In general, when considering third world countries, most would say that they have some very similar characteristics. Third world countries are often thought of as places that are impoverished, have significantly high birthrates, are economically dependent on advanced countries, and have not evolved socially in regards to equal rights issues. Although many of these characteristics do apply to Sri Lanka, the latter has definitely evoked some discussion on the topic of gender issues in underdeveloped countries. Issues such as decision making in the household, educated women and their role in society, and attitudes towards women in employment will be discussed.
As stated earlier, most would agree that from a distant perspective Sri Lanka would seem to be socially underdeveloped in regards to equal rights. One way that this misconception is debunked is by looking at the roles of male and female in the household. There are many variables to take into consideration when looking at roles of family members and who has the balance of power; for instance, if the wife is working or not could be considered at both ends of the scale.
If she is working than her husband may feel that because she is making a financial contribution she has more of a right to make important economic decisions that may effect the family. On the other hand he may feel as though her being away from the children is a detriment to their upbringing, and in turn is placing a burden upon the family leaving the wife with few domestic decisions. Another variable that has to be considered is if the residence is with the husband’s family or if it is with the wife’s family. In this case one would assume that whichever house was being resided in would have the balance of the say towards family decisions. The last variable that will be considered is that of marital duration. Does a longer marriage necessarily mean that the financial and domestic decisions of the household will become split evenly between the husband and wife? The answers to these questions were the focus of a study conducted by Anju Malhotra and Mark Mather in 1992. The study showed that when the wives were working, regardless of whether or not they shared their wages or kept them, they had an increase say on financial matters. However, the domestic decisions were not nearly as great, especially if the wages earned by the wife were kept for herself (Malhotra et al. 1997: 620). When looking at the balance of power in regards to household arrangement, the study found that the wife had almost no say on financial matters when living at the husband’s parents house but did have some say on domestic issues. The opposite it true for when the family resided at the wife’s parents house. The wife typically had a significant say on financial and domestic matters with the latter outweighing the two (Malhotra et al. 1997: 620). As far as marital duration is concerned, it seems as though as the family grows together there is somewhat of a role reversal. The husband becomes more concerned with domestic matters and the wife takes some responsibility for the financial decisions (Malhotra et al. 1997:620). These findings led my research group to believe that the people of Sri Lanka are generally very similar to those of western societies in regards to household decisions.
Education is not something we think about when speaking about developing countries, many assume that it is just not an option for underprivileged people. Although that is the unfortunate truth that effects many third world countries, it does seem that Sri Lanka is on its way to recovering itself. For many years the gender gap between male and female scholars needed to be decreased. In the early 1980’s the percentage of the total amount of people with university degrees that were women was barely above 40%. A more alarming fact might be that the percentage with post-graduate degrees was barely above 25% (Ahooja-Patel K. 1979: 217). The majority of women pursuing a degree usually did so in the fine arts category or the education and teacher training fields, many staying away from disciplines such as business or engineering. Although these numbers may seem staggering Sri Lanka has shown some promise in terms of social welfare. Programs are now in place to encourage female education and to decrease the inequalities women face today. In the early 1990’s the gender gap between literate males and females was only a 5% difference (Malhotra et al. 1997: 602). Many believe that the more westernized Sri Lanka becomes the more independent the thoughts and wills of women will expand, creating a country of little inequality.
Women in the work force today in western society face many barriers; this is after years of trying to refine the social economic status of women. In Sri Lanka, because of its poor economy, employers may have actual complaints that may affect the profitability of their business. In general in Sri Lanka, men are usually preferred over women as employees. Some employers complain that because of the possibility of the need for time off to bear children that it may disrupt the flow of the work force. Many men could feel as though women were being treated with undeserved favoritism, which could cause conflict. Others feel that the financial burden of having to install proper facilities to accommodate women could create too much of a loss that they would not be able to overcome it. The topic of most discussions seems to revolve around the Maternity Amendment Act of 1978, which states that women workers are entitled to six weeks maternity leave with pay. It also states that they are allowed two nursing breaks of one hour each or two breaks of one half hour each when a day care center is available (Ahooja-Patel K. 1979: 219). Women cannot, under the law, be fired for any reason that stems from them being pregnant. An unfortunate fact that is slowly being eradicated is that many women are just not qualified for the jobs that are available in Sri Lanka. Because of the gender gap in education and training that has plagued Sri Lanka for years this trend will surely continue until the inequality has subsided.
In many ways Sri Lanka has come very far in terms of gender equality when discussing kinship and education. However, women’s economic situation has shown to be less favourable. The people of Sri Lanka acknowledge that women have a place in the work force but financially cannot accommodate them. Until the economic growth of Sri Lanka can develop further, people will continue to have the ‘survival of the fittest’ kind of attitude, which will continue to alienate and repress the women or Sri Lanka.
1. Ahooja-Patel, Krishna. 1995. Employment of Women in Sri Lanka: the Situation in Colombo. p. 213-233.
2. Baker, Victoria, J. 1998. A Sinhalese Village in Sri Lanka: Coping with Uncertainty.
3. Cisneros, Susana, P. 1995. Supporting Women in the Informal Sector: A Peruvian Experience. p. 159-186.
4. Malhotra, Anju., M. Mather. 1997. Do Schooling and Work Empower Women in Developing Countries? Gender and Domestic Decisions in Sri Lanka. p. 599-627.
5. Perera, Lakshmi. 1995. Women in Micro- and Small-Scale Enterprise Development in Sri Lanka. p. 101-116.
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