By Thushara Dassanayake-Karunadhara
From common experience we know that there are very few Sri Lankan women who have not experienced some form of gender based abuse. Whether it is in our own homes, on the bus, on the street or at work, we have all experienced men abusing women and girls – our mothers and sisters, through violence, sexual harassment, sexual violation, sexual misconduct, infidelity & non mutually agreed promiscuity or otherwise through overpowerment and disempowerment.
And yet, how many of us speak out? In a country where a woman’s opinion has no validity, even in matters about one’s own needs, how can we make a change? Is the Sri Lankan woman ignored when she speaks out, hurt when she speaks out, conditioned not to speak out, or doesn’t she speak out at all? Where do we look for solutions to this problem that is not acknowledged as a problem because of the culturally imposed invalidity of those who are voicing it?
In a country of many faiths, should we look to religion for a solution? If so, there is a commonality across all major religions in the call for moderation or the middle path in all aspects of our lives. In terms of gender, this ideal rejects the strong gender stereotypes that Sri Lankan children are brought up into. This is the very stereotyping that causes such a polarization of gender, that leads to typical culturally accepted phrases such as ‘boys will be boys’, ‘us men are partners in crime’ ‘old soldier’ or the acceptance of the ‘lad’ or ‘kolu’ culture as well as the ‘a women’s fate’ culture.
Instead shouldn’t we foster in our sons, a sense of respect and value for People, irrespective of their gender? Similarly, shouldn’t we be doing the same for our daughters by teaching them to respect and acknowledge the validity their own thoughts and feelings? As parents, shouldn’t we be nurturing an awareness of emotional intelligence and sensitivity in our girl and boy children? Instead of teaching independence to our sons and dependence to our daughters, shouldn’t we be fostering a mutual and respectful interdependence based not on gender, but as members of a society who are all contributing towards common, mutually acceptable and agreeable goals?
Until women stop fuelling the gender fire by stereotyping our children into ‘strong independent boys’ and ‘good dependent girls’, we will remain to some extent, contributors, conspirators and perpetuators of the injustices that occur to our gender.