The condition of women
"The hand that rocks the cradle could
contribute much to heal the wounds and smooth the conflicts in our
troubled world." These words of President Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga figuring in her keynote address to the Conference to
Commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on
Women, is an interesting and thought - provoking variation on the
saying, "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world."
The reformulation of the mother's role by the President draws
attention to the profoundly healing and reconciliatory role a woman and
mother could play in the conflict - ridden world of today and does not
only focus on the influence wielding capacity of women - for good or for
bad. For, the world could be dominated by good or evil depending on how
a person has been nurtured by his or her mother.
The President's reconceptualization of the role of women, however,
draws attention to the innate goodness of womankind and of her ability
to positively transform society, either singly or through her offspring,
provided she brings to fruition within her, her essential goodness and
The big question is how are these positive proclivities in the human
personality brought to fruition. President Kumaratunga's position that
we need to fundamentally restructure society to achieve an effective
existence for women, has a close bearing on this issue.
Needless to say, the position of women in contemporary society leaves
very much to be desired. Even in Sri Lanka, despite registering
impressive figures against some socio-economic indices, women are in the
stranglehold of a paternalistic social structure. This is the reason why
a law forbidding domestic violence is today essential. Violence against
women begins mainly at home and this in turn could be traced to the
subordinate status she is confined to by a great many men.
On paper women are considerably free, because the Sri Lankan State is
signatory to a battery of laws and treaties which seek to further the
well being of women, including, the UN Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
However, the real condition of women is a glaring contradiction of
these achievements on paper. This is the reason why despite enjoying the
franchize, a woman political activist was subjected to violent abuse at
election time not so long ago, and paraded naked along the streets. Such
are the depths of degradation to which women could be made to sink in
All this points to the fact that, a considerable number of women are
yet to enjoy their rights. They cannot do this because they are locked
into exploitative social structures. Therefore, it could be argued that
our social structures need to be changed to enable women to be fully
empowered. Such empowerment could only come about through a further
democratisation of Lankan society. Weakening the social structures which
weaken and demean women is one way of upgrading the condition of women.
The unequal power balance between women and the rest of society was
highlighted by the President when she drew our attention to the fact
women labour silently in our homes and such productive labour does not
find its way into the statistics on productive employment. Besides,
female migrant labour accounts for a substantial quantum of our foreign
exchange earnings. Thus women contribute substantially towards the
common weal but this weighty economic contribution goes, largely,
Given the fact that the majority of Lanka's population consists of
women, development in the real sense of the world cannot be spoken of
unless and until the women of Sri Lanka too enjoy in full the fruits of
development. They cannot taste the fruits of development - on the other
hand- until they are fully empowered. The whole of our polity needs to
think on these things and act accordingly.