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SRI LANKA

A Reflection on the Situation
of Women in Sri Lanka:

The Strengths and Limitations of being a Woman in Sri Lanka

by Dayanthi Samaranayake, SCM Sri Lanka

Firstly I would start with the limitations as they are many.

Limitations

Sri Lanka to a great extent, is still a country where the patriarchal ideology and system rule. Therefore the thinking of many are influenced and conditioned in this manner and thus it poses many limitations on being a woman. Limitations are mainly posed on the Sri Lankan women through Socio-Cultural, Political, Economical and Religious factors.

Socio Cultural

Women are still considered as persons who are required to manage the household affairs and stay at home. If they were very active and out-going, they would be looked down upon by the society. They need to be soft spoken and gentle. Aggressive or outspoken women are condemned. The full freedom to express their views or to challenge decisions is not given and even if it is, women who have been brought up in this set up do not and cannot make use of the opportunity. If a woman is known for moving freely about with male friends, she is considered to be a person who is of loose character. These are mainly due to the cultural and social norms set by our society, and mainly by men so that they could have control on the actions of women.

Political

Though more than half of the population of Sri Lanka is women, there is not even a 5% representation of women in the Parliament, and though there are many women actively working in political parties or on political campaigning, they are limited to the internal activities of the political parties. Furthermore, participating in politics too is a difficult task, as one needs a lot of money and also the strength to work with male candidates who usually use violence to promote their cause. Hence even as the women who are already participating in the political sphere, so too are the patriarchal ideology and system. There is limited freedom to use a different mode or style of carrying out one’s functions as a woman politician.

Legal

I would like to stress on the point on the exhaustive laws that are found in the Statutes in Sri Lanka. There are very few women who actually have knowledge on these laws. Furthermore, women are reluctant to come forward and place their cases before court for fear of being ridiculed and of damaging their family prestige or honour. This is mainly because the majority of the judges and practicing lawyers are men and when one goes to the police station to file one’s case, the police would resort to considering the case a minor incident and would force one to take other measures without going to court. Even if a case is brought forward in a court, attempts are always made to put the blame on the woman. So justice is not very often met.

Economic

Stemming from the Socio-Cultural aspects, women to a great extent, are still limited in job opportunities of their own choice. Many factors will need to be considered by and for the family, and many arrangements have to be made in relation to one’s family responsibilities. Even in the job market, many companies or employers would consider factors such as pregnancy and inability to work late and that women are often faced with certain difficulties in a job. Promotions do not happen easily and even if they do, there will be many malicious gossips or rumours that the woman has been promoted.

Religion

Religion continues to restrict and limit women. In Sri Lanka there are four main religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. In the first three religions, women are not given recognition at all and all the religious teachings and laws seem to focus on restricting women. In Christianity, though some denominations have recognised women priesthood, the teachings and understanding of the congregations and their attitudes remain the same. Some of the main denominations are still reluctant to ordain women and while some women when ordained, are not given full powers to lead the service or share the Eucharist. Women are still considered as impure and as a person who causes men to sin.

Strengths

Women in Sri Lanka have much strength which are unfortunately not recognised or most often recognised for the wrong reasons. This resulted women having to suffer more than getting anything positive and good out of these strengths.

Sri Lanka being a country in which there has been a Civil War going on for nearly over 20 years, there are many women who are victimised by this war. In this context, there are many widows and women who lost their children in the war, but somehow they have the strength within themselves to forgive and most importantly, live their life bearing all these grievances in their stride. In times of any displacement, they are the ones who pick up the pieces and continue to start all over again not once but, many times. The women in Sri Lanka have a great power to endure, and a will power to continue despite any painful circumstances. Many women run a family through their own efforts in situations where either the husband is dead or that he is addicted to both alcohol and drugs. The women are the breadwinner as well as the caretaker of the family. Most often, many women find comfort in each other and this is a great strength of solidarity. Many women are able to express and articulate their difficulties and problems with another group of women who are there to support.

Many young women or women student are frequently faced with the trial of doing well in their studies while helping their mothers in taking care of the family. Most often when the mother is at work, it is the young daughters who would be doing all the household chores and at the same time juggling with the schoolwork. This is indeed a strength to be recognised.

As young adults, women have to face with many challenges from the patriarchal ideology and system as well as male-dominating experiences in society and yet they continue to pursue their dreams and hopes. The power to dream and plan against all odds is yet another strength of the women.

As a mother in Sri Lanka, we need to recognise her strength of bringing a child into the world and giving all to the child even at the expense of herself. We must affirm these strengths and qualities in most mothers when it comes to their compassion and unconditional love to their children.

It is quite a challenge to see what are the strengths women have, which is consequent to the fact that women’s strengths are not recognised and affirmed by the society. However the following need to be kept in mind when reading this reflection. I have only given a very general picture of the strengths and limitations of women in Sri Lanka. These would most certainly change when taking into consideration the different social circles in Sri Lanka and the different backgrounds where the women come from. Many a time, the same limitations may exist in different degrees, while in another situation, different limitations may exist. Then again, some women might be able to recognise their strengths and optimise them to do creative and productive things, while others might not be even aware of what their strengths are.