Gender neutrality is a distant dream for most South Asians. But, recently the Sri Lankan government tried to overturn a discriminatory archaic law which prohibits the sale of any type of alcohol to women.
The said reform proposed to allow women over the age of 18 to buy alcohol legally, work in bars, breweries, and distilleries without a permit and increasing the hours of sale of alcohol. Although the previous law was not strictly enforced, it was a step in the right direction.
But this progress towards gender neutrality was short-lived. Within days the Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena rescinded the government reform without further clarification. The immediate restoration of the law indicated the flux in the coalition government.
Mangala Samaraweera, Finance Minister of Sri Lanka had introduced the government reform to strike the sexist laws, in order to promote gender neutrality. Also, by relaxing some of the laws for licensed liquor manufacturers, the black market of spirits could be curbed and increase the revenue thereof, for the country.
But the move met heavy disapproval from several sectors of the Buddhist-majority nation. The National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection reproached Samarveera for promoting alcohol consumption and insisted the President to intervene.
Many leading monks of the country also condemned the decision, arguing it would be detrimental to the family culture and lead to addiction in women.
President Sirisena runs an anti-alcohol campaign and had stated in the past that alcohol consumption among Sri Lankan women was on the rise. But, according to World Health Organization (2014), 80.5% of women of Sri Lanka do not drink!
The outrage is regarding the double standards of the President. On one hand, he encourages and takes credit for the increased women representation and participation in politics and on the other hand he restores a sexist archaic law without any clarification.
The law is ambiguous and poorly conceived as it is only against the sale of alcohol. So women technically can consume alcohol and are merely not allowed to purchase the same!
All we can hope is that it is soon realized by such leaders worldwide that, preserving culture is not the responsibility of women alone and definitely not at cost of equality.
Snigdha is a 'closet' writer with unapologetic opinions on life and people around her. She supports the cause of protecting endangered civil rights like free speech, equity, equality, and most importantly common sense.