lankan women had a long time ago. We know that our economic and political life was not directly run by a religious institution such as in Europe. However, we must not forget that the socio-economic conditions have long been changed, and so have the religious-cultural practices that shape them. Therefore, our generation needs to develop a modernized view on gender rights instead of trying to reestablish cultural practices, which we falsely perceive as pure or authentic in our minds.

The idea that in history men got prominence over women because men used to provide for women and children is utterly wrong and based on a false understanding of our own history. In most societies, women were as active as men in their societies and in many cases women had more power than men. Then however organized religion made it possible for a few men to take power to their hands. From Greek mythology to Hindu practices, women were then treated like sub-humans to keep the power concentrated in a few men from elite classes. Greek men called women “demonic”. You can find similar or worse practices in Islam or in Eastern religions such as in certain schools of Hinduism.

If we truly want to establish equality between people of all genders, we have to demolish these practices based on religious dogma in our cultures and understand that we need to change the power structure of our societies. The baseless discrimination of women is similar in origin to the baseless class divisions in our societies, especially in Hindu and Sinhalese populations. The Sinhala Buddhist population must realize that some of the things that they think are Buddhist and cultural are not Buddhist and Sinhalese at all.

It is important to understand the impact of the institutionalized church under different European invaders on our opinions. The popular and strong opinion on the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman can be pointed out as obvious effects. Whatever influence it may be, today large parts of our society think that women are the property of men and their social roles are inferior to men in general. Nothing has been more negatively affected by this view than the political participation of women.  Sexism runs strongly to a level that can only be described as disgusting. The media takes all the effort to improve their ratings by appealing to these popular and discriminative Victorian ideals. One would often find local police officers assuming a Victorian police culture through British imposed laws. It is true that the socialist and Buddhist nature of our government and social system has helped us in some areas and as a result women in Sri Lanka still enjoy considerable freedoms compared to other countries in the region. However, the lack of understanding of the true nature of some of our cultural elements that govern our attitude towards social equity in the current Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim cultures has put a powerful barrier to moving forward towards establishing gender equity.

The elites of these communities and the small but ultra-powerful urban neo-liberals have made no efforts to create a local base for the agenda of gender equity. Meanwhile the religious groups interpret modernity out of their books that are outdated by more than by a millennium. This can be seen in the disturbing attempts to mainstream the Burka for Muslim women or backward opposition to the promotion of contraceptives in the South and in the North.

The Sinhala Buddhist community as the developers of the Sri Lankan civilization must find means to reject outdated religious and Victorian dogma. They must find ways to deal with the crisis of interpretation of what is actually the Sinhala Buddhist heritage of social and sexual relations and why they moved from one of the freest and most liberal communities to the status they are in today. They must understand that Sri Lanka needs to advance their true heritage to suit the modernist need of gender equity. Tamil and Muslim communities must make the same efforts to advance gender equality and reject practices that don’t fit anymore the modern world. They, just like Sinhalese must move away from cultural norms that differentiate between men’s and women’s rights. No matter how difficult this job may be, it is even more difficult for Muslims, not just because of cultural differences and social pressure being a minority, but also because of the religious pressure put on them by external factors like the US and Saudi Arabia.

The Muslim population in Sri Lanka, just like everywhere else in the world, faces a challenge of reforming their religious interpretations. Therefore, it is important that they understand that the need for treating men and women equally is not meant as a threat against them. It is only by understanding what we are as a community and what is the true heritage of Sri Lankan culture that we can start developing our own knowledge for a modernist agenda for equality. This is the most effective and sustainable path towards recognizing that people of all genders are human beings with the same rights. We must refrain from assuming religious and cultural differences in fundamental rights of different people.

We cannot set people free by continuously imposing the discriminative and sexist ideals we have in our heads, which we identify as ours, but are given to us by religious dogma or a foreign occupation. Sri Lanka has a great opportunity to change the status of men and women, now that the connectivity of people and free flow of information is on the rise. It is high time to smash Victoria and her idiots and banish them out to the sea. If we as a country, especially the young people who are the spearhead of the information revolution, can be made aware of and be educated on the three main questions, (1) Who are we, (2) What are we doing now, (3) What should we do for us, the issue of gender equity can come to a peaceful resolution. If we can create such a strong base for our social development to move forward, we will be able to develop a sustainable and stronger society that all people can support and feel part of. My intention is to see this happen. I know that many others out there want the same – to have freedom that can be made ours, not theirs; an agenda that would serve us as a community in a small island nation, not the geo-political interests of regional and global powers who wish to use us in their game in the Indian Ocean.


[1] People elect the first Government with true socialist and nationalist tendencies.

[2] The year first people born in to the war started their adulthood who had witness the Indian military intervention, brutality of the conservative governments crack down of leftist insurgency in 1989-1992

[3] Feminist movement in Europe is a result of unprecedented discrimination of women and responds a set of unique issues in society to ensure gender equity. A feminist movement in Sri Lanka should understand the social issues in Sri Lanka and what cultural and social conditions trigger them and address them effectively. While goals of such a movement can be the same as in rest of the world, the strategies at tactical level must be Sri Lankan.

[4] Sri Lanka historically was the complete opposite of the Victorian society which we cherish so much today. At one point level of our Sexual and social freedom was one of the most liberal in the ancient world.

[5] West rules the world because of the dictatorial dominance they maintain in knowledge and development of knowledge in the world. It can be argued today’s feminist movement is a extension of this domination rather than a natural extension of the true global need. This is why we must found our own modernization movement that is grounded.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    1

    I found the above picture of “topless” women here :-

    http://livingheritage.org/toplessness.htm

    We have come a long way from those days.
    Today we consider women equal to men in every respect.
    “Sexist Ideals” reside only in the minds of decadent male perverts.

    • 1
      0

      Well, I don’t understand what do you mean by come a long way. It implies that we were some uncivilized bunch and now we are? And we have taken a straight line along social development.
      In that case you can not be more wrong.

      And your short line sexism shows that you dont have any sort of understanding of what sexism is and what I have written here.

  • 8
    1

    We need more Human rights and less mens/womens rights.(the rights all genders should be brought together) We live in a world where violence by a man against women is addressed but violence against men by women is swept under the carpet. The last thing we need is to strengthen the anti male feminists instead of helping create gender equality.

    • 1
      3

      Dear Shanil,

      One of the several reasons I wrote this article is to open eyes of people in opinion like yours. How ever, I must accept that I have failed miserably in your case.

  • 2
    2

    Maybe something was lost in translation, but it does give the game away when a writer starts an article with an inflammatory ‘Smash Victoria & Her Idiots’. What’s this, a rallying call of some sort? The writer wasn’t even born when this country elected the world’s first Woman Prime Minister. For your information, she took on the first Sinhala insurgency, and defeated it.

    The writers’ knowledge of Sri Lankan cultural history is at best sketchy, and he forgets that we have had 68 years of independence in which to reorganise our own affairs. We may have colonial ‘rule’ for 450 odd years but most Sri Lankans under the age of 40 would be hard-pressed recall anything of significance.

    We do need women to have a greater say, and play a bigger part in our current affairs. However, people would generally be more amenable to a discussion initiated by many of the excellent women that now grace our shores.

    WE wouldn’t be writing this if our men listened more and spoke less.

    So sorry, not even close with this one, and definitely no cigar

  • 0
    1

    No objection or complaint over violence by women against men, if only they do it gently with all they got, longer the better.

  • 4
    1

    What i was trying to say is when you divide it into men’s rights and women’s rights. you give room for it to turn into a battle of the gendes. i am all for gender equality. and the following so called – “It is high time to smash Victoria and her idiots and banish them” by the writer is disturbing. looking back at the past we now see how so many things could have been better. We had the good and the bad the good led us the the modern civilization and we as a civilization constantly try to make improvements in areas where we see room for improvement.

  • 5
    1

    Gender equality is a global issue. and i’m sure smashing Victoria or anyone for that matter is not the way to go when it comes to creating a world that should be moving towards gender equality!

  • 1
    1

    The Kandyans were known for their midnight entertainment extended to worthy guests – ‘Victorian’ Europeans

    • 2
      1

      Hi Arnold,

      Yes Brits-true. But the tradition started much before that. And it has nothing to do with Victorian Brits anyway

      • 1
        0

        Koheda yanne, malle pol

  • 1
    1

    ”The Muslim population in Sri Lanka, just like everywhere else in the world, faces a challenge of reforming their religious interpretations. Therefore, it is important that they understand that the need for treating men and women equally is not meant as a threat against them.”

    As I understand the only religion that has gone no reformation is Islam and it has given full rights to women; even the wife of Prophet Muhammed was an entrepreneur at the time women were treated as slaves and argued whether to categorise them as human being elsewhere in the world. Prophet said, ” Paradise lies beneath the feet of the mother, treat her accordingly”, wife is an equal partner in the eyes of Islam and daughter will be the reason for a father enter heaven if she brought up fulfilling her moral and educational obligation.

    Islam cannot be blamed if Muslims or anyone interprets otherwise!!!

    Cheers!!!

    • 0
      1

      Islam has adapted to suit different local contexts.
      Islamic practice will keep changing with place and time.
      Conservative pressures cannot forever hold back any community. It is for the Muslim community to develop according to its own specific needs.

      Why do some of us worry so much about what Muslims do with themselves? Are we so perfect?

      We can be more civilized than to insult a people for their different life style.

  • 0
    2

    Good article, but what’s the solution? There must be a national cultural think-tank on this, so ideas can be implemented culturally and/or into law.

    For example, Sri Lanka can create a mandatory dress code, where burka can be banned except for religious days and festivals. And sexually explicit clothing can also be banned – Victoria secret lingerie and all that. Commercial enterprise into such clothing should be banned.

    When male and female relations are difficult enough subject, why for goodness sake should gay and trans rights also take center stage, and come open, when the average family is struggling to cope with daily issues? Gays and Trans should have their rights no doubt, but to attempt to blend them in with conventional society who are struggling on a day to day basis, is truly unkind.

    With both men and women in the modern workplace, freely doling out contraceptives is somehow contradictory to the neo-cultural effort. Guess things like separate work areas, separate travel accommodations, will help somewhat, together with “constructive” gossip groups ( but again we wouldn’t want our society, especially our women’s society, to have that shrill, mean, gossipy look….that itself is perversity).

    All the while we must be aware that Westerners talk on any kinds of rights have always been borne out of their own twisted cultural madness.

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