The journey as south Asian feminists have been different and is absolutely not being the same compared to the west. Indian feminists like Uma Chakravati, Kamla Bhasin in Pakistan, Asma Jahangir and in Sri Lanka prof.Maithree Wickremasinghe, Sunila Abeysekara and so many amazing women who actually centered the women’s movement within other political movements unlike in the west where women’s movement separately occurred. South Asian feminists had the success of integrating it within existing human rights movement and political movements through women’s parties and organizations.
It was women like those who mentioned above at the forefront fought for the political, social, economic and educational rights of women in south Asia bound by culture and traditions. One of the frustrations that feminism in Sri Lanka has to face is always people saying that Sri Lankan feminists believe in Beyoncé feminism (looking up to the western trends on women issues). But people should understand that it is a very different culture and tradition. As Sri Lankans we have had an incredible journey, and we have had incredible feminists to look up to.
sometimes being a “feminist” or announcing oneself as a feminist considered a derogatory term in south Asian context. It is mainly because it comes from the particular understanding that we fail to understand what feminism really stands for. There are so many narratives and especially on social media and through just media in general focus more towards the whole bra burning, men hating, completely violent and aggressive narrative which really is not everything that feminism encompasses for. Because of that sometimes one could be having deep intentions of studying feminism yet the term feminism can be misconstrued. That is why coming up to somebody nowadays and saying, “I am a feminist, have these values.” is looked upon negatively or sarcastically, or someone is considered a problematic, troublesome person.
Someone stating the fact that he or she is a feminist in the society is more than just a label. Understanding that by acknowledging that there are certain values they need to have, understanding the qualities that are important. Understanding that there is mismanagement on opportunities for men and women, that is what we need to encompass in social interaction when it comes to feminist discourse without tearing down and labeling a feminist as a negative aspect of the society. And especially not the narrative that media and social media like to portray.
Understanding that it is just not about women, but it is about all of us, men included and being involved in the conversations about how one can protect and promote equal rights equal access and equal opportunities, so that all sexes can have a choice of their own without getting questioned from the patriarchy when choosing to empower their lives.
The Sri Lankan negative mindset towards feminism or as it is pinned down as a taboo should be eradicated. For that it is important to recognize that feminism is also on political stand point. Just as one could be a leftist, capitalist or Marxist, it’s a political theory. As well as feminism is an academic theory. Feminism is a whole area of academic study lenses through which you can view things.
As Sri Lankans and as a South Asian culture with traditions and customs we are tied around the male power. The contemporary society in Sri Lanka must understand the difference between sex and gender. Sex is biology and gender is social role. We can empower women individually. But we cannot fail to acknowledge the very systematic structures that are in place in our society. For an example, in the law in Sri Lanka, in which governs lands rights in the north and east of the country, a woman can own property but she cannot sell or rent it without the permission of her husband or father. This has hindered the women’s access into loans because on paper they have assets. So on paper they do not need the loans. But in reality they are restricted from out running the man. To be added more marital rape does not exist in Sri Lanka. A husband can legally rape his wife as it specifically says so in the law. In the law under rape it excludes. “…Unless they are married. “Because it is a case between the husband and wife.” Unless we break these systems and educate both men and women how tragically ignorant they are, blinded by the patriarchy. We cannot move forward until the need for System solutions is highlighted.
Because it is rare, be it in the parliament, provincial council levels or at local government where are we focusing on these issues that prevent women from kind of exploiting their full potential. We have not even recognized the fact that women do not have an equal play in Sri Lanka.
Most of the women activists in Sri Lanka like the prof. Maithree Wickremasinghe are considered that they are speaking from a place of privilege. And it is very important that we acknowledge that and accept that and therefore there might be a point where they will completely over rule some facts because there are areas which they can’t understand completely due to the sense of privilege. However, they are also a great ally for those who do not have that privilege. And those who do not have that privilege are the majority of women and men in this country who need feminism, specially focusing on the rural areas of Sri Lanka. There are females entrepreneurs who are doing sustainable business and earning a substantial income in rural areas, yet they don’t know how to approach a bank and open her own bank account because she has not given the leverage to do so.
So when a young girls shout out saying they are not feminist, but they are in this privileged place living in a country like Sri Lanka because of the women who did not think like them. Because of the women who saw the bigger issues. So according to my personal view, as a collective, it is our responsibility to raise our voices and let that echo for those who cannot speak up for themselves.
This is where feminism comes in. With it there comes education, discussion, opens up platforms for those, and that’s what feminist has to push for and that’s why women should come out of their barriers and talk about it.