21 October, 2021

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“Prudent, Sensitive & Faithful”: Reimagining The Sri Lankan Woman 

By Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka

Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

It completely misses the point, doesn’t it? The Women’s Bureau of Sri Lanka aspires in its Vision Statement to create “a generation of prudent, sensitive and faithful women for Sri Lankan Society.” 

This institution which functions under the State Ministry of Women And Child Development, downsized under the current administration from a Cabinet Ministry, understands its central role to be one that prescribes the transformation of Sri Lankan women into an arbitrarily imagined model of womanhood in accordance with a set of values it unilaterally decides for 52% of the population of Sri Lanka.

It has no idea that women are a long way from being dictated to be this that and the other. When did it become the State’s business whether women were “prudent”? Why are they even thinking of spending tax payer money to make women “sensitive”? How exactly is that measured anyway? 

The cherry on the cake is that the Bureau aims to be the premier “national institution” that makes women “faithful”, in addition to the other two attributes. Such loose terms can be easily misunderstood. It shouldn’t be surprised to find itself being told it has no right to intrude into issues of complex moral choices. 

I dare not ask if this is national policy in case the answer is yes! I would much rather hope that it is the frenzied outpouring of a zealous legislator or policy maker, who in his or her fervor forgot that women will demand to know who decides on these attributes, by what process, and how they plan to implement this vision. 

The pity of it is that this vision statement may authentically represent the administration’s self-image as a moralizing reformer which is determined to take us back to a perceived golden age when women knew their place, or die trying. It may all be part of the plot to establish a Virtuous Society for which it has its own Presidential task force. Judging by this, all the virtue seems to be envisioned on the female side. That would be in keeping with the hypocrisy displayed in general towards women.

Here’s the thing: In 1995, nations of the world gathered together in Beijing, with more than 30,000 activists, representatives from 189 nations and came together to unanimously adopt the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, what the UN calls “the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights”.

In celebrating the 25th year of its adoption in New York, the UN reports that “this historic blueprint articulated a vision of equal rights, freedom and opportunities for women – everywhere, no matter what their circumstances – that continues to shape gender equality and women’s movements worldwide.” The Beijing Platform “imagined a world where every woman and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices, and realize her rights, such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for work of equal value.”

Wouldn’t this be more appropriate as a vision? Wouldn’t it be far better to imagine the Sri Lankan woman, free from violence and harassment at home, in public transport and at work, educated and with equal opportunities, participating in policy making at every level of governance, empowered to have increased representation in Parliament including in the Cabinet, perhaps even heading a Ministry of Women’s Affairs, so that she could express a vision in which all women have fair access to opportunities to contribute to society as equal citizens with equal access to resources and with the freedom to choose her own future?

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    Dear Sanja

    “imagined a world where every woman and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices, and realise her rights, such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for work of equal value.”

    & to empower the woman to achieve that too……should be the statement.

    I am not sure why stated “a generation of prudent, sensitive and faithful women for Sri Lankan Society.”

    Perhaps we should ask for an explanation may help? from the said Institution..not sure which one that is pls?

  • 8
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    You cannot generalize. The plight of SL women differs based on ethnicity.

    Muslim women – how to have the freedom for education, marriage choice, children choice, how to remain safe from child marriages, how to avoid FGM, how to save kids from extremism

    Tamil women – how to stay safe from military and other rapists, how to overcome ethnic discrimination, how to find dowry, how to overcome caste discrimination, how to protect children from militias, how to leave SL for good

    Sinhala women – how to stay safe in middle east households, who to stay safe from monks, relatives and Madamulana from sexual violence, how to find decent jobs without having to sell sex, how to feed the family, how to have enough means to have children, how to save children from racist philosophy, monks and politicians

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