By Anushka Kahandagama –
The recent discourse about allowing and not allowing women to buy and sell alcohol in Sri Lanka provoked many discourses of power and gender equality in the country. The government announced in the last Wednesday that, it was amending the law which prevented women from buying and selling alcohol, agreeing that it discriminated against women and allowed women to buy alcohol after about four decades. After this decision, Movement for Consumer Rights Protection accused the Minister of Finance of encouraging of consuming the alcohol and urged the President to intervene in the matter. The Buddhist Sangha stated that the allowing of women to buy alcohol would destroy the Sri Lankan ‘family culture’. Against this background, President had ordered the government to withdraw its notification announcing the lifting of the ban. The irony is Movement for Consumer Rights Protection is violating the right of women (as consumers) to buy whatever they like as men. If the movement thinks that, allowing women to purchase alcohol is encouraging the nation to consume more liquor, the movement is out of their senses.
Take aside common sense, if you seriously look into the statistics, in 2010, the Total alcohol per capita (15+) consumption, drinkers only (in liters of pure alcohol, males consumes 26.7 and females consume, 2.9. Thus, it shows that men are high in rate. According to the logic of Sangha, if the State allows buying alcohol for women, then it undermines the ‘family culture’ of the ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ nation. What is the ‘family culture’? Is that the culture where drunkard husband beat the wife and the children at night? Studies show that the most prominent reason for domestic violence is alcoholism of the males. If Buddhist Sangha wants to protect that particular culture, yes of course, the State should not allow women to buy alcohol, as it would trigger the problem, as both the parties, males and females will be engaged in domestic violence.
Apart from Buddhist Sangha being interfering with the alcohol issue, it is shocking to see Movement for Consumer Rights Protection is interfering with the problem in the same manner as Buddhist monks. The Movement for Consumer Rights Protection has become the violator of rights of the women consumers, and has become the gatekeepers of a ‘pure nation.’ It is important to see how this whole discourse of alcohol consumption of women has become a problem with ‘Nationalist’ importance during the election period. As according to Mahinda Rajapaksa, allowing women to participate in buying and selling alcohol is an act of degrading the women by the State, as women are respected as ‘mothers. If women are respected as ‘mothers,’ the State should allow women to partake in the rights which men are partaking. Most ironically, Mahinda Rajapaksa is talking about ‘respect of women,’ while an officer of his party asks for sexual bribes from a contest of the upcoming election, who wanted to contest under the MR’s party. It is clear how MR’s party is protecting and respecting women within their newly formed political party.
As the final part, it is essential to look at the President Maithripala Sirisena’s act of re-establishing the law and encouraging ‘gender inequality.’ Mr. President too hardly believes in the fact that, women are not capable of taking their own decisions on alcohol consumption and, due to that, the State should interfere in the matter. Thus, he has decided to interfere in the matter of alcohol consumption of the women of the island at the State level. It is unfortunate to see, how women’s equal rights have connected to, virtue, family culture and the ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ narrative of the country and has been played by both the President and the former President in the sake of votes.