I had written this piece about Closing the Gender Gap in the “End Poverty in South Asia” blog after seeing that the Annual Global Gender Gap Index gave a higher rank to Sri Lanka that Australia. In that post I raised the question whether we Sri Lankan women were better than the Sheila’s ( Aussie slang for the ladies) in Oz and caused an interesting debate.
Pala (from Oz I presume), gave an emphatic NO and said “There is no comparison between the women in the workforce in Sri Lanka and Oz. The majority of women in the work force in SL are in poverty based jobs -plucking tea, working in garment factories and living away from home or literally in slavery in the Middle East. My heart bleeds for these sisters. Global Gender Gap Index fails to see these glaring inequalities which even Blind Freddie can see.” Fair enough….
Sujata pointed out in the direction of the Lanka Women and the Political Representation for Women site and said that “empowerment of two Bandaranyakes does not in any way reflect the political empowerment of women in Sri Lanka.”
While it is apparent now that we shouldn’t go into an euphoric state about the status of us women in Lanka, for me the issues are still of discrimination, the stereotyping, the need not to rock the boat and be that good little girl. Good behavioue was rewarded with love, and if deemed bad you sat in the corner alone ostracized.
Just think, gender didn’t exist for three billion years when we were all single cell creatures. Then came the XX and the XY sex choromosmes, and a host of complication not entirely algebraic .
Being a woman I muse about our lot. Etched in my mind is my favourite play of Henry Jayasena — Kuveni. the legendary iridescent foremother of Sri Lanka. Her story takes us back some 25 or so centuries. Kuveni was Sri Lanka’s first queen of the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka and was indeed a woman in control of her tribe. the first power woman? However, history branded her as a “she devil” who bewitched the Indian Prince Vijaya, who landed in Sri Lanka,. Vijaya apparently saw this beauty weaving and was mesmerized by her. (Incidentally, Vijaya, the Son of King Sinhabahu was banished from India as a problematic prodigal son).
Kuveni was in turn supposed to have been “tamed” by the prodigal Vijaya, and they had ruled the country as partners. But in this story as old as time, Kuveni was thrown out of the palace with her two children when Vijaya replaced her with a princess from India. Legend says Kuveni, banished from the palace went back to her own people, who killed her as a traitor. She had the last word or words — a legendary lasting curse on the island. So according to legend she was powerful enough to leave a casting spell that has lasted and been effective for 25 centuries or more but she was not powerful enough to save herself.
Kuveni’s story resonated with the sensitive playwriter Jayasena was who saw her beauty, the wronged mother, the wife , and cleverly juxtaposed her through the ages as the wronged woman betrayed by her husband. As she was so are we . Embedded in all of us are hopes, desires, curses, condemnations, peace, love, beauty, power and freedom.
The question for me is do we stay swathed in curses, forever saddled by karmic genes, stuck in roles imposed on us? Or can we women break free from the age old moulds we have been cast into , be strong enough to shape our lives and be the persons we’ve always wanted to be?
No truth the eye can see
In a world that darkness fills
Unreal was the past –
Can the future bring truths at last?
In the darkness that prevails
The eye can only see
Dreams and drifting delusions
Caught in the net of illusion
Our eyes are tricked by its veils
Which mould only magical visions.
(Translation by Lakshmi de Silva from the play Kuveni by Henry Jayasena)