Role of women in Sri Lanka and globally

Monday, 16 January 2017 00:09 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Shenali D. Waduge

Eastern civilisations always gave priority to women. She was the head of the home. She was the matriarch. The importance of the women became diluted by Western-thinking historians, writers and analysts. However, women held a very important and respected role in society in ancient times. That place changed when men began to use religion, masculinity together with arms and ammunition thus creating for themselves a macho image clearly evident on how the status quo of women changed with the advent of colonial rule and occupation. 

From there onwards, the role played by women declined and they became treated as comfort women, women who had no brains, no power and no authority. From holding a revered position and then being brought down to be subservient, women have had plenty of challenges to overcome. Women can be proud of their achievements but their challenges remain unfinished. However the notion of male superiority is certainly a cliché an avenue created to make men feel and be treated superior simply because of his physique.

Modern Sri Lanka drew international attention with the appointment of the world’s first woman Prime Minister. Ironically, Asia has produced more women leaders than the West that boasts of gender equality. A recent article by Paneetha Amarasekera claims 64% of professionals in Sri Lanka are women taken from statistics released by the Census and Statistics Department.  In numbers it amounts to 336,586 women professionals against 174,644 males. Let’s also not forget that that the largest number of outsourced workers abroad are housemaids. 1.7 million Sri Lankans are employed abroad of which 36.78 are women. Quite a number of companies that take graduate interns prefer female interns as their attitude towards work was more positive and they were ready to take on any role. Random views sought from different employers too gave the impression that women were more productive than their male counterparts.

Males need to wake up – at the going rate we may soon see house-husbands and female workers!

Let’s look at some global statistics:

  • Worldwide, men outnumber women by some 62 million
  • Almost half of women aged 20 to 24 in Southern Asia and two fifths in sub-Saharan Africa were married before age 18
  • 36% of men aged 15 and over smoke and 48% drink, compared to 8 and 29% of women, respectively.
  • Obesity has increased among both sexes, women appear to be slightly more affected (14% of women aged 20 and over are obese compared to 10% of men).
  • 58 million children of primary school age are out of school worldwide. More than half of these are girls and nearly three quarters live in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.
  • Women account for 30% of all researchers
  • Only 50% of women of working age are in the labour force, compared to 77% of men
  • In Oceania, sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, between 30 and 55% of employed women are contributing family workers, about 20 percentage points higher than men in the same regions.
  • Across all sectors and occupations, women on average earn less than men; in most countries, women in full-time jobs earn between 70 and 90% of what men earn.
  • More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation across countries in Africa and the Middle East
  • Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18.
  • Working-age women in developed and developing countries are more likely to be poorer than men when they have dependent children and no partners to contribute to the household income or when their own income is non-existent or too low to support the entire family.
  • 20% of women in the US earn at least $ 5,000 more than their spouse
  • In Russia there are 9 million more women than men.
  • 40% men were the first to wear high heels around the 1600s. Women began wearing them to look more masculine (now this is interesting) 
  • In the US more women graduate from high school, attend and graduate from college, and earn post-graduate degrees than men
  • Women given right to vote – New Zealand (1893), Australia (1902), Finland (1906), Norway (1913), Britain (1918 – women over 30 years), Egypt (1956), Libya (1963), Saudi Arabia (2015)
  • Four in ten businesses worldwide have no women in senior management.
  • Women earned less than men in 99% of all occupations
  • The number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by anything from 100 million to 150 million people if the gender gap in agriculture was closed by giving women farmers more resources. [FAO]
  • In developing countries in Africa, and Asia and the Pacific, women typically work 12 to 13 hours per week more than men. [IFAD]
  • Today, 26 women are serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies (5.2%). Just 20 years ago, there were no female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
  • As of 2013, about one-in-six (16.9%) board members for Fortune 500 companies were women, up from 9.6% in 1995

While there is much that women can be proud about the challenges before women are many still whatever continent women are born in. While people are given statistics of ill-treatment of women in Asia and Africa, how many know that approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year? In the US 321,500 women are victims of some sort of sexual violence. 

 While women are striving to be equal to man at another level there are activists that demand preferential treatment and allocation to women. This certainly is a snag to demanding equal status and equal rights. Allocations for women as demanded even in Parliament and elsewhere remove the status of equality and this is nothing that should be encouraged. Equality means that both sexes must be judged on the same criteria. 

Nevertheless, there is no harm in continuing chivalry – who would say no to a gentlemen opening the door for a lady even the most rigid women activist.