22 April, 2019

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How Misogynistic Is Sri Lankan Society?

By Harini Amarasuriya

Dr. Harini Amarasuriya

The recent debate particularly on social media spurred first by the government’s decision to repeal a law forbidding women from buying or selling alcohol and then to revoke that decision to repeal, has highlighted something that most Sri Lankan women have known almost all their lives: we live in a highly misogynistic society. Our women may not be dying in their thousands and child birth; we may not kill baby girls simply because they are girls; we may not expect our widows to jump into the funeral pyre along with their husbands; our education statistics may show that women outperform men at almost every level of education; but it’s time we stopped hiding behind these statistics and confront what Sri Lankan women have consciously or unconsciously known since birth: our society is NOT good for women. Our society is not good for women of any class, ethnicity or religion. Let’s stop pointing to the exceptional women who have carved out successful lives for themselves, as indications of how progressive our society is with regard to women. Privileged women who are able to do as they please including buying alcohol, aborting unwanted pregnancies, ending unhappy relationships and marriages do so despite society’s restrictions and because of their privileged positions. Those women succeeded because of their individual circumstances and not because their rights have been recognised in our society.    

At a recent public discussion, at which I was present, one speaker stated that perhaps this is one of the most liberal government we can expect. Of course, the speaker was not suggesting that this is the most liberal government per se, but that in the Sri Lankan context, the most liberal government we can expect to have. Liberal governments are generally considered to be progressive on women’s rights and freedom – at least from the point of view of equality especially in relation to individual rights. Let me cite a couple of recent examples, to show this government’s record on women’s rights. The attempt to reform Sri Lanka’s archaic abortion laws and bring in some minimal reforms, such as the right to abort in an instance of rape, has gone nowhere. The moment religious groups, led by the Catholic Church objected, the reform initiative was withdrawn. The long running efforts by Muslim women’s groups, to reform Muslim marriage and divorce laws have been running into one brick wall after another. In all of these instances, powerful men – across the political, religious and ethnic spectrum have united to oppose these reform initiatives. In almost all these instances and others, men have told us:  these are not the ‘real’ problems women face – focus on the ‘real’ problems.   

Another characteristic of resistance to reforms pertaining to women in Sri Lanka, is the extent to which ‘culture’ features as the barometer by which the appropriateness of the reform initiative is measured. Not just any culture, but the ‘great and unique culture’ that we have inherited. I know of no other country where from our birth, we are reminded that ‘our culture’ is superior to every other culture in the world and that we have a ‘unique’ culture that is different to every other culture in the world. Predictably, on the alcohol issue as well, culture was piously invoked as the reason for withdrawing the earlier gazette. Minister Rajitha Senaratne at a media briefing reminded us that we are not England or America. JVP MP Vijitha Herath also reminded us that laws have to be ‘culturally appropriate’. Culture is the most invoked category for resisting reforms that target women’s issues. 

It is indeed an utter indictment of our political leaders that in this day and age, they invoke ‘culture’ as if it is a bounded, fixed, and holy category that has divine status. It is especially sad, when politicians on the left of the political spectrum or those who profess liberal positions do so. The silence of those who know better, is even worse because it shows that pragmatic politics in Sri Lanka – has always meant compromising with the powerful, and with regard women, that has meant that men get to decide what is right, what is important, what is real for women and what is appropriate for women.

The controversy and debate around the alcohol issue is important not simply because it is about whether women have the right to drink or not.  It exposes yet again the extent to which misogyny is embedded within Sri Lankan society and within our political structures. This is not simply about an unsophisticated reaction of a President from a rural background – I wish it were that easy – this is about how deeply anti-women Sri Lankan society is beneath its women friendly exterior. Scratch beneath the surface of  even the most liberal and progressive Sri Lankan man and this misogyny will be apparent. This is why this is not simply a problem of elite Sri Lankan women who want to maintain a particular lifestyle; neither is it a problem of the lack of sophistication and liberal values amongst the majority of our political leaders. It is about an ethos that pervades throughout society that reproduces and maintains male privilege.   

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Latest comments

  • 8
    18

    Dr. Harini,

    I do understand that you took the point of alcohol act on women to raise your concerns and, you brought it up clearly – thanks.

    But:
    The effects of ALCOHOL are stronger in women than in men, because women are usually smaller, have less water in their bodies, and metabolize alcohol more slowly than men. And have higher chances of becoming victims of sexual assault and other forms of violence and

    Dr. Anula Wijesundere, Consultant Physician, SJGS, Sri Lanka has an extremely high per-capita consumption for alcohol. Community service done by the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) shows that 43% urban dwellers, 65% of male estate workers, 25% of female estate workers and 50% of fathers of school children consume alcohol in Sri Lanka – And this was in 2010, probably, the figures are higher now.

    “A man destroys himself. A woman destroys a family” goes well with our culture. Do you think an illeterate to an average educated woman in our society knows the meaning of moderate and responsible drinking compared to a well-educated woman like you? Isn’t is selfish that a few educated women/activists using this subject to fight for equality? Would you support an illiterate parents kids be brought up in a home where mom/dad both are drunkards?

    • 17
      6

      R.
      Obviously you are Misogynist and a flawed thinker. This is the 21st century; times have changed significantly and ADIC statistics are irrelevant. Women should be given the freedom to choose what they drink and where they work. It’s not the President’s job to impose his will on women, that was foolish on his, and the FM’s part.

      • 6
        13

        Not so. We must recognize men and women are physically different. The woman is precious in all societies to raise children and have community morals. Is alcohol to women the number one priority of SL today? What a messed up society is SL. We copy only the bad things from the west. Alcohol and narcotics should be phased out. Look at the people suffering its effects. Foolish!

        • 3
          0

          You would obviously think this way as you are programmed to compensate for men’s faults.
          Men are perverts, so let us cover up from head to toe.
          Men get drunk and destroy families, so let’s stay sober and try to protect our children.
          Why do you muslims fail to understand that it’s the men’s mindset that you have to change. Not change women to act like cowerds to compensate.

          Also, yes if you follow sharia law, you cannot go out unless accompanied by father / brother, son or relative man. Go to Saudi and check it out. You have too many privilages here being a muslim and try to impose your masoginistic laws on us

        • 2
          0

          F.
          What has physical difference to do with freedom to choose what they drink and where they work. Sure they are not STUPID. Wake up girl, they can look after themselves well; they can even do some “men’s jobs” even better.

      • 12
        8

        Sarrij,

        Please no croc-cries here. You’re selfish and trying to destroy non-Muslim women lives knowing that even if the ban is lifted none of the Muslim fat cows is going to go out to buy a bottle of arrack because in your religion women need a man to accompany if she wants to go out to buy her a menstrual pad also!!

        Why don’t you go and tell to Saudi and Mufthi Rizvi and the gang that it is the 21st century and give freedom to women? Tell them that they can NOT continue to live in 1439 (Islamic Calendar) anymore, and come along with rest of the world.

        First, work with your fellow Muslims to free women from MMDA, please.

        • 6
          1

          Wow! Seems like you know Islam more than most Muslims do! A woman needs a man to accompany her everywhere? Seriously?! Who told you?! And MMDA is what is composed by people again. Not a revelation from God!
          If you want to know Islam, see what the religion says and not the people.
          Saudi is just a country, not Islam!
          So please get your facts right!

      • 7
        1

        Sarrij,

        Do you agree that women should be accompanied by men when going out as per Islam? I don’t.
        Do you agree that a woman needs 4 witnesses to file a court case against her rapist as per Islamic rule? I don’t.

        Help yourself answering these 2 simple questions, and find out if I am a misogynist or you’re :-)

        Cheers.

    • 1
      3

      Very disturbing reply! Need to self reflect!

    • 0
      0

      You are missing the whole point of Dr. Amarasuriya’s !

    • 0
      0

      I am sorry, but if men can choose and be “responsible enough” to be entrusted with the right to drink, then women should too.
      Many men play a key role in family life too so alcohol in a man can also destroy a family.

  • 7
    16

    What a load of bullsh1t!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Who wants a drunk crazy woman in the house?

    • 1
      0

      Johnny Baby

      Another crazy drunk of the opposite sex, perhaps you?

  • 10
    2

    “How Misogynistic Is Sri Lankan Society?”
    Sorry Harini Amarasuriya. We are.
    On a scale of 0 – 10, Lankan Muslims will occupy the top spot with a score of 9.5. The trend is to go up!
    Sinhalese and Tamils will be neck to neck around 6.0 – the trend to go down.
    Judging from the superstition, caste consciousness (in Hindu Temples in UK for example) adhered to by Diaspora Tamils, they will be a shade greater than 6 which implies Sinhalese less than 6.
    Misogyny prevails the world over. The so-called enlightened West will be in the 4.0
    range. For example Trump single handedly lifted the average.
    Saudi Arabia cannot be fitted in – they are in the 30 range!

  • 11
    3

    Every cultural norm need not be, cannot be, incorporated into the law. Neither sensible people desire so. A middle class man may feel shy over his wife riding a bycicle to work. But not in his wildest dreams would expect a law banning women riding bycicles. I hope the ladies who have approached the Courts over alcohol issue succeed. It is fundamentally important. Similar to drink driving what must be strictly banned is women working in bars consuming alcohol while on duty. May commonsense prevail.
    Soma

    • 2
      0

      somass

      “Every cultural norm need not be, cannot be, incorporated into the law.
      Neither sensible people desire so.

      How did the framers of this island managed to incorporate Buddhism into the constitution? Did sensible people desire it and do you think those who drafted the constitution were sensible. Why did they wait until Hindians caught JR by his b***s to make little corrections in the constitution? Who are these sensible people anyway? Do you count yourself as one of them?

      “Similar to drink driving what must be strictly banned is women working in bars consuming alcohol while on duty.”

      It is an internal matter for the management to deal with it. Why just bars, why not high powered women who wine and dine at expensive restaurants during working lunch/dinner? Your selective morality only serves to punish lower echelon of the society while keep the upper echelons of the business world entertained.

      “May commonsense prevail.”

      What has common sense got to do with you?

  • 7
    0

    Samuel Johnson said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” In Sri Lanka, Culture follows closely behind. You can invoke Culture in many more situations than Patriotism.

    • 0
      0

      Estate Labourer: Stop your BS. Ask your son to marry a woman who is rotting in Liquor shops. Enjoy that family.

  • 2
    2

    Here is an example of misogyny from CT of 21 January 2018.

    “Female Principal Forced To Kneel Down Has To Weep For Maithripala To Ask Errant Chief Minister To Resign From Education Portfolio”.

    It is a portent mix of misogyny and impunity.

    • 2
      3

      Yes, Misogyny, impunity and don’t forget to include media exaggeration too in there.
      Headline says “forced to kneel down” but the lady (victim) says she kneeled herself down for the community. I don’t mean to say the politician was right anyway.

      Pillai, I guess you can understand if you watch the video.

  • 3
    0

    Is consuming the mild narcotic found in “puvak” (arecanut) appropriate for women? How about “bulath”?

    Whi decides what is appropriate or not? More importantly who abides by these restrictions? Growing upin Colombo, I had an aunt who smoked cigarettes surreptitiously since childhood in the 40’s. Everyone knew about it, but chose not to openly discuss it.

    A cousin of mine, from Colombo 7, would smoke as a young adult in front of her mother – and it was ok by her family, but caused tounges to wag among our relatives.

    The local producer and seller of “kasippu” in our neighbourhood was a hardy woman, who had a dubious reputation – although one could argue she was just earning some money to feed her father-less children. One of her sons grew up to be a very popular persona in the Sinhala film industry.

    People will do what they want – by hook or by crook.

    Open discussion of the reality of our lives will save much high drama that is ultimately futile, giving us ample time and energy to focus on real things that matter.

    • 0
      0

      Sinhalese Buddhist: One of the burning real things we need to wipe out is “People do what they want by hook or by crook” – Main cause of corruption.

      Are you saying let’s ignore corruption culture and focus on other real things?

  • 2
    2

    Hello fighting girls,

    Fighting is good when you know what you’re fighting for is worth it. Why don’t you, lazy girls get a copy of Excise Notifications book and turn the pages since independence to pick better and effective Notification to fight for instead of this alcohol thing? Where were all your fighters all these days until Mangala brought it up?

  • 1
    1

    Hiruni amarasooriya: Would you recommend a Drunkard woman to be your son’s bride or wife or the mother of his children.
    If I find I would not marry her. she may be good for fun and for partying.

  • 2
    0

    How about a drunk and abusive man for your gay son or innocent daughter ? It is sheer hypocrisy here.

    • 0
      0

      Kolla, How true. The good, docile sinhala buddhist people of Habaraduwa abused the mother of a boy who was sodomised by the Budddhiost priest at habaraduwa, when she complained. 2550 years of Sinhala Buddhist culture.

      • 1
        0

        Dr. Harini, inspite of your appending your signature to the dirty letter on SAITM. I have to state this. You have taken a stand regularly on current contraversies.,Many of the other had been silent.

        Regarding Mysogyny, it is inherited from the structured religions. Buddhist, Christians and Muslims.

        safron clade people talk a lot about chastity, but has no compulsion against womanising or sodomy.They treat both women and young boys with contempt.

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