Sunday, 14 August 2016

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<%on error resume next%> Let's all be feminists
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Let's all be feminists

A woman is someone who silently renders an immense service to her family, household, the society and the nation. It is because of this silence that most of us have forgotten to celebrate womanhood with the appreciation which she deserves. Most of us have chosen to forget the fact that more than half of the global population itself consists of females. But are they given an opportunity to be heard and seen? Even if the answer to this question is "yes", one may still ask; is the attention we give towards her sufficient?

The attitude of the Sri Lankan society towards women and their role seems to be paradoxical to me. Whereas, we grew up learning maxims such as 'a woman's knowledge is only as long as a spoon's handle,' while we also learnt that "the hand that sways the cot, rules the world," it is high time we think twice before teaching our youngsters to measure a woman's knowledge level with a spoon-handle. The idea which such phrases impliedly generate within one's mind is that a woman is not an intelligent or a bold human being.

Women have shed their blood, sweat and tears throughout the history of human civilization, for many centuries and have worked hard not for their own betterment, but for the betterment of their family, religion, society and their nations since times immemorial. World renowned females who have been brave and bold enough to step outside our atmosphere and observe the outer space such as Kalpana Chawla and Valentina Tereshkova should equally be given respect as much as the vulnerable women who have been pushed to situations by the society, that they are left with no other choice than becoming a 'woman of the streets'.

The Sri Lankan context

Since the grant of Universal Franchise in 1931, Sri Lankan women have so far been on a journey of both achievements and losses. The first ever female head of state was born from Sri Lanka. More than 50% of the registered candidates are female. 85% of students who achieve university entrance are female students. Despite all these achievements, we are forced to accept the fact that women are curtailed of the opportunities to perform optimally by making use of their abilities and qualifications. The level of participation of females in active politics is still unsatisfactory.

Participation of females in the legislature is merely 5%, 3% in Provincial Councils, and 2% in the Local Government sphere. Granting a 50-50 quota itself wouldn't seem to cater to the matter positively. Even if it was given, it cannot be anticipated that the acceptance and assistance which they should be given will be given to them by the society.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka states that inter alia, majority of the petitions of Human Rights violations they receive from women is regarding attempts to gain sexual bribes when entering children to the first grade of government schools. It is tragic to see that a mother is unable to enter her child to a school without being subjected to illicit and embarrassing courses of action.

A number of International Conventions and Declarations were implemented by the international community within the past few decades with the aim of achieving gender justice and ensuring the equal protection of women and the girl child. Despite the abundance of international and regional mechanisms, none of them have seemed to achieve the expected goals, i.e. mainly to give the due acceptance to women in the society. Domestic violence, usurpation of labour, rape and abuse are only a few examples that show the level of women's rights enforcement mechanisms, both locally and regionally.

It should not be misunderstood that a valid legal framework is absent, the question remains in its enforcement. Especially, the impact on law enforcement by religious and cultural factors can be seen mostly. Child marriages and female genital mutilation have not yet been eradicated from the world. Even though such practices are not seen in the Sri Lankan society, one must not forget that women are being differently treated in our society as well, on a daily basis.

A pledge for parity

I do not wish to deeply analyse the legal background of women's rights. The media institutions have catered to it more than enough, and the majority of the society is well aware of it. Such attempts by both printed and digital media should always be appreciated, as there have been numerous instances where women have missed their opportunities to have access to justice due to the unawareness of the law.

Women are the initiation of new life. Without her, the whole of the human race, but we still keep on humiliating the same species who are the bearers of the future of human race itself. Living in a society where women are being subjected to multiple discrimination, it is ironical that Sri Lanka celebrated the 105th Women's Day this March 8th. The globalised world has feminized both our education sector and our labour force. Yet, the amount of attention and due acceptance which they truly deserve is not granted to her. This is a matter that needs immediate attention.

The paradox still remains within our society where we listen to numerous songs appreciating womanhood and motherhood, we see many tributes to women, whilst at the same time, reports of rape, abuse and multiple discrimination are heard island wide. Is not that a reason for us to be ashamed of ourselves as a nation? The issue on achieving gender parity carries out a very complex chain of questions socially, politically and culturally. It must be understood that none of these issues could be solved unless they are contextualized before analyzing.

The housewives who have dedicated their career goals and future plans for a better family life, the tea-pluckers of the hillside who work day and night for a minimum wage, the young FTZ girls who wash away their splendid youth operating a juki sewing machine, the women who go through inhumane treatments in the middle-east as housemaids but yet supply our best income of foreign exchange should not be forgotten or be taken for granted. If not for any of them, you and I would not have been living in such luxurious conditions.

Need for a change of thoughts

It is my belief that we should all be feminists. One might even laugh at this idea. It is wrong to think that only females should be feminists. In simple words, a feminist is someone who strives to provide opportunities for women to live a dignified life with their basic rights guaranteed. If you expect your mother, sister, friend or wife to live such a life, then I believe that you are indeed a feminist.

We have heard the slogan 'Prisoners are humans too'. Similarly, the day our society realises that 'Women are human beings too' who are as equally capable and courageous as men, the nation will thrive and flourish, and will be set upon a better journey towards all-embracing success.


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