21 April, 2024

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Mother’s Day & Rights Of Women  

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

I am late in responding to Mother’s Day (14 May) which could have been a landmark in changing antagonistic social culture in Sri Lanka like in many other countries. But better late than never. 

Compared to many other democratic countries, celebrations and memories on this Mother’s Day in Sri Lanka was minimal. Of course, the hotels like Galle Face, Shangri-La, Hilton, and Movenpick had special offers and menus for those who come from higher echelons of society to apparently celebrate the event. But the great majority of mothers (80 percent) come from lower sections of society who don’t even have the opportunity to visit a normal hotel, let alone Shangri-La or Hilton. 

TV Programs 

Although I carefully glanced through the prominent newspapers in English and Sinhala, there were no editorials or special features, at least referring to the Day or the event. However, there were some TV channels who utilized the opportunity to run some interesting programs. Siyatha, Tharu Piri Re (Siyatha, night full of performers) on 13th night was one of them. 

Rangana de Silva impressively conducted the program, participated by teledrama and film artists like Manjula Kumari, Chathurika Peiris, Nipunika Hewagamage, Maheshi Madusanka, Oshedi Hewamadduma and Nehara Pieris with their mischievous little daughters. They all contributed to the program with singing, dancing, and expressing their views on the subject of Mothers role in family and society. I am very familiar with Nehara’s strong maternal traditions of always giving priority to modesty, equality, and independence. 

Hiru TV Copy Chat also gave prominence to Mother’s Day on 14 May itself. One major difference was the utilization of both mothers and children who are both involved in acting careers. Kavinga Perera conducted the Chat helped by (I believe) Narmada Yapa. Kumari Munasighe and Akila Dhanuddara were a main focus both on their merits and Jackson Anthony’s heritage. Manel Wanaguru and Janith also contributed as mother and son. The contribution of Geetha Kanthi and her daughter, Paboda Sandeepani, also brought a different angle to the discussions. In the web, this Chat became extremely popular with over 200 comments within two days and huge number of viewers. However, one demerit of the Chat was the unfounded view expressed as the ‘genetic’ connection between mothers and sons and fathers and daughters. All these depend on circumstances and social ethos, some may need to be changed in the case of Sri Lanka. 

My Mother 

I was born in a family of seven children, four girls and three boys. Our father died when I was ten years having one girl and a boy born after me. My mother, maiden named Pearl De Mel, naturally had to shoulder a great burden. Even before, as I remember well, she was completely in charge of the household with of course father’s help. We were living just next to the St. Peter’s Church at Moratuwella. We also had a housemaid, Menika, from an unknown family from Ahaliyagoda. My mother also was a mother to Menika from a different perspective.

My father was working as the Chief Clerk at the Department of Labor when he suddenly died in 1955 of a stroke. I cannot remember any major dispute between my mother and father, perhaps my mother being a somber person by nature. There was a clear division of labor between them. Although my mother received a widow’s pension, the first major problem that she had to encounter was the question of money. However, we were fortunate to have a wide friendly family circle both from mother’s and father’s side. They monthly collected funds and donated to our expenses. When ‘our father was living, we were somewhat rich, but after he died, we became poor.’ My mother jokingly used to tell us like that. 

My mother was fairly educated in the field of nursing or midwifery. But she could not work because of the burden of family responsibilities. This is a predicament of many women facing even today. She however offered voluntary help in childbirth of family members and neighbors. Because of our father’s sudden death not only our mother but also our three elder sisters had to sacrifice. They had to leave school one after the other after ordinary level (O/L) examination. The first joined the CTB as a typist, second as an English teacher, and the third as a telephone operator (CTO). My elder brother also had to do the same. During that time some knowledge of English was necessary to obtain an employment. 

Education undoubtedly was/is a principal right particularly of women to face their disadvantages in society. My mother had to balance between four daughters and three sons. She was very vocal in saying that ‘we boys should respect our sisters’ privacy.’ We luckily had enough space in our house to implement these principles. I don’t think my mother had any idea of human rights as we advocate today. But she had some principles perhaps based on her mother and/or father. 

She almost became a social worker later in her life after we became economically and socially settled. She used to knit pillowcases with leftover fabrics and distribute them among the poor in our area along with other friends. There were other activities she was involved in. She lived until the age of 92 without serious health conditions. Even when I was drawing a good salary, she used to ask me whether I needed any money from her pension!                           

Mother’s or Women’s? 

There are people who question the need for Mother’s Day when there is a Women’s Day (8 March). The following is one explanation which can be given.  

“The main difference between Mother’s Day and International Women’s Day is that the former honors mothers, either collectively or individually, while the latter celebrates all women in society. Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Mother’s Day is dedicated to commemorating parenthood as well as the selfless contributions that mothers make, while Women’s Day is dedicated to recognizing the accomplishments of women and honoring their resiliency.” (Diffzy. com).  

The celebration of Mother’s Day can be traced back to the early 20th century and to a woman named Anna Jarvis in the United States. The whole idea was to recognize, respect and celebrate the role of mothers and their contributions to the family, children, and society. More than 50 countries today celebrate Mother’s Day officially although not yet in Sri Lanka. Mother figures are also celebrated. 

In the case of our country, if mothers are given the opportunity to influence and participate in politics, the nature of politics itself could be changed, from power grabbing to the implementation of justice. Of course, we have had some commendable mother figures in politics like Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Chandrika Kumaratunga etc. However, their roles and efforts were submerged within the power grabbing male politics. They also were backward without coming forward to challenge and change the political culture and political dynamics of the country. 

Mothers and Politics 

At present women participation in politics is minimal. Whatever the weaknesses, those who are involved in politics should be strongly supported by all progressive forces without limiting themselves to this party or that party. 

It is most unfortunate that Sri Lanka celebrated/celebrating Mother’s Day when very many young women (to be future mothers) are facing a perilous situation. Children are also deeply vulnerable. What happened in Kalutara a week before the Mother’s Day is only a symptom. On the morning of 7 Sunday (May), the naked body of a 16-year schoolgirl was found on the railway line in Kalutara South. She had been taken to the nearby hotel the previous night. 

Can that be a breakdown of Mother’s role? I am not referring to a very archaic role on the part of mothers. However, there should be a value system and its implementation. 

With the free opening of the media and AI, there is so much adult material distributed within society (including some TV shows, teledramas, discussions etc.), not to speak of the ‘social media.’ In a country like Australia, adult material is strongly prevented from reaching children while sex education is given in schools in a scientific manner. This Mother’s Day or the Week should be utilized to create awareness among the mothers themselves.  

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