Colombo Telegraph

Prof. Maithree, Misogyny & UNP

By Jagath Asoka

Dr Jagath Asoka

I was somewhat stunned to hear that none of the frontline female politicians of the UNP  — Rosy Senanayake, Chandrani Bandara, and Hirunika Premachandra, Thalatha Athukorale — were invited to speak by the organizers at the massive public demonstration organized by the UNP at Galle Face Green recently. Is it gynophobia, misogyny, ostracism, shunning, or a combination? Who had the power and influence to change this flagrant stupidity? Ranil, Prof. Maithree, was it sincere ignorance or conscientious stupidity? So far, I have not heard any complaints from women who were at the demonstration. Here we are dealing with the “riddle of femininity”: What do women want, especially in Sri Lanka? What do I know? I am just a man who lives 14,161 km away from Colombo.

This incidence reminded me of the following: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” 

“Let the women learn in silence with all subjection…For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”

Sometimes, I wonder the veracity of the Sri Lankan saying: “ගෙදර බුදුන් අම්මා.”

Well, I am like Will Rogers: All I know is just what I read in the papers, and that’s an alibi for my ignorance. I recently read that Ranil Wickremesinghe’s wife, Prof. Maithree Wickramasinghe, intervened and cancelled a dinner organized for the UNP Parliamentary group at the Temple Trees by insisting that all MPs eat the same ‘Rice packets’ distributed to 5,000-odd supporters gathered at the Temple Trees premises. WOW! I was impressed. This story revealed her influence. She was at the forefront of some recent protests organized by the UNP supporters. 

Look at Prof. Maithree’s resume; she has over 25 years of experience in formulating gender equity and equality policies/strategies, conducting gender sensitization trainings and evaluating women’s and gender programs for local and international organizations. She has delivered keynotes and addressed plenaries at academic and professional fora in the US, Spain, Kenya, India, Pakistan, South Korea, and China. Isn’t is ironic that she did not notice what these jokers were doing to Sri Lankan women? That’s an emphatically un-empathetic response. I am not blaming Prof. Maithree, but probably she is the only person who can reprimand these jokers. I just want to know what Prof. Maithree, who is an advocate in gender equality, has to say about this recent incident: Apply the same attitude of “rice packets.’ 

There was another incident. When Sri Lanka’s president—the first Buddhist-Taliban leader in Sri Lanka—re-imposed a four-decade-long ban on women buying alcohol, just days after his finance minister had lifted the restriction, did Prof. Maithree demand gender neutrality when this alcohol ban was imposed?

Even though Sirima Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike became the first female Prime Minister in the world in modern history, when she was elected Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in 1960, and her daughter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga served as the fifth President of Sri Lanka, the country’s only female president to date, leadership of women in politics is abysmal. What happened to the mother and daughter of an affluent and powerful family is not the norm in Sri Lanka. So far, UNP has nothing to brag about when it comes to leadership positions: women remain invisible. Sri Lanka ranks low globally on gender equality indices. There is a low political participation of women, especially in leadership roles. Here in the USA, the largest percentage of employed women (40.6%) work in management, professional, and related occupations where as female garment factory workers comprise the largest concentration of women in the labor force of Sri Lanka. Women hold 64% of seats in the lower house of Rwanda’s national legislature, the largest share of any country. For comparison, only 23% of seats in the U.S. House are held by women (ranked 103); in Sri Lanka, only 5.8% of seats are held by women (ranked 179). Prof. Maithree, what is your plan to improve gender equity in Sri Lanka? Are there any programs in Sri Lanka to promote leadership among women? Prof. Maithree, you should probably study what Rwandans did. 

Most people inadvertently and subliminally associate misogyny—hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women, or prejudice against women—with men, something that men do to women. But that is not my personal experience. In my profession, as a medical/technical writer, over the last eighteen years, I have not yet met a male medical writer. All of them, so far, has been women. Here is the amazing thing that I have noticed: the women that I’ve worked with treat women much worse than the men do with their own male peers. As professionals, most women are extremely jealous of women. I cannot write here what women have told me about other women. I was taken aback by the vitriol.

Here is another thing that I know: there are many mothers who are not kind to their daughters and say cruel things about their daughters that would lacerate them emotionally and make many of us cringe. Sometimes, I wonder whether the women who are nasty to other women were raised by cruel mothers?

As a society, we must pay attention, understand, know, and respect the importance of Woman, the being of Woman, and the sense of Woman because only women can balance the stupid, vulgar, asinine, macho-masculine behavior of any society. Compassion, the lack of egoistic isolation, and the opening to participation are the prime female powers and virtues. 

Ranil, pay more attention to women. Your wife, Prof. Maithree, is a good example of what women can do when they are empowered by education. Also, do not forget what Pyrrhus of Epirus said about battles, wars, and victories. 

Ranil, the things Sri Lankan women whisper about you aren’t as bad as what Sri Lankan men say out loud. Well, that alone is a good enough reason to empower Sri Lankan women!

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