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International Women’s Day: For What?

“Have women made strides in reaching for that power? In Sri Lanka political power still remains firmly with men. However women continue to be visible in international informal political structures but the representation of women in legislative bodies is declining”.

by Zanita Careem

(March 06, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) We Sri Lankan women, like men are emotional when an horrenduous event violating women and girls takes place with the passage of time. Society soon forgets the atrocities and goes back to complacency and stores it the limbo of the past. March 8 tomorrow is International Women’s Day which is celebrated with pomp and pageantry, colourful posters, banners, speeches and rampaging rhetoric. Then everything is consigned to oblivion, till a year later when it comes to another Women’s Day.

In Sri Lanka like in many other parts of the world women are subject to sexual harassment, rape, violence and child molestation. The question is what have we done to assert and eradicate these horrenduous crimes on females in particular in concrete terms. Have we an agenda and a master plan to eradicate violation of women’s rights in any form and a clear-cut programme to assert the dignity of womanhood?

What is necessary is to get down to brass tacks forthwith without shouting ourselves hoarse about women’s rights, right now and not letting it to go into hibernation for another year.

Viewed over the long term women have made progress over the last century, voting rights have been extended them, women’s charter is something we can be proud of however the inequities still remains. Women are beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other form. with unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, resulting in deaths. How could we avoid such situations. Much could be avoided if women had the power to make decisions.

Has women made strides in reaching for that power? In Sri Lanka political power still remains firmly with men. However women continue to be visible in international informal political structures but the representation of women in legislative bodies is declining.

Much of the work women do is unpaid especially housework. Are the women paid for the heavy workload at home? Women generously contribute to the economy, the tea pluckers,migrant workers and those at the FTZ. What protection do these workers have especially the migrant workers.?Some of them come back in coffins, while others are subjected to torture and harassment. Women contrbute a great deal to the economy, tea pluckers, migrant workers, and the FTZ A great number of the migrant women who are abused and the thousands of women who suffer rape or sexual abuse choose to remain silent, because of the social stigma and the social ethos of our society prevent them from making a noise. In Sri Lanka women have a big stake in war — they and their children comprise more than 75% of refugees.

Females are often stereotyped in movies and on TV serials as being indecisive, difficult to work with and too emotional. The dowry system too as it persists today allows her no way out with a larger majority of the Sri Lankan young women destined to live single, due to the families’ inability at meeting the high economic requirements at the marriage market.

Women activists and social reformers have fought for women’s rights, have challenged laws that discriminate against women and have demanded laws that prohibit violent practices against them.

Of course we should salute women like Radhika Coomaraswamy, Lorna Devaraja, Indrani Iriyagolla, Delrene Brohier, Kumari Jayawardena, Jezima Ismail and a host of others who have contributed to a great deal, to destroy glass ceilings and challenge laws that discriminate against women.

It is difficult to measure the total picture, everything from battering to rape to violence. Governments are cracking down certain injustices. However violence against women has long been seen as a private matter. Most of the women suffer in silence. Rape is increasing at such an alarming rate, battered women are on the increase,harassement at home is shocking and the legal system has done little to help women in this matter.

Reports of physical and verbal abuse of women in Sri Lanka are alarming, stories of women who are in prison, others who have disappeared, shocking stories of multiple rape, shattered families are the order of the day. We women are always portrayed as victims and seldom as heroines. And how many international women’s days must we hypocritically celebrate before we truly begin to understand and care?

However at a time when we commemorate International Women’s Day I believe that the focused attention of those responsible for policy formulation and implementation should be drawn to these issues and focus on rights of women.

We have hope with the women’s charter but this is just a drop in the ocean. Let us live in hope that we get our rights and our voices will be heard in the corridors of power then we can only we can hope for more women in the Parliament.

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