Sri Lankan are family oriented. Nuclear and extended families are the most powerful social units in Sinhala Buddhist society — and in Hindu Tamil, Christian and Muslim societies too. Children frequently live with their parents into their late 20s and early 30s, and parents can often rely upon children to care for them in their old age. Family bonds are expressed New Year's observances, eating customs, funerals, and weddings. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, Thomson Gale, 2006]

While women may have a great deal of power within a family, the ultimate authority is the oldest male member of a household, whether that is the father, husband, brother, or son. The extended family, especially elders, have almost as much say in family matters as the immediate family. Elder uncles and grandparents sometimes have more say in arranged marriages than parents do. Respect for elders is taught form an early age. Children have traditionally been expected to take care of their children in old age.

Bryan Pfaffenberger wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “” Among the Kandyans, who are governed by Kandyan law, The bride normally comes to live with her husband, and this pattern (called deega ) establishes a relationship of mutual aid and equality between the husband and his wife's kin. In the less common binna residence, in contrast, the groom — who is usually landless — goes to live with his wife's parents (matrilocal residence) and must work for his father-in-law. [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger”Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

A dowry is rarely paid unless a woman marries a man of higher status within the caste (hypergamy). The marriage may not involve a ceremony if it occurs between equals and within a pavula (kin or caste group). Among the Kandyans property is held individually and is not fragmented by the dissolution of a marriage, which is easy and common. Among the Low Country Sinhalese, who are governed by Roman-Dutch law, matrilocal residence is very rare and hypergamy, coupled with the dowry, is more common. After marriage the couple's property is merged, and in consequence the allied families resist the marriage's dissolution. |~|

Family Units and Households in Sri Lanka

The smallest family unit in Sri Lanka is the nuclear family. Nuclear families are common among Sinhalese. Among the Kandyan Sinhalese, several nuclear families may share the same house but each has its own cooking and living areas. Westernized families have more European-style households. [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger”Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Among all ethnic and caste groups, the most important social unit is the nuclear family — husband, wife, and unmarried children. Even when economic need causes several families (Sinhala, ge; Tamil, kudumbam) or generations to live together, each wife will maintain her own cooking place and prepare food for her own husband as a sign of the individuality of the nuclear family. Among all sections of the population, however, relatives of both the wife and the husband form an important social network that supports the nuclear family and encompasses the majority of its important social relations. The kindred (pavula, in Sinhala) of an individual often constitute the people with whom it is possible to eat or marry. Because of these customs, local Sinhalese society is highly fragmented, not only at the level of ethnic group or caste, but also at the level of the kindred. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Typically, a husband and wife live in their own household with their unmarried children, even if that household is actually a small section of an extended family home. Individual households are distinguished by cooking and eating practices. Within a larger house, a wife will cook for her husband and children independently from others even if other people in the same extended household share the same kitchen.

Kin Groups in Sri Lanka

The largest kin group among the Sinhalese has traditionally been the microcaste (“pavula”), a union of several families, often through marriage, that live together in a hamlet and work the same paddy fields and cooperate in trade and participate together in common feasts and honor each member’s life-cycle rites. “Descent is fully bilateral in practice, but noncorporate agnatic descent lines linking families with aristocrats of the Buddhist Kingdoms may be maintained for status purposes.” [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger”Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

According to “Countries and Their Cultures”: “In Sri Lanka, the notion of ancestral place and the kin group associated with it is very important, even as people move to other areas because of employment opportunities or displacement. This hereditary home is the site of life-cycle rituals as well as day-to-day interaction with extended kin. It is most common for this kin group to belong to the father's family, as there is a preference for women to move to the homes of their husband, raising their children among his relatives. It also happens, however, that husbands join wives' families instead, particularly among the matrilineal people of the island's east. [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

The kinship systems of Sri Lanka share with most of South Asia and the Middle East the institution of preferred crosscousin marriage. This means that the most acceptable person for a young man to marry is the daughter of his father's sister. The most suitable partner for a young woman is the son of her mother's brother. Parallel cousins — the son of the father's brother or the daughter of the mother's sister — tend to be improper marriage partners. There is a close and special relationship between children and their aunts or uncles, who may become their fathers- or mothers-in-law. Special kinship terminology exists in both Tamil and Sinhalese for relatives in preferred or prohibited marriage categories. In many villages, people spend their entire childhood with a clear knowledge of their future marriage plans and in close proximity to their future spouses. The ties between cross-cousins are so close in theory that persons marrying partners other than their crosscousins may include a special ritual in their marriage ceremonies during which they receive permission from their cousins to marry an outsider. The system of cross-cousin marriage is ideally suited to maintaining the closed ritual purity of an extended kinship group and retaining control over property within a small circle of relatives. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

Inheritance in Sri Lanka

In sharp contrast to India custom, the Sinhalese equally divide inheritance among all children, with an a share given to women. Some wealthy families control their daughters property and used their share as a dowry rather inheritance.

Bryan Pfaffenberger wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The majority of Sri Lankan families practice bilateral inheritance, giving a portion of the family possessions to all children in the family. In practice, fixed property such as land and the family home go to sons and mobile property such as cash and jewelry go to daughters, usually in the form of her dowry. [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger”Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

In the Kandyan region, descent and inheritance are traced through both spouses: both husband and wife possess their own property and may bequeath at in equal shares to their descendants. In the low country, where Dutch Roman Law is in effect, marriages create joint property between husband and wife, which on their death is divided among their heirs. On the east coast, Tamil Muslim families trace descent and inheritance through the mother, and men will typically reside with their inlaws . There is a preference for living near the husband's family in most areas of the country, although a family with no sons may prefer that a son-in-law live nearby and manage their lands. Among all the variations of inheritance and descent, the husband is typically the manager of the nuclear family's property and represents his family in most public duties and functions. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

Women in Sri Lanka

The entry of women into education and professions has changed the traditional role of women. Women in Sri Lanka today enjoy relatively high status and many have jobs. They hold a number of different kinds of jobs and have more freedom than women elsewhere in South Asia. Sri Lanka provides equal education for girls and boys.

According to “Countries and Their Cultures”: “Leadership roles in Sri Lanka are largely held by men, with some important exceptions. Sri Lanka elected the world's first female prime minister in 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, whose daughter” was the president in 2000. “While this is not indicative of the political power of women in general, it is true that Sri Lankan women have held voting rights since they were instituted in 1931 and have long held certain property rights. The large majority of religious leaders and officiants are also male, while women tend to be overrepresented among their followers. [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Percentage of the population that is female: 52 percent (compared to 50.5 percent in the United States, 53 percent in Estonia and 37.1 percent in Bahrain) [Source: World Bank data.worldbank.org ]

Gender Statistics:
Labor Force Participation by persons aged 15 to 24 by sex: 42.9 percent for men and 23.3 percent for women (2016)
Labor Force Participation by persons over 15 by sex: 75.1 percent for men and 35.9 percent for women (2016)
Enrollment in secondary school: 96.1 percent for males men and 99.4 percent for females. (2016)
Under Five mortality rates (deaths per 100,000 births): 9.6 for males and 9.6 for females (2017)
Proportion of seats held by women in parliament: 5.3 percent.
Adolescent birth rate: 21 per 1,000 birth, girls aged 14-19 (2013)
[Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Statistics Division, genderstats.un.org ]

Maternal and Newborn Health
Proportion of women aged 15-49 who received postnatal care within 2 days after giving birth: 99 percent
Antenatal care coverage for at least four visits: 93 percent
Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel: 100 percent
Caesarean section: 32 percent
Proportion of women 20-24 years old who gave birth before age 18: 3 percent
Maternal mortality ratio (number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) (Female) (Per 100000 live births): 36
[Source: UNICEF DATA data.unicef.org]

Status of Women in Sri Lanka

According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”: “The law treats males and females equally except that women are usually granted custody of the children in the case of divorce. Sri Lanka has made great strides in erasing the educational gap between men and women. Among the elite, the education of women has been seen as a means to obtain a groom from a good family, and after marriage, these highly educated women often do not pursue a career. [Source: Robert T. Francoeur, Victor C. de Munck, Ph.D., Patricia Weerakoon, Ph.D., “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, 2002]

“This is changing, however, and although the younger and elder generations retain the same moral worldview, the major difference between mothers and daughters, as noted by Malhotra and Tsui, is that mothers see a career for a female as something that is determined by the economic needs of the family, whereas daughters view a career as a personal choice. In their sample, 83 percent of all daughters thought that a woman should continue to work after marriage and 52 percent thought that they should continue even after having children (1999, 237). The increase in females going on to the university has been dramatic, rising from 42 percent of the student population in 1989 to 52 percent in 1999. It should be noted, however, that only an estimated 1 percent of Sri Lankans have access to the university and that most women work in low-status, low-paying jobs as housemaids and day laborers, and in the plantation and agricultural sectors.

“A growing number of women find employment in the garment factories in the Free Trade Zones. Many obtain employment as servants and maids in the Middle East, sending money back to their natal homes. These jobs are generally reserved for young unmarried women, whose sexual-moral reputations are tarnished because they are not under the surveillance and control of male relatives. Thus, when they return after one to five years of work, they are often unable to find a suitable marriage prospect (de Soysa 2001). It has been suggested that mechanization of agricultural work has forced unmarried women in particular to look for new forms of work. The female rate of unemployment is 22 percent, twice that of males.

Women’s Role in the Family in Sri Lanka

Women in Sri Lanka have traditionally been in charge of taking care of children and making food. Quiet passivity and self sacrifice for the family has traditionally been a prized virtue for women. Traditionally, among Sinhalese, a family’s status was lowered if woman had to work to make money for her family. Among the Sinhalese women have traditionally been regarded as ritually impure when menstruating, giving birth or experiencing puberty. Their association with these things has meant they were sometimes labeled as “polluted,”

Women in Sri Lanka are generally much freer before they get married than afterwards. A woman usually moves in with her husband's family after marriage, although couples with the resources to do so prefer to set up their own household. A woman assumes the responsibility of running the household but also may be encouraged to work and contribute to family income. Her primary obligation though is bearing and raising children. For the most part, women are treated with a considerable respect in Sinhalese and Sri Lankan society. [Source: D. O. Lodric, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “The primary role of women in Sinhalese society is reproductive and to run the household. Despite high levels of education, Sinhalese women live in a male-dominated society and males make all the important socio-economic decisions. The plight of women is even worse in rural areas where poverty and obtaining enough food are major problems. [Source: D. O. Lodric, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Women’s Status and Rights in Sri Lanka

Although women have equal rights under law, their rights in family matters, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, are often dictated by their ethnic or religious group. Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: “It is a widely held position among social scientists as well as lay people that the status of women is relatively high in Sri Lanka, especially in comparison to other South Asian nations. There has never been the practice of child marriage or the burning of widows in Sri Lanka. Even though most groups on the island prefer for new brides to move into their husbands' homes, women traditionally retain strong ties with their own natal families. Additionally, although it is expected among most groups for the bride's family to give the groom a dowry, in practice this property commonly remains in the possession of the wife until she passes it on, typically to her daughters. [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“Despite these traditional practices and the full rights of citizenship that women in Sri Lanka enjoy today, women consistently defer to men across all domains of life, including the workplace and the home. Women also bear the greater weight of social expectations and sanctions for noncompliance. In addition, sexual harassment and assault, while seldom reported to the authorities, are common experiences.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”:“Sinhalese are Buddhists by religion, and theoretically women in Buddhism have equal status with men. But Sinhalese women live in a patriarchal society that tends to subordinate women to men.There is, moreover, a caste system among the Sinhalese. Marriages among the Sinhalese are arranged and caste plays a significant role in the selection of potential partners. There is a strong preference for male children, who may receive better care, and the infant mortality rate for girls is higher than for males (21.2 deaths per 1,000 live births for females and 17.63 deaths per 1,000 live births for males 2007 est.]). There is a slight dominance of males in the sex ratio for the Sinhalese. [Source: D. O. Lodric, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

During the civil war in Sri Lanka there were reports of women having their breasts cut off. Human rights group reported instances of rape and murder of women committed by both Sinhalese and Tamils. The conflict also changed the role of women in traditional society, with women becoming heads of households with the loss of their husbands. The conflict also produced a rise in alcoholism among men. *\

Gender Roles in Sri Lanka

Traditional Sinhalese society is male-dominated and patriarchal. Men are regarded as the breadwinners are expected to provide food, clothing, housing and other necessities for their families. Men and women often lived separate lived defined by their mutual obligations. All ethnic groups in Sri Lanka preserve clear distinctions in the roles of the sexes. Women are responsible for cooking, raising children, and taking care of housework. In families relying on agriculture, women are in charge of weeding and help with the harvest, and among poor families women also perform full-time work for the more well-to-do. The man's job is to protect women and children and provide them with material support, and in this role men dominate all aspects of business and public life. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

At the center of the system are children, who mix freely until puberty and receive a great deal of affection from both sexes. As they enter their teens, children begin to adopt the adult roles that will keep them in separate worlds: girls help with household chores and boys work outside the home. Among the middle- and upper-income groups, however, education of children may last into their early twenties, and women may mix with males or even take on jobs that were in the past reserved for men. There has been a tendency to view the educational qualifications of women as a means for obtaining favorable marriage alliances, and many middle-class women withdraw from the workplace after marriage. *

Bryan Pfaffenberger wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Traditional Sinhalese society is maledominated and patriarchal, Men are responsible for the provision of food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities, and women prepare food and care for children. Traditionally, a family lost status if it permitted its women to engage in extradomestic economic roles such as menial agricultural labor and cash crop marketing. Men and women led separate lives aside from the convergence brought about by their mutual obligations. The entry of women into higher education and the professions is beginning to alter this pattern. [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger”Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Patriarchy, Religion and Gender Roles in Sri Lanka

According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”: “All researchers agree that Sri Lanka is a patriarchal country, however, the degree of patriarchy is in dispute. Many suggest that Sri Lanka is not nearly as patriarchal as other countries in South Asia; Anju Malhotra and Amy Ong Tsui write that, “in contrast to much of the rest of South Asia, Sri Lanka has a cultural heritage of relative gender equality in terms of later marriages, bilateral descent, daughter’s value in the parental home, continued kin support following marriage and widespread access to education for women” (1999, 221). [Source: Robert T. Francoeur, Victor C. de Munck, Ph.D., Patricia Weerakoon, Ph.D., “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, 2002]

“Nevertheless, nearly all researchers on gender roles in Sri Lanka have noted that patriarchal values pervade gender roles and relations in Sri Lanka. In a survey of 101 Sri Lankan Muslims and Sinhalese, all except one respondent said that it was “better to be born a man than a woman” (de Munck, n.d.). The main reason cited for this was that women are largely confined to the domestic compound while men control public spaces and places. Women often say that they are confined to the home like “frogs in a well.” This phrase is common throughout South Asia as is evident by Patricia Jeffrey’s (1979) book on gender in India, Frogs in a Well.

“The ideal woman for Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims is one who is obedient, modest, and hard working. She is seen predominantly in her role as mother rather than wife. In Sri Lanka, females, much more so than males, are evaluated according to a good-bad moral dichotomy. Any insinuation that a female has conducted herself immorally is enough to potentially ostracize her from the community and even her family (de Munck 1992; Hewammane and Brow 1999; Lynch 1999). Immoral behavior consists of suspicions of sexual immorality, flirting, cursing, disobedient behavior, drinking or smoking, and walking or being in places or areas where women should not be. Sri Lankans broadly conceive of national morality in terms of a rural-urban dichotomy, with traditional values (considered “good”) upheld in the villages, and modern values, such as lack of sexual modesty by women (considered “bad”), associated with urban life.

“The ideal man is seen in his roles as the breadwinner for his family and as involved in civic activities. Traditionally, a man was expected to make his living through farming and industry. After independence, work in the Sri Lankan civil service was (and remains) highly valued. In contemporary urban Sri Lanka, the ideal man should be educated and make his livelihood in a well-paid white-collar profession. An adult male should also strive to build a reputation as a civic leader through charitable public-service work. A man’s reputation is gained through public works and, most importantly, through the collective reputation of his core female relatives (i.e., mother, wife, sister, and daughter). In this context, part of a man’s moral duty (dhamma) is to serve as the moral guardian of his female relatives and to punish them for real or alleged violations. Economically, the ideal man should provide for his nuclear family and, if need be, his parents, brothers, and sisters. The ideal man provisions his family and also controls their behavior, particularly that of the family women.”

Women in Government in Sri Lanka

Year women obtained the right to vote: 1931.(compared to 1893 in New Zealand and 2011 in Saudi Arabia) [Source: infoplease.com ; Wikipedia

Proportion of seats held by women in national legislatures: 5 (2020, compared to 53 percent in Bolivia, 20 percent in the United States and 3 percent in Kuwait). The figure for Sri Lanka is very low especially considering it has had female presidents and prime ministers. [Source: World Bank worldbank.org ]

It is ironic that women have ruled Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, countries where the status of women is among the lowest in the world. The women that have taken power in these countries are the widows or daughters of prominent politicians. Even though women have occupied the highest office, there are still few women in middle and lower level government positions.

It is ironic that women in South Asia are treated as second class citizens in the homes but worshiped as goddesses and elected as political leaders. Some scholars attribute this phenomena to a belief in the subcontinent in skakti (feminine power). Stanley Wolpert, a professor of Indian history, told TIME, women leaders may be an "accident of gender" but "over and above everything lese, there's a string worship of the Mother Goddess in South Asia. Subliminally, it's still there in Pakistan, to." Delhi psychiatrist Ashis Nandy told TIME, "There is a strong sense of the matriarchy at play in politics. Some politicians also see women as a bet for containing factions — a good neutral choice."

Sri Lanka has tradition of widows and daughters stepping into political positions held by their assassinated husbands or fathers. One diplomat told the Washington Post in the 1990s when women led Sri Lanka: "In the next round of assassinations, when the mothers are killed, probably the sons" will inherit the political legacies. [Source: Washington Post]

According to “Countries and Their Cultures”: “Leadership roles in Sri Lanka are largely held by men, with some important exceptions. Sri Lanka elected the world's first female prime minister in 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, whose daughter” was the president in 2000. “While this is not indicative of the political power of women in general, it is true that Sri Lankan women have held voting rights since they were instituted in 1931 and have long held certain property rights. The large majority of religious leaders and officiants are also male, while women tend to be overrepresented among their followers. [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Women and Education in Sri Lanka

The literacy (age 15 and over can read and write) for females is 91 percent in Sri Lanka compared to 93 percent for males. The School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education) for females is 15 years compared to 14 years for males. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Women and girls have long had much greater access to education than other South Asian countries such India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Unusual for the region is the number of girls who remain in school to complete their educations. But still work has to be done. According to the World Bank, 30,287 females and 14,974 males were out of school. Still the gender parity index from gross enrollment ratio in primary school is 1. In 2000, the female enrollment rate in primary education was 108 percent; in secondary education, 78 percent. Now the rate is around 100 percent in secondary education too.

Female university students: 26 percent (2019, percent of gross, which means the value can be over 100 percent): (compared to 68 percent in Germany, 102 percent in the United States and 7 percent in Uzbekistan) [Source: World Bank worldbank.org]

Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: “Although most schools are segregated by gender, education has always been important for both boys and girls in Sri Lanka. The literacy rates for men and women are similarly high; the census in 1981 found that 87 percent of females over the age of ten years were literate, compared to 91 percent of males. [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

In pre-colonial times the pursuit of higher education primarily was reserved for men who monks. Monks also took care of teaching youth and rules about monks coming into contact with females discouraged the teaching of girls. Although colonization brought European-style education to Sri Lanka, especially to prepare students for positions in the colonial administrations, few women went to school and most people remained uneducated.

Christian women were the first to really benefit from education. In 1901, approximately 30 percent of Christian females were literate, compared to 5 percent among Buddhist women, 3 percent among Muslim women, and 2.5 percent among Hindu women. Cultural factors account for the low literacy rates among Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu women. After that things improved for Christian women and women in general. By 1921, literacy rates rose to 50 percent for Christian women while literacy rates among Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu women rose to 17 percent, 6 percent, and 10 percent, respectively. As education was greatly reformed and improved in the 1930s and after Sri Lanka independence in the 1940, 50s, 60s and 70s, education opportunities improved for women as they did for all Sri Lankans. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

According to World Education News and Reviews: In 2015, there was a 40:60 male-female ratio amongst undergraduate students: at Sri Lanka universities. “That same year, 68 percent of university graduates were female. On the graduate level, 56 percent of students enrolled were women, and 49 percent of that year’s graduates were women. While women are more educated than men at the undergraduate level, and almost equally educated at the postgraduate level, this fails to translate into more jobs for women, especially for positions of power. In 2016, 8.5 percent of women were unemployed, compared to 3.4 percent for men. In 2016, only 6 percent of the seats in the national parliament were held by women. [Source: World Education News and Reviews]

Sex Ratio in Sri Lanka

Sex ratio: at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.86 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.73 male(s)/female
total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2020 estimate)
[Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

There has traditionally been a strong preference for boys. Sex ratio at birth has recently emerged as an indicator of certain kinds of sex discrimination in some countries. For instance, high sex ratios at birth in some Asian countries are now attributed to sex-selective abortion and infanticide due to a strong preference for sons.

Age structure: 0-14 years: 23.11 percent (male 2,696,379/female 2,592,450)
15-24 years: 14.58 percent (male 1,700,442/female 1,636,401)
25-54 years: 41.2 percent (male 4,641,842/female 4,789,101)
55-64 years: 10.48 percent (male 1,110,481/female 1,288,056)
65 years and over: 10.63 percent (male 1,023,315/female 1,410,734) (2020 estimate) [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020 =]

Birth Control in Sri Lanka

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: “Many Buddhists systematically practice family planning, a feature that has led some conservative elements within the community to worry about future population trends in relation to birth rates among Muslims and Catholics.” [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Contraceptive prevalence rate: 61.7 percent (2016). [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

Types of birth control used (2015); female sterilization: 17.3 percent; male sterilization: 0.7 percent; pill: 8.6 percent; injectible: 15.7 percent; Implant: 0.3 percent; IUD: 6.9 percent; male condom: 6.1 percent;early withdrawal: 5.7 percent; rhythm method: 10 percent; traditional: 0.2 percent; total: 71.6 percent [Source: Trends in Contraceptive Use Worldwide 2015 — the United Nations un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications ]

Types of birth control used (1994): female sterilization: 24.2 percent; male sterilization: 3.8 percent; pill: 5.7 percent; injectible: 4.7 percent; implant: 0.1 percent IUD: 3.1 percent; male condom: 3.4 percent; early withdrawal: 5 percent; rhythm method: 15.3 percent; traditional: 2.2 percent total: 67.6 percent. [Source: Trends in Contraceptive Use Worldwide 2015 — the United Nations un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications ]

Injection or injectible contraceptives such as Depo-Provera, Sayana Press or Noristerat release the hormone progestogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. Depo-Provera lasts for 13 weeks. [Source: Birth Control Around the World onlinedoctor.superdrug.com ]

Women Laws in Sri Lanka

Jayanthi Liyanage wrote: In Sri Lanka, several legal systems govern the law of family relations. The General law (a combination of Roman Dutch and English law) is the main system applicable to every one except if they are governed by the personal laws. There are three other parallel systems of personal laws in Sri Lanka, i.e., Kandyan Law, The Thesavalamai and the Muslim Law. These laws are grounded in ancient customary practices and/or religion.
[Source: Jayanthi Liyanage, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

Ramani Muttettuwegama wrote: Under the Penal Code of Sri Lanka, until 1995, the general age of consent for sexual relations was twelve years. In 1995, the Penal Code was amended and the age of statutory rape was raised to 16 years UNLESS the person happens to be the perpetrator's wife and they are not judicially separated (Section 163(e), Penal Code as amended ). Thus, unlike in the period before 1995, when although the age of consent was very low, it was uniformly applicable to every one (although even during this period Muslim girls could be married under the age of consent), now Muslims who are married are specifically not covered by the Code. [Source: Ramani Muttettuwegama, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

Under almost all the legal systems, the concept of separation of property forms a strong basis in terms of rights of married women. They own their own property. Dowry that is given by the family is also usually given in the woman's name. Under the Matrimonial Rights and Inheritance (Jaffna) Ordinance however, women married under the Thesavalamai can not dispose of their property without the written consent of their husband except by Will. This is not the case for other women in Sri Lanka.

Women marrying outside their community or race are governed by the personal law of their husbands while men in the same position are still governed by their own personal laws. Under the Married Women's Property Ordinance and also Matrimonial Rights and Inheritance Ordinance, a woman marrying a man of different race takes on his race until she remarries. The rule regarding the status of a Kandyan woman marrying in Binna is not made clear here. A woman marrying under the Thesavalamai is only subject to this rule during the subsistence of the marriage.

The result of this is that women who marry outside their community lose their customary rights of inheritance. Any Muslim who does not marry under the Muslim Marriage Act (and possibly their children) loses the right to inheritance under Muslim Intestate Succession Ordinance thereby further restricting the women's choices regarding self and communal identity.

Women Penalized By Sri Lanka’s Disparate Inheritance Laws

Jayanthi Liyanage wrote: When young Bandara Menike Lewke Bandara found a suitor in Kandy and left her parental home in Kurunegala on a blissful "deega" (marriage in which the bride shifts to her bridegroom's house), little she realised what it meant to her inheritance. Soon after, her father died leaving no last will to ensure her share of the paternal property. The process, applying Kandyan law, which followed to divide the estate among his children, deprived Bandara Menike of any right to her "paraveni" (property inherited from her father). Her three brothers and two sisters — one, unmarried and the other, settled in a "binna" (marriage in which the bridegroom shifts to the bride's house) — received equal shares of the "paraveni".
[Source: Jayanthi Liyanage, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

“Had she been a low country Sinhala or registered her marriage under the general law of the country, she would have received a share equivalent to that of her siblings. Nevertheless, women born to Kandyan families have another disadvantage. If it is proven in courts with carefully-preserved documents that her family is of Kandyan origin, dating back to 1815 when the Kandyan Kingdom fell, Kandyan law supersedes the common law in relation to property and inheritance rights.

“The Kandyan Law stipulates that a "deega" daughter coming from a family originating from the Kandyan Region (which could encompass Kandy, Kurunegala, Anuradhapura, Ampara and certain areas of Batticaloa District) is not entitled to inherit property from her father. The reasoning is that the family property, which sustains the family from generation to generation, should not be passed onto an outsider.

"We have a common criminal law for the whole island but property laws are governed by four different legal systems," said Shirani Narayana, Project Manager, from the EMACE lawyer-team. The four systems are the general (or, the common law), Kandyan, Muslim and Thesavalamai laws. The first three are practised respectively among the low country Sinhala, Kandyan Sinhala and people of Islam religion. Thesavalamai pertains to land-owners in Jaffna no matter what race they belong to, and Jaffna Tamils of Malabar origins."Lack of awareness prevents women from acting to overcome discrimination," Ms. Narayana, said. "If they only knew how, they could avoid the overwhelming cost, hassle and time wasted on long-drawn court cases. The general law, a mixture of English and Roman-Dutch law, is the most lenient to women while Kandyan law appears to be more discriminative."

The general law gives a widow one half of her late husband's property whereas the Kandyan Law deprives her of the "paraveni" (inherited from his parents) portion of the property and gives her the life estate of the "acquired" (bought during marriage) portion. If the deceased did not leave acquired property or what existed was inadequate for her sustenance, she could obtain maintenance from "paraveni". "There are no special provisions for a divorced woman in any law," said Ms. Narayana. "It all depends on how well she proves in Courts that she has no other sufficient income. In Canada, a divorcee gets 50 percent of her husband's property."

Kandyan law which deprives a "deega" married daughter of her "paraveni" further states that should she marry after her father's death, she stands bound to give over her "paraveni" portion to her brothers and single or "binna" married sisters, if they demand for it at a fair market value. "In contrast, the "binna" married wife commands great power in marriage," said Senaka Illangantilake, EMACE Legal Adviser at Rambukkana. "The bridegroom is asked to come with a Tal Atta (palm leaf) and a Hulu Atta (torch) as she could at any time throw him out of the house in rain or night." "A Kandyan woman may have a low country husband, but for her father's property, Kandyan laws apply," Ms. Narayana explained. "The form on which a couple apply for marriage, distinguishes it as Kandyan, low country, deega, binna, etc. Often, women sign the form without a murmur. They are not aware of how it will affect their property rights."

Sexual Harassment, Rape and Abuse of Women in Sri Lanka

Percentage of women (aged 15-49 years) who consider a husband to be justified in hitting or beating his wife for at least one of the specified reasons: 53 percent [Source: United Nations]

According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”: “Rape is defined by the penal code as sexual intercourse without the consent of the woman. If she is under 12 years of age, consent does not serve as a mitigating factor. Punishment for rape is up to 20 years in prison. The incidence of rape has increased every year from 1986, when it was 291, to 1996 (the last year for which data are available), when it was 716 (Fernando 2002). However, rape is notoriously underreported, as few women are willing to take the risks of humiliation and a prolonged difficult court case. If it becomes public knowledge that a woman was raped, there is a high probability that her family will be disgraced and will, in turn, cast her from the household. Chronic communal violence and interethnic hostilities have also led to higher incidences of rape across ethnic boundaries. In January 2002, for the first time, Sinhalese soldiers were brought to court for charges of raping a Tamil woman and were convicted. [Source: Robert T. Francoeur, Victor C. de Munck, Ph.D., Patricia Weerakoon, Ph.D., “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, 2002]

“Female victims of sexual assault are most often admitted to a gynecological ward and first seen by a gynecologist. The women are most often deprived of a prompt and appropriate forensic examination because of the lack of facilities in most rural hospitals and the lack of knowledge of many of the attending doctors. In addition, the clinician may be reluctant to be involved in a criminal investigation. Most of the rape victims are also deprived of psychiatric help.

“Until 1995, sexual harassment was not considered a crime except if it included physical violence. Public sexual harassment, such as a male pressing up against a woman and simulating intercourse on a bus, pinching, or making lascivious remarks, are all referred to as “Eve teasing.” These behaviors had become so prevalent that in 1995, the government added section 345 to the penal code, stipulating that all offenses that violated the modesty of a woman were now punishable by a jail sentence. Such behaviors included any form of sexual harassment at workplaces, during public transport, or at any other public place.

“Since the 1980s, a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been established to counsel women and children who are the victims of rape, sexual exploitation, violence, or harassment. In 1986, the Women’s Development Center was established to address issues such as rape and domestic violence. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Women Lawyers’ Association, and various other organizations offer free legal aid to women and children. In addition to free legal aid, two associations — the Women’s Development Center and Women in Need — also provide free counseling services.”

Problems for Women in the Plantation Sector in Sri Lanka

According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”: “Another important area where women’s rights are only recently being addressed is the plantation sector. The plantation women collectively number about a million residents who live and work on estates. Most of these are descendents of Indian laborers brought in by the British. [Source: Robert T. Francoeur, Victor C. de Munck, Ph.D., Patricia Weerakoon, Ph.D., “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, 2002]

“Writing on the issue of reproductive and sexual health in the plantation sector of Sri Lanka, Morrell (2002) comments on the high incidence of incest, teenage pregnancy, and promiscuity in the estate sector. Further, a recent newspaper article reports that 230,000 estate-sector children are employed as domestic aides (Farook 2002).

“Morrell (2002) has suggested that a concerted effort is needed to understand why moral standards have disintegrated, and to then set in motion a system of changes that would arrest this predicament of decay. He continues that, fortunately for the plantation families, Dr. Indira Hettiarachchi, Director of Health and Women’s Programs of the Plantation Housing and Social Welfare Trust, has been doing just that and much more. This process is supported by the estate workers union, the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC).

“This moral dilemma involves improving maternal and child health services within the environment of plantation privatization, which began in 1976. Morrell (2002), quoting Dr. N. Vidiyasagara’s article in The Journal of the College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka (Millennium Supplement 2001), notes that from 1972 to 1975, infant mortality in the estate sector was 100 per 1,000 births. By the year 2000, this had been successfully reduced to 15 per 1,000 births. Morrell attributes much of this to the activities of UNICEF, and grants-in-aid programs from countries such as the Netherlands and Norway. (End of comment by P. Weerakoon)]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel), Government of Sri Lanka (www.gov.lk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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