Being a woman, a patriarchal world is never a good option, but I was under the impression that Sri Lanka wasn’t right there at the bottom. This is not to say that Sri Lankan women don’t face a variety of issues, which limit their choices, impact their ability to live their best possible life, and cause physical and mental damage. I say this simply because the bar hasn’t really been set too high by the rest of the world, and we do manage to tick some of the most basic boxes.
However, everyday sexism, micro-aggressions and a disturbing rape culture can sometimes make you feel like you are drowning in the patriarchy. And to be quite honest, I’d pick being tossed into the Beira over that, any day. But, for a brief moment, it felt like our heads were above the water. The Finance Minister repealed an archaic law (from colonial times) which prohibited the sale of alcohol to women. Now this is was a largely ignored law, so the significance was in the principle, and less in the consequences of repealing it. Unfortunately, this was done smack-bang in the middle of local government elections, and the president announced that the gazette repealing the law would be removed. We go back to square one. Worse, now that this has caught media attention, it is unlikely that the law will go back to being largely ignored.
The age old story of playing with the rights of an individual, or a group for political gain, is clearly not okay and in this case, unconstitutional. But the backdrop to this decision, and the narrative it perpetuates is more than ominous – that women are inextricably linked to the culture of a group or country, the idea that it’s fine if men are ‘immoral’, because boys will be boys and there’s obviously nothing to be done about it. This is evidenced by statements made by the president, along the lines that the country will be ruined if women buy alcohol. There is no mention of what will happen to our culture because of men buying alcohol.
This draws disturbing parallels to Espiritu’s argument that family honour and national integrity is located in a group’s female members. In her paper, she explores how Philipino-American families have different standards for their male and female children. As females are seen as repositories of culture, greater restrictions are placed on their movements, choices, in order to preserve their culture through the women. Male children are given more freedom, as they redeem their behaviour by marrying a suitable wife. The moral policing of women, is one of the most effective, and commonly used methods to assert male superiority, which is exactly why we should not deal with lightly.
Moving back to Sri Lanka, the same story holds. Men decided that women could not do something, simply to hold on to political power, preserve archaic conceptions of culture, and assert a position of dominance.
And, if you want to leave aside the disturbing narrative, and for some reason think that women should not buy alcohol, refer article 12 (2) of the Sri Lankan constitution.
“No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds”
If you’d like to read Esperitu – “”We Don’t Sleep around like White Girls Do”: Family, Culture, and Gender in Filipina American Lives,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 26, no. 2 (Winter, 2001): 415-440.