Gender inequality in Sri Lanka

The term ‘gender’ can be defined as “non-biological, culturally and socially produced distinction between men and women.” It is basically a socio-cultural term which contains in itself the socially qualified roles, attributes and behaviours given to a man and a woman from a society. The identification of sex is based on chromosomal patterns and the genital structure which signifies the differences between men and women. However, this does not mean it gives men a dominant figure and women a subordinate structure.

In most of the societies; specifically in developing countries women are subjected to various forms of discrimination. Everywhere in the world, there is still considerable differences in terms of living conditions and social mobility opportunities between men and women due to unequal factors. The widely-known set of conceptions that are stereotypically attributed to women are passed on from generation to generation. As a result, they have been engraved in the lives of the people termed as, “social norms” which have not been questioned.

When considering the Sri Lankan context, traditional women have less social, economic, political and domestic in comparison to men. Also, women and girls have become more vulnerable to rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and disparities in property rights… etc. Female infanticide and sex selective abortions are still been practiced in countries like India, so they are treated discriminatively even before their birth. Apart from that discrimination has become obvious in political leadership and decision-making positions and in economic top management in the South Asian region.

Various religions, cultures and patriarchal attitudes in South Asian region act as a as criteria in determining gender roles. Notions of, marriage and motherhood all tend to pressure girls in to these roles which can exclude other possibilities in their lives which are available to men. For an example things, such as education and employment opportunities.

Even though women and their labour force representation has been increased dramatically over the recent decades, a Pattern of gender inequality on the trade sector still seems to continue.

When considering the Sri Lankan National Human Development Report, it mentions that the  young women participation in the labour market is less than half that of young men. In 2011, the overall unemployment rate for females at 6.8% is twice that of the male unemployment rate (2.7%) (Annual Report Central Bank of Sri Lanka-2011)

On the other hand, if we move on to the theme “gender and Politics in Sri Lanka,” we see in 1931 Sri Lanka became one of the first countries in South Asia to give women the right to vote. Yet still at present we see that the female participation in Parliament is small in number. Alas, Sri Lanka remains as the only country without any special measures to facilitate female representation in local authorities. In comparison, Bangladesh, holds representation of 25% of seats that are reserved for women in Union Councils (1996 legislation); in India not less than 33% of seats are reserved for women and other marginalized groups in all panchayats or local bodies (1992 Constitutional Amendment).

In terms of female property rights Sri Lanka, we see a equality violation of law when considering the, matrimonial property rights under general law and discriminative laws under the Thesavalamai law. There is no uniform law regarding the separation of matrimonial property in the aftermath of divorce under the general law which give a wide discretion to the court. However, there are international and national instruments which focus on safeguarding women and accommodating their rights. International legal entrenchment to female rights has been provided by the CEDAW (Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women).

Constitution as a foundation document can play an instrumental role in bringing gender equality. The Article 12(1) and 12(2) of the constitution of Sri Lanka emphasises that All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law and no citizen shall be discriminated against interms of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any one of such grounds. This Article has been introduced in order to encourage the introduction of laws and policies that seek to improve the existing status of women and to provide a legal recognition for their rights.

Focusing on the national legislature in Sri Lanka ‘The domestic violence Act 2005’ was enacted in order to safeguard the rights of women in domestic circumstances and protect her from domestic violence. The ‘Employment of women, young persons and children ordinance 1923 and the ‘Factories ordinance’ which prohibits the employment of women in night work could be cited as regulatory controls in workplaces which provide special protection to women in their work places.

Modern principles such as ‘Concept of Liberal feminism or moderate feminism’ essentially seeks opportunities for female advancement in the existent society through institutional changes in education and the workplace which amounts to diminish the conventional attitude towards women in the society. This seeks equal opportunities within the system and work towards equal opportunities in ‘employment’, ‘education’, and ‘health’. The ‘substantive equality in terms of women’s experience would be more productive rather than a comparison women’s status with male standard. This idea of substantive equality is the foundation of CEDAW convention.

Even though the law has been enacted as to fill these disparities and to safeguard the rights of women, traditional women have much less social, economic, political and domestic power than men. Women are facing several problems due to unequal factors of political participation, labour force participation and decision-making process.  In order to overcome this gender inequality the conventional attitude towards women should be changed in a positive manner. States must make their own contribution to fashioning the concepts of liberal feminism and substantive equality, so that it provides a meaningful foundation for achieving gender justice and equality for women.


Hashintha Vidanapathirana


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