Source: The Sunday Leader
by Rose Wanigasooriya and Ashanthi Warunasuriya
It has been said that women are the four pillars that hold a house together; that they were created to be of support to the male race, but let us all pause and think for a moment if in reality women have been put in such a high position? Are women respected for what they do for society? Or are they all seen as maids that have exclusive rights to share the master’s bedroom? Yes, women have been reduced to a position that receiving abuse and torment is part of everyday life. But as of late, womens’ rights activism has brought about a change in the way women think and feel about themselves. The Sunday leader spoke to one such activist, Dr. Sepali Kottegoda.
Dr. Kottegoda is the Executive Director of Women And Media Collective (WMC) and she was also involved in the formation of the organisation. When asked her about how she got interested in Womens’ rights activism she replied that from a young age she noticed that girls and boys were treated differently. “ For instance, if I were to climb a tree every single passer-by would say what a tom boy or her parents haven’t brought her up properly. However, if a boy were to climb a tree it would be viewed as something normal and “okay”.
She went on to describe her choices in education. “ When I started university I chose English Literature as my main subject for my post graduate stream but somewhere along the way I felt as though this was not for me. I wanted to do something greater so I changed my subjects and did my first degree in English Literature, my second degree Masters, and Doctorate in Developmental Studies.”
After completing her Masters she felt drawn to womens’ rights activism so with the help of a group of feminist friends she saw the birth of WMC. With feminism in mind, these women took the initiative in developing women professionally and otherwise.
“Societies view is that a woman’s job is the kitchen, but those claims have no factual elements for women have proven that they can do what men can do and not only that women can probably do it better,” she said.
She added that personally she thinks men are at a disadvantage, because they personally believe that they cannot do household chores like cooking and cleaning because it is not their job.
It is a woman’s job. However, that notion in itself is wrong. True, men cannot give birth but they can definitely participate in household chores. She went on to say that from a professional view point they can see that men have the upper hand. She went on to explain that women have an ‘in-built’ tendency to keep quiet and not express their opinion. “ Women should be able to get passsed that and express their opinion” she said. When further asked if she has seen a change come about in women over the years she replied “Yes.” “Men have this sort of authority they think they have to speak out and express their opinion no matter what the outcome or the situation.
However, in the case of women, especially the women of Sri Lanka and Asia, women try to keep their opinions to themselves. Even in the media she feels that women have been given a very limited variety of fields to represent. “This needs to change, but I have noticed that in the younger generation girls are making an effort to stand up for themselves,” she said.
When asked about issues she feels will never change she replied, ‘None. She added that she feels that there has been a great improvement in women over the years. Women have been given the right to free education and free health care. We have had these privileges even before Sri Lanka was given independence. “I think the younger generation is working towards eradicating mainstream issues but it is no lie when we say that working class women are not recognised because they are not. I strongly believe that both and women should be viewed as equals when it comes to this issue,” she said.
When asked about what WMC is working on at the moment she replied that the main issue they are working on right now is the representation of female politicians in Sri Lanka. She added that even though women are participating in the political arena they need to be able to be representatives.
“I think in a recent parliament discussion it was said that the number of female candidates will increase in time for the next election. That is not what we are asking for. What we truly want is the system that they have in countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal has we call it ‘Temporary special measures’ it can be there for about twenty years, but that’s a necessity.” She went on to say that she believed women will be able to see themselves in the future. She said that when women have been given the opportunity to do something they take it in their stride.
She went onto say that it is the same for men. “ I believe that if men are able to keep a clear conscience they too will be able to see themselves differently. We cannot always trap males saying that they do not appreciate women. This is something that parties should come to understand.
They should appreciate each other and if this happens, I think that both in school and their work places both parties should be given equal rights. For instance, when a baby is born the mother gets the most amount of leave but the father does not get any leave. I believe that both parents should be given equal amount of days off. “My advice to all women is that as a woman you should be educated. You have to be able to stand up for yourself, and discuss the issues that you have.
You do not have to fall back and keep your words to yourself. You do not have to be well qualified to hold a conversation, you should just be confident. Confident in yourself, your words and even your questions. You should never fall back and think that your occupation is a bad one for every occupation in the world is something you can be proud of, even if it means being a housewife.