Patriarchy or Equality?!

By Shonel Perera

Gender parity is detrimental to whether or not economies and societies thrive in this world. Ensuring the full development and appropriate deployment of half of the world’s total talent nest has a large bearing on the development, competitiveness and how ready the economies and businesses worldwide would be in the future.

Gender inequality is the concept and situation that women and men are not equal. Gender inequality refers to unfair treatment or judgement of persons wholly or partly due to their gender. It stems from contrasts in our different gender roles. Gender inequality arises from distinctions, whether it is factual or socially created. Women lag behind men in many domains, including education, labor market opportunities and political representation due to unfair treatment.

Lets take a look at the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap is the average difference between men’s and women’s aggregate wages or salaries. The gap is because of so many variable factors which include a variety of choices in education, different choices in preferred job and industry, differences in the types of positions held by men and women, differences in the type of jobs men usually choose as opposed to women (especially employment with high pay and high risks), differences in amount of employment experiences, difference in length of the work week, and intervals in employment. These factors resolve 60% to 75% of the pay gap, depending on the establishment. Various explanations for the remaining 25% to 40% have been suggested, including women’s lower willingness and ability to negotiate salaries and sexual discrimination.

In the United States, the average female’s unadjusted annual salary is said to be almost  78% of that of the average male. However, multiple studies now show that pay rates between males and females varied by 5–6.6% or, females earning 94 cents to every dollar earned by their male counterparts, when wages were adjusted to different individual choices made by male and female workers in college major, occupation, working hours, and maternal/paternal leave. The remaining 6% of the gap has been speculated to originate from deficiency in salary negotiating skills and sexual discrimination.

The gendered income disparity can partly be due to occupational segregation, where groups of people are distributed across occupations according to characteristics they possess; in this case, gender. Census data suggests that while some occupations have become more gender integrated (mail carriers, bartenders, bus drivers, and real estate agents), occupations including teachers, nurses, secretaries, and librarians have become female-dominated while occupations including architects, electrical engineers, and airplane pilots remain predominately male in composition. Based on the census data, women occupy the service sector jobs at higher rates than men. Women’s overrepresentation in service sector jobs, as opposed to jobs that require managerial work acts as a reinforcement of women and men into traditional gender roles that causes gender disparity. Statistical discrimination is also noted as a cause for income disparities and gendered inequality in the workplace. Statistical discrimination indicates the likelihood of employers to deny women access to certain occupational tracks because women are more likely than men to leave their job or the labor force when they become married or pregnant. Women are therefore given a position which has a dead-end or a particular job that has a little bit of mobility. The gender earnings ratio suggests that there has been an increase in women’s earnings comparative to men. Men’s plateau in earnings began after the 1970s, allowing for the increase in women’s wages to close the ratio between incomes. Despite the smaller ratio between men and women’s wages, disparity still exists.

There are some exceptions where women earn more than men: According to a survey on gender pay inequality by the International Trade Union Confederation, female workers in the Gulf state of Bahrain earn 40 percent more than male workers.

Let’s look at Sri Lanka now. Gender inequality in Sri Lanka is centered primarily on the disparities that come about between men and women in Sri Lanka, Specifically, these inequalities affect many parts of women’s lives, starting with sex-selective abortions and male preferences, education and schooling, which goes on to affect their careers, property rights, access to health and currently political participation. Sri Lanka is ranked 87th on the Gender Inequality Index, and we could argue on how that is quite good when comparing to the fact that there are over 190 countries on the list. However, this isn’t the entire picture painted. Overall, this pattern of social history that disempowers females produces a cycle of undervaluing females, providing only secondary access to health care and schooling and thus less opportunities to take on high level jobs or training, which then worsens the issue of low political participation and lowered social rights.

While Sri Lanka ranks in the middle when it comes to global rankings, it ranks relatively high when compared to neighboring countries. The Gender Inequality Index is based upon the following aspects: reproductive health, empowerment, and participation in the workforce.[9] The table below describes the statistics that make up each of the above topics. Specifically, maternal mortality ratio and adolescent birth rate make up reproductive health, female seats in parliament and population with some secondary education make up empowerment, and labor force participation makes up the workforce section.[9]

In 1960, Sri Lanka elected Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world’s first female head of state and Sri Lanka’s first female prime minister, which seemed like a huge turn for Sri Lanka in terms of gender disparity, however, we haven’t come as far as we would like it but there has been development.

Throughout the history of Sri Lanka, there has been significant progress in respect to women’s rights. Specifically, following the International Women’s Year in 1975 and the United Nations Decade for Women from 1976 to 1985, a number of policies and laws were enacted to enhance the rights of women in the Sri Lankan government. In 1981, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women held, and additionally, the third chapter of the Constitution on Fundamental Rights was also adopted into the constitution. Further developments included the establishment of both the National Plan of Action for Women and Women’s Charter in 1996. The National Plan of Action for Women was the result of the UN meeting on the Commission on Status of Women, which was held during early 2005. Its purpose is to acquire gender equality through legislative changes and implementing policy programs, and all signatories of the plan committed to achieve the goal.

Throughout our island’s history, women have played a large role, especially when it comes to politics and previous armed conflicts. However, gender inequality is still a prevalent conflict in Sri Lanka and is in need of much focus on the area.

Some of the main causes of this gender inequality is mainly because of  the patriarchal nature of Sri Lankan culture and the historical nature of the unbalanced weight put on the value of males.] As time had gone by, a shift in roles and expectations had started, moving towards more independence and empowerment for women especially in recent times. Sri Lanka’s labour market remains heavily segregated and gives limited sustainable economic opportunity for a majority of women. Specifically, in markets where men are also deprived of labor rights, like  crop plantations where women are found to be treated even worse by their male counterparts.

The patriarchal society in Sri Lanka that has been so entrenched in its history is intensely also perpetuated by the use of marriage as a social institution. Even while women may work at the same time as doing the majority of the housework and childcare, they are still marginalized as it is seen as socially wrong to branch outside of the domestic sphere.


Something very popular amongst our traditional Sri Lankans, Gender inequality has also been continued by cultural practices, both legal and illegal, including the use of dowries and certain limiting marriage laws. Dowries are seen to have both a positive and negative effects on women. On one hand they look like they enhance their marriage ability and allow them to acquire a sort of social status, on the other hand it has a huge amount of stress and strain on the family of the bride to provide sufficient funds for the family of the groom to be. Normally, material gifts are provided to the daughter during the wedding and the family of the groom is usually “compensated” for what is sometimes deemed as the burden of the wife into the family. This there on can and usually does lead to gender-based violence and domestic abuse where the groom or the family of his says the dowry was not adequate and therefore leads to marital conflicts.

Property rights and Marriage

This is the turn around. Inheritance and property rights are relatively favorable for women in Sri Lanka, but because of the multitude of different cultural groups in Sri Lanka, along with following the general law, they will follow various additional cultural practices and requirements. The Sinhalese, Northern Tamil and Muslim practices vary from practicing Kandyan law, Thesavalamai Law and Muslim law. The Muslims and Tamils additionally use the Kudi, a matrilocal system (where the husband goes to reside with the wife’s community) that is expressed in marriage and religious festivals. Because of these cultural practices and differences, there can be many degrees to freedom when it comes to women’s rights, despite having general laws that would normally protect the rights of women. Natural disasters such as the tsunami in 2004 and historical ethnic conflicts have greatly affected the dowry system as many women lost some or all of their property and material possessions.

Preference of Sons

Additionally, the preference for male sons and resulting discrimination against girls has been a disadvantage to the status of women in the Sri Lankan culture. Specifically, prenatal sex selection has been a main point of conflict when it comes to the discrimination against women, and has been argued by many as to if pre-natal sex selection might later on reduced post-natal discrimination.  As compared to other countries in the surrounding area, such as India; preferences for sons have not been as followed in the culture as that of Sri Lanka and is thus considered an outlier in this region of high son preference. There on, many studies by groups of researchers tend to show, the slight cultural inclination to choose sons over daughters in Sri Lanka is expressed more within reproductive intentions instead of direct contraceptive action.

Economic inequalities – Labor participation and wages

Historically, women in Sri Lanka have reduced access to quality employment, and even if they do obtain a job, they are paid far less and are subject to more harassment and limitations as compared to males working the same jobs as they are. The Sri Lankan labor market is deeply segregated and separated and grants only a speck of  opportunity for women to have access to employment opportunities.. Due to the patriarchal policies implanted in the history of this region, women are over-represented in the low-paid, laborious industries of the country. Specifically, it is in these jobs that women face a disproportionate amount of labor discrimination and a lack of proper salaries in the name of international competitiveness and the production of additional jobs. However, again because of the increased political involvement by women recently, the conditions for these workers, especially in industries such as export-processing, have been improving in the past years

Access to credit

Additionally, institutional restrictions such as the open access to credit and property provide also large obstacles in the way of gender equality. According to the International Labour Organization, access to credit proves to be one of the largest, if not the largest, obstacle when it comes to women starting and running their own micro-enterprise. Since the mid 1970s establishments have started handing out alternative routes to access credit for women, this includes outlets such as social and intermediary NGO programs, poverty-oriented development banks, and savings and credit union and cooperations. Having access to credit has been shown to add tremendously to the capabilities of women, as seen in a study in Sri Lanka, being able to take out a loan allowed women to have more power when it came to bargaining with male members of their families.

Occupational inequalities

In many instances, females are deprived of equal access to employment opportunities, even when they are not well paid or not of high statuses. The unemployment rate for women in Sri Lanka is 6.5 percent as opposed to 2.7 percent with the male population.

Sri Lankan woman working

Even while it may seem that these labor-intensive, export focused jobs and the injustices they must endure through them are detrimental to the status and livelihood of the women, they will in fact be the best possible option for these women and a good alternative to simply completing unpaid domestic work. The collective action and inaction of different nations to take a stand on equal labor rights especially for women is a more complicated issue than commonly described. In fact, for many of the women in this industry these jobs prove to empower them and allow for additional independence in place of simply limiting their rights. However, other studies suggest that these low-paying heavy-labor jobs simply are taken on by women because of economic necessity and do not contribute to their societal independence within the patriarchal society. Some argue that the reason women will rank their low-paying job as better than other options is because the other options they had as a domestic worker did not allow them to dispute bad working conditions or wages without losing their jobs.

In part because of the globalization of export industries, even while an industry might be becoming more competitive, the wages and working conditions have shown to be getting worse in what has been identified as a race to the bottom as industries look for cheaper and more docile labor to maximize profits.

Education inequalities

Education and schooling of females in Sri Lanka is also another important and prevalent issue and a mandatory sub-topic of this issue as literacy rates and retention rates of females in school is definitely still a problem in Sri Lanka, even while they may appear relatively higher up on rankings as compared to other countries nearby. In fact according to the United Nations Gender Inequality Index, females and males now are likely to have some kind of secondary education with 80.2% of females reported having some kind of secondary education, while males reported 80.6%. However, this is most likely due to the large disparity of female to male statistics when it comes to working in the labor market as 76.4% of men participate in the workforce in Sri Lanka, while on the other hand, only 35% of women were shown to be participating in the workforce.

Education in Sri Lanka is a large focus for the country as a whole, the constitution of which upholds education as a basic right for all people. The educational system in Sri Lanka was developed after its integration into the British Empire in the 19th century and since then the Central Government and the Provincial Councils have shared responsibility of providing free education for the population. With a literacy rate of 91.2%, 92.6% for males, 90% for females, Sri Lanka ranks as one of the most literate countries in South Asia, with the highest literacy rate in South Asia although the method in which it is conducted may be questionable. According to statistics, there are approximately 9,830 public schools providing free educations for over 4 million students.

Health inequalities

Sex-selective abortion

Because Sri Lanka has been deemed to have a low preference for daughters, as compared to other countries in the region, sex-selective abortions have been stated as less of a concern.[37] Where in Sri Lanka only 51% of pregnancies will result in males, in India, 55% of pregnancies result in sons and in China, 56%. And some experts claim that the phenomena of sex-selective abortion that is so prevalent in other parts of South Asia to be almost nonexistent in Sri Lanka. However, on the other hand, others also argue that while there were definitely significant drops in numbers from previous decades, and relative to other areas, there are significant less on average, this practice does still occur.

Access to healthcare

Since Sri Lanka gained its independence in the year 1948, the government has focused on maintaining and supporting free healthcare for all.  This has allowed for most babies to be born in hospitals and thus relative low rates of maternal mortality.

Related to the cultural preference for sons, for the females in families that do prefer sons will usually only receive secondary health care And this, when combined with a lack of education, only filters through the lack of information generally known by women about their reproductive rights as a woman.

Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence is another way that women are subjected to the limitations men have created for them and how the patriarchal, cultural aspect of society can be sustained through marriage. Violence against women has been noted clearly as a violation of women’s rights by the United Nations. Additionally, it is defined as, ” Any act of verbal or physical force, coercion or life-threatening deprivation, directed at an individual woman or girl that causes physical or psychological harm, humiliation or arbitrary deprivation of liberty and that perpetuates female subordination. Most commonly, violence against women is by intimate and close male partners. While gender equality is ranked quite high in Sri Lanka, violence against women is still a prevalent issue in Sri Lanka. This is mainly due to the lack of studies conducted and data available in many regions on this matter. Historically, there has been greater instances of gender violence occurring throughout the aftermath of natural disasters of civil strife. One of the most internationally visible examples of gender-based violence involving Sri Lanka was the 2007 sexual abuse scandal in Haiti. A number of Sri Lankan peacekeeping contingent committed various offenses of sexual misconduct during the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti. 108 members, including 3 officers of the 950-member-strong Sri Lanka peacekeeping contingent, was sent back after being implicated in alleged misconduct and sexual abuse.[44] After inquiry into the case the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) has concluded, ‘acts of sexual exploitation and abuse (against children) were frequent and occurred usually at night, and at virtually every location where the contingent personnel were deployed.’ The OIOS has said charges should include statutory rape “because it involves children under 18 years of age”. Last year, the Sri Lankan government decided to make a one-time ex-gratia payment to a victim and child born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse, which was praised by the UN as if that one act would result in making all wrongs a right. Wow!

Reproductive rights

Being aware of reproductive rights is an integral part of women and girls being liberated from the binds of an unequal society. The ability to exercise their reproductive rights is an ability closely tied to the capability of utilizing economic and political rights. In most cases, it is the male heads of household who are in control of how many children the family should have and when the wife should have more children. Having effective contraceptives is inherently tied to having adequate health care services. Specifically, studies have shown that while health care is generally available for most of the Sri Lankan population, it is not well geared towards providing for the reproductive rights of teenagers. This subsequently has been shown to impact the general confidence teens in Sri Lanka have about discussing sexual and reproductive rights and issues. Generally, there is a strong argument on the matter of rights of abortion for women in Sri Lanka, as currently according to the Penal Code of Sri Lanka in 1995, there are laws banning abortion, which we are all aware about. Additionally though, reproductive rights is one issue that has been explored by widowed women and sex workers following civil and ethnic strife in Sri Lankan history.  Specifically, because they become the heads of household, it is up to them to determine how they will make sexual and reproductive choices and it is their essential right!

Political participation

While historically Sri Lanka has been very progressive when it comes to women’s participation, there are still many gains they can make before they reach gender equality. Sri Lanka prides itself in having an elected the first female prime minister in the world, Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1960 and also having a female head of state with Chandrika Bandaranaike taking over in 1994 and subsequently serving for 11 years. In Parliament currently there are only just 5.7% of female representation, a number that should eventually be increased further and further. Even while a greater number of women are holding positions of power today, women in general are still very associated with the domestic sphere.

 A long way to go in terms of disparity between the male and female kind. Equality should thrive in the island for full development as a country.

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