Monday, February 23, 2009


Woman in Sri Lankan society
W. T. A. Leslie Fernando

Today so much enthusiasm is generated on the rights of women. Thousands of organisations have been formed all over the world for emancipation of the woman.

The activities of them range from fighting against exploitation, discrimination, domestic violence, harassment of women to obtain equal status to them to be on par with men.

By nature woman is different from man. Man is strong, rough and active. Woman is dainty, serene and quiet. Man is designed for manual work and adventure. Only women could give birth to children and they are meant for light work.

In sex life the man is provocative and aggressive. Woman is more or less passive. When a man and a woman cohabits it would not make any difference to the man. But the woman could become pregnant. The woman has to be more conscious about the outcome.

Equal Status

Garment factory workers contributing to country’s economic growth.

In the hunting age, man had to procure food and other things necessary for life. The role of the woman was limited to the household. However, with the development of society the woman has progressed a long way. By and large in the present world women enjoy equal status with men. Nevertheless still there are some rights to be won by women.

Christianity has been the dominant force in the formation and development of Western civilisation. According to the Bible, God first created Adam - the first man on earth and then created Eve, the first woman from the rib of Adam as a helper fit for him.

(Genesis 2 - 18). When Adam disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, on the instigation of Eve, God said to her “In pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be your husband and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3 -16)

During the time of Christ, adulterous women were stoned to death. Once the Pharisees brought before Jesus, a woman who had committed adultery and said, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery, Moses in the Law has decreed that such woman should be stoned to death. What do you say?” Christ replied, “those among you who have not committed a sin, let him cast the first stone at her.” There was no one left to stone her.

On the other hand there were many women who were prepared to serve Christ and sacrifice their career. But Christ never conferred priesthood on women. The position of woman is aptly described by St. Paul - “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ and the head of woman is her husband.” (1 Corinthians 11-3)

It is Buddhism that has guided and moulded Sinhala society for centuries. Nevertheless Buddhism does not place any impediments on women in society.

In our society based on Buddhist concepts, a virtuous woman is being considered a ‘Kula Kanthava’ (noble lady). The position of the woman in our society is well expressed by the term ‘Gedera Budun Amman’ (Mother is venerated one at home).

The Sri Lankan housewife has a special place in the home. She had to attend to the husband who come home tired after work, look after the children, do the cooking and keep house and garden clean. She performed all these tasks without any complaint. Though the wife is not a slave of husband as described in ‘Kavyasekeraya’, it was a pleasure for her to perform her onerous duties in the interest of husband and children.

In our history we find that women have stood side by side with men for the progress of the nation. Several women in Sri Lanka have been ruling Monarchs in our country. The outstanding roles played by heroic women like Vihara Maha Devi and Soma Devi have added glamour to our history. Nevertheless women in Sri Lanka have never relegated their role as a mother and housewife.

The first woman Prime Minister in the whole world was from Sri Lanka. The whole world admired her when Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike was appointed the Prime Minister in Sri Lanka in July 1960. She on her part well proved that the hands that swing the cradle could govern the country as well.

She not only excelled as an efficient Prime Minister but also brought fame to our country as a real ‘Kula Kanthava’ all over the world.

In our law, both men and women are considered equal. Both are treated as separate entities. The women could own property as men and deal with them as they like. Even an unmarried woman could get maintenance from the father of an illegitimate child.

Women have come to forefront with the development of society. Women who were mostly housewives in the past compete with men today for employment in various fields. Even in professions like law, judiciary and engineering conventional fields meant for men, women have made a breakthrough.

With changes in society the attitude towards women has also changed. This is part of social development. Today almost all the job opportunities available to men are open to women as well. As a result, young women could be get employment at an early age.

The young girls who are employed are not so closely protected by parents as it used to be. Because of this freedom there is some danger of young girls going astray. There are some men who take advantage of sincerity of young girls and ruin their lives. The employees young women should guard against pitfalls and protect themselves from vultures in society. As many women are employed today there should be change in the traditional role of the woman as a housewife.

The highest position a woman could aspire to is motherhood. It is in the bosom of the mother that the character of the child is moulded. Children who do not get the love and warmth of the mother in their infancy could become unbalanced persons. Whatever the position a woman could attain in society, whether she is employed or not, they must see that the children get the care and protection of the mother.

There are so many organisations in Sri Lanka for the advancement of women. Some of them have sincerely worked for the welfare of women. They have obtained equal pay for equal work, maternity leave and other benefits for women. They fight against exploitation of women in form of cheap labour, look after women subject to social evils, stand against domestic violence and harassment of women in society. The Mahila Samithi organisation has done a lot for the uplift of rural women.

There are some NGOs funded by foreign agencies that make a big noise about the liberation of women in our country. They go to villages and instigate women to fight for their liberation against male domination. They want to place Sri Lankan women on par with women in the West. It was reported that one such organisation concluded their annual conference with a ball-room party.

In our society based on Buddhist concepts women were never degraded or looked down upon to fight for their liberation. It is true that our women never enjoyed the privilege of going out with men except their husbands. Our Kula Kanthavas were always faithful to their husbands. They never went for ball-room dancing embracing other men. They always respected our traditional cultural values and as a result there is stability in family life.

In the natural world among animals and birds, the male is more beautiful than the female. In human society woman is considered more attractive than the man. There is a popular saying in our country - Kata athi puthath ruva athi duwath hondai (The son eloquent in speech and daughter with good looks are ideal).

A beautiful, simple and serene women pleases everyone. So it is natural for women to be more concerned about their appearance than men.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody an exponent of indigenous culture and renowned poet has thus expressed on women in the West.

The Sri Lankan woman is most beautiful when she is simple. There is no more pleasant sight than a Sinhala Kula Kanthava clad in a white Osariya carrying a tray of flowers to the temple. Our women would look really beautiful when they appear is simple and serene dress that suits their age.

The advancement of women in Sri Lanka should be in harmony with our much cherished spiritual, traditional and cultural values.

(The writer is a former High Court Judge and Vice-President of the Newman Society Alumni Association)

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