Tuesday Commentary by Prasad Gunewardene:
Women's Annual Encounter
Come March 8, Women's International Day, we are bound to witness
Women's Organisations coming out to scream for gender equality and to
make other demands. The day glitters for some leaders of those
Diana would dress herself in the best saree with a mod cap her head.
Jennifer would stand before the mirror, wear a cap to avoid sun burn and
ask her daughter whether 'Mummy' looked pretty to lead the march.
Sandra would get into her best denim three quarter trouser for
convenience, her organisation's printed T-Shirt as the top and ask her
husband emotionally whether she looked like a 'kolla' to lead her demo.
They then board their luxury vehicles to be driven to the venue. All
of them are the affluent leaders of those organizations, better called
the "Colombo-7 type". All this fantasy is witnessed in the month of
March, the month all annual school cricket encounters get off the
The membership of these organisations comprises women from the other
social strata of life. The yelling, screaming of slogans and carrying
placards are their responsibility. Very few of them are fortunate to get
caps from their organisations as the numbers available are limited.
The unfortunate brave the scorching sun. After a hectic demonstration
before television cameras which are ready to click the glorious day of
our women, these women go home. Some of them are at the receiving end of
their husbands. Why? She had gone home late, no food cooked for dinner
and other charges levelled against her.
These women are back to square one at home suffering, discriminated
and abused by their partners. The children scream looking up the roof as
the father and mother are battling. When we talk of women, the child is
an integral part of the woman.
We have another group of women's organisation which emerges during
election time demanding equality. They are politically painted by their
Mentors. During the political campaign, we hear that at least one woman
is stripped by male supporters of the other faction.
The organisations make a big hue and cry till elections are over. The
victim's faction wins the poll. But, the issue of stripping or forced
nudism dies a natural death. This is how women have been playing their
annual encounter demanding gender equality and equal rights in the
society so far.
Be that as it may, the attainment of a fully fledged democratic
society would only look full and deeper in meaning, only if it is
accompanied and strengthened and protected by the struggle for the
In that context, we should accept the proposition to measure the
success of the progress towards such a social democratic transformation,
through the struggle of women for a society of gender equality and other
Over the years or decades, in the path we have traversed through, we
have seen frightening scale of women abuse and domestic violence, where
poor women have been at the receiving end.
In the recent past how many young women were strangled to death? How
many were caught up in terrorist bomb explosions? It is opportune to
raise the query as to what role was played by these women's
organisations when such tragic incidents took place.
Was it not the men in the villages who led protest marches against
the perpetrators demanding justice from the law enforcement authorities?
Are these women's organisations only active on March 8 to mark
International Women's Day? Certainly, the available statistics may
quantify that the level of human anguish and suffering, by any standard
Now let us examine the nature and quantum of cases reported to the
Institutions which maintain law and order. They are mostly domestic in
nature. Some are violent in nature where women have been gang raped,
raped and murdered.
A woman is physically, emotionally or sexually abused by her male
partner. This is rampant at homes where the male partner is addicted to
liquor or narcotics. As a result of abuse on women, the child too
suffers. The number of child abuse cases has risen sharply over the
years. What about child conscription and child soldiers? They also add
to the woes of unfortunate women.
What have women's organisations have done on behalf of these
suffering women and children during International Women's Day
celebrations? Have they planned out a Women's Charter to seek and
protect the rights of the women who undergo untold sufferings? The scale
of violence and abuse against women and children demands our fullest
appreciation to the fact that such a form of oppression is a terminal
illness that affects all levels of a civilised society. Therefore, it is
incumbent upon the authorities to address political, constitutional,
social, cultural and economic issues which relate to the cause of abuse
of woman and child.
Several concrete structures are essential and necessary to fight and
eradicate abuse of woman and child. These women's organisations which
scream much for gender equality should now walk that extra mile to
battle against gender discrimination. They should demand a Women's
Charter for effective equality.
Economic discrimination against women is another important factor.
The woman is always placed in a condition of economic subordination as
the man is accepted or perceived as the breadwinner of family
In homes where the woman is the sole breadwinner with an unemployed
husband, the society recognises the man as the Chief Occupant, though
the ownership of even the house they occupied legally belonged to the
That perpetuates a condition of economic and social oppression on
women. Women's organisations must focus much on the plight of the
illiterate women, the most downtrodden. That is the segment which should
top the agenda of those organisations, if those organisations are the
true defenders' of women's rights.
Social ills like rape, violence against women and child should not be
allowed to spread or ignored by law enforcement authorities. Laws must
be amended and strengthened to punish the perpetrators early. A number
of such cases are pending in court for years.
The perpetrators are out on bail. Some have jumped the country. In
such cases the suspects are tried in absentia. Does it serve any
purpose? The victim suffers more as she cannot face the society. Rape
and violence on woman and child have no limit in this country.
Let us not forget the brutal manner a doctor at a Negombo hospital
raped and killed a young girl who came for treatment. Another innocent
girl was raped and killed by a young man at Ja-ela for refusing to love
him. How many under aged children are employed as domestic aides? How
many of them are brutally assaulted or burnt by their cruel employers?
We only seem to record these tragic incidents. Why not we hurry up
legislation and set up additional tribunals to speed up the pending
cases for early execution of justice? If we talk of a future generation,
we must protect the woman and child in our society. It is only then we
could achieve a nation of civilisation and not otherwise.
We need to increase the social capacity to protect the woman and
child from all social dangers and ills. More security for woman and
child should be the priority of our society. If communities are allowed
to be inflicted by political and criminal violence, it is the woman and
child who are called upon to bear the brunt of such an ugly exercise
under the guise of democracy.
We must build an environment for the affected woman and child to
reconstruct their lives psychologically, socially and materially if we
are to ensure the emergence of a strong woman and child for a better Sri
Lanka. Women's organisations in this country must make a firm commitment
on March 8 in that regard to seek better status for the woman and child
in this country.