Gender and Identity

When will Kuveni regain her original glory? 

Lakshman Gunasekara

International Women’s Day

The first mythical Lankans who settled on our island home were welcomed by a female spirit, Kuveni, who, after an initial confrontation with the invading prince Vijaya, bonded with him and, provided succour to his shipload of tired followers. That glorious founding myth depicts the arriving delinquent male wanderers as benefitting from local female power and social dexterity. Sadly, the chronicles go on to narrate a long, ignoble, history of a dominant Lankan masculinity: of betrayals, sexual exploitation and gender subjugation.  

Today, on International Women’s Day, we may wonder where that legendary female potency has gone or, more accurately, how it has been suppressed and relegated to a purely mythical realm. After all, despite making up 51 per cent of our population, our women hold less than even 5 per cent of places in all our legislative bodies combined, from pradeshiya sabha to parliament.   

That Sri Lankan female potency persists is obvious in the way in which women have quickly taken advantage of various facilities and opportunities newly opened up as our society has modernized. Women now make up a majority of the under graduate cohort in our universities. They quietly work in jobs previously presumed suitable for ‘stronger’ men – as airport flight controllers and seaport container gantry operators, aside from taking up substantial proportions in many of the professional cadres such as medicine, business, finance, among others. They have played lethal roles in our recent internal war as fighters on both sides.

But, what about their un-recognised, unpaid labour throughout human history as child carers and housekeepers? What about their poorly rewarded, grim, toil as tea-pluckers, garment workers and house-maids –  all three cohorts being our biggest foreigh exchange earners? 

This list serves to drive home the stark, harsh, fact that while our women play roles, they are never truly ‘in-charge’, never key decision-makers. Any leadership they hold is so rare as to be ‘historic’ or ‘big news’ or controversial. When will Kuveni regain equal partnership with Vijaya? The Press Institute acknowledges, on this day, that the News industry too must renew its efforts to adequately accommodate women in positions of decision-making and control. The Sri Lankan professional journalist community also strives to eradicate misogynist content in News production while countering similar misogyny in other forms of mass communication such as social media.  

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

Related Posts