Photo courtesy of The Week
My beautiful motherland, ravaged by invaders and damaged by internal conflict over the centuries, is now drowning in the depths of economic despair. There is no respite in sight for the people who are going through physical, emotional and financial distress at present. At this challenging moment in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history, as a woman, I think it is important to talk about the courage, sacrifice and endurance of the women of my motherland.
My sisters, you watched your fathers, brothers and husbands lose their lives to senseless violence in the insurgencies of 1971 and 1989, the Black July of 1983, the violent three decade war orchestrated by selfish and greedy political forces that feared the unity of the common people and numerous episodes of state sponsored killings and abduction. Even in the face of so much loss, you hid your pain and fulfilled your duties towards your loved ones, educated and caring for your children and worked untiringly to fill the earnings void created by the untimely demise of the men in your families.
For decades we relied on the foreign earnings generated by sending you to slave away as housemaids in oil rich countries and watched on as your families were torn apart in the absence of a mother and you endured abuse and exploitation at the hands of your cruel masters. There was only sham concern from those in power when you returned home with horrific injuries or even worse, in sealed coffins. While this government should have borne the expenses of your safe repatriation during the pandemic, they only looted any remaining savings many of you had by letting their cronies charge you a king’s ransom for flights and quarantine.
When official foreign exchange inflows dwindled in the face of the Central Bank’s disastrous and unsustainable soft peg of Rs. 200 to 203 per dollar amid unprecedented growth in money supply at the hands of the crook who was governing the Central Bank at the time until their belated decision to float the rupee in March 2022, the authorities simply appropriated the blame for the entire situation on you by accusing you of using unofficial channels to remit your earnings instead of accepting the basic economic explanation for the fiasco (a price ceiling resulting in excess demand and the emergence of a black market), another example of the government’s strategy of blame shifting in their pathetic efforts to cling to power. Despite never appreciating your contribution and sacrifice, it took only about six months of diminished foreign remittances for the government to go bankrupt. Against this backdrop, the new Finance Minister, as soon as he assumed office last month, declared that sending dollars to Sri Lanka at this time is a bigger sacrifice than sending your child to war, a statement in very poor taste indeed that puts into perspective the sorrows of mothers who lost their sons to armed conflict.
Thousands of you spent the best years of your lives married to sewing machines at garment factories to generate 40% of the export earnings for our country. Yet, some shameless media outlets did not hesitate to taint your character and blame you for the spread of Covid-19 infections. At the same time, the sisters working in the estate sector continue to carry tea baskets on your backs to contribute towards 14% of the country’s export earnings in return for paltry wages and mediaeval working conditions while the men that you elect to represent you are busy building dynasties and filling their purses.
Throughout Covid-19 lockdowns, many of you struggled to feed your families when salaries were halved or put or hold or daily paid jobs went out of existence and lamented the nearly two years of education your children lost, while the more affluent of you who could afford smartphones and other devices, despite not having to worry too much about putting food on the table, still faced the added responsibility of supervising your children’s online learning while working from home.
When it comes to the wives and partners of corrupt politicians, in view of the suffering your men have inflicted upon ordinary people, I cannot bring myself to pity you; your daughters I do pity ever so slightly since they did not choose to be fathered by these men. Indeed, it is quite possible that you are never married these men willingly but were instead forced into these unions of power and ill-gotten wealth by your parents or due to other extenuating circumstances. Perhaps you are prevented from voicing your opinion within your domiciles and you have been rendered lifeless, reduced to mere androids whose only job is to bear children, smile and look pretty in public by these wicked, immoral men who have proven again and again that they are incapable of any emotions or humanity.
Coming back to the trials faced by the hardworking sisters of my country, the government continues to cripple ordinary citizens with taxes on essential food products, forcing you to forfeit your family’s nutrition and go hungry in order to feed your husbands and children; they make you stand in queues for hours to purchase overpriced and sub-standard fuel for vehicles and LP gas cylinders with a high risk of combustibility; and they continue to impose the accursed half days of power cuts that affect your daily lives so much and have forced your families to bear an inflation tax in the form of the skyrocketing cost of living.
Gross female tertiary enrolment is 27% as opposed to only 17% for men and 40.6% of students enrolled in tertiary STEM programs are women yet female representation in middle and senior management is 23% and we rank 116 out of 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. Despite having produced the world’s first female prime minister female representation in government sits at 5.33% a stark contrast to countries like India (14%), Pakistan (20%) and Nepal (33%); even the women that continue who survive in the foul political landscape are constantly plagued by sexual overtures and libel. Of course, the men in power would not risk women coming in and creating a political culture of humanity and accountability. Despite the numerous disadvantages you face, you continue to persevere, not only fulfilling the responsibilities towards your families but also towards wider society by being at the forefront of protests to oust this murderous, corrupt government.
Dear sisters, there is no easy way out of the present economic crisis. You will be hit with mass scale unemployment, further crippling taxes and curbed public services as the conditions imposed by the IMF and other institutions that step in to bail out Sri Lanka from the present debt crisis take effect over time. You will have to endure an extended period of pain and economic deprivation but throughout history you have demonstrated your ability to remain strong in the face of adversity and overcome the many curved balls thrown at you, so hang in there my dear sisters, for your courage and endurance creates hope for a better tomorrow.