Child Marriage in Sri Lanka
Through a landmark decision by the Cabinet of Ministers in Sri Lanka, Muslims now have the option to marry under the Sri Lankan Marriage Registration Ordinance, the common law that governs marriages and divorces. This is a significant change because the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) that has governed Muslim marriage and divorce discriminates against Muslim women. Additionally, Sri Lanka’s justice minister Ali Sabry has proposed legislation to raise the minimum age for marriage under the MMDA to 18. These two reforms are crucial steps in addressing child marriage in Sri Lanka.

Child Marriage and Its Impact

Child marriage is the practice of marriage in which one or both parties are under 18. This practice presents severe risks to children, especially young girls. Married children are less likely to complete their education. According to World Vision, girls are three times more likely to marry before 18 when they do not receive schooling, as opposed to those who attend school beyond the elementary level.

Child marriage also comes with physical risks including complications with early pregnancies, or exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Those entering into child marriage are also more likely to become victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence. Around the world, girls are 50% more likely to experience physical or sexual abuse if they marry before they turn 15 than those who marry after 18.  This underlines the fact that some child marriages occur as a way to cover up a sexual assault to avoid scandal. The effects of child marriage are psychologically and physically damaging to children and violate their free will.

In addition to cultivating human rights violations, child marriage is also both a big driver and a significant consequence of poverty. Some families marry their children off because it gives them one less child to fund. In other communities, it is a way to offset debt because dowries for a younger girl are lower. Marriage may keep young brides from accessing their education and better jobs or professions. Economic dependence on their partner may also trap them in long-term financial insecurity. Child marriage limits the growth of individuals and by proxy, the growth of communities.

Child Marriage in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, poverty and lack of education have contributed to the practice of child marriage, but traditional laws have fueled its continuation. Sri Lanka has a lower rate of child marriage than other countries in South Asia. However, it is still prevalent, mostly within some Muslim communities. Passed in 1951, the MMDA has relegated Muslim marriage governance to Islamic law versus common law. Sri Lankan common law does not allow marriage under 18, but the MMDA has set the minimum marriage age at 12. Further, Islamic officials have permitted the marriage age to be even lower. Additionally, if females married under the MMDA could not sign their marriage contract, a “wali,” or male guardian needed to do so. With virtually no previous protection against child marriage for Muslims in Sri Lanka, the recent governmental reforms should make a significant difference.

Progress in Ending Sri Lankan Child Marriage

The new marriage contract alternative now protects children from entering into marriages by force. Additionally, the fact that the MMDA has raised the marriage age to 18 has made all child marriages in Sri Lanka illegal. Further, this will prevent any registered child marriages. Various past appeals, especially from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), prompted these reforms.

In collaboration with the Sri Lankan government and other organizations, UNICEF signed the June Declaration to End Violence Against Children in Sri Lanka by 2030. This declaration is part of the National Partnership to End Violence Against Children, which began in June 2017. UNICEF’s work launched on-the-ground efforts to give community leaders, police and government officials training on the effects of child marriage. The organization has also worked to provide economic support for women and initiate policy reform. These efforts have helped reduce the overall child marriage rate to 25 million, which is fewer than predictions from 10 years ago.

Despite UNICEF’s achievements, its most significant obstacle has been government cooperation. For several years, UNICEF pressed the Sri Lankan government to involve legal action against the practice of child marriage. Now, the new legislation that the Sri Lankan Cabinet has implemented will address this call to action.

Issues like child marriage require a multifaceted approach that addresses its enabling factors. Because Muslim law allowed child marriage, the practice continued even with UNICEF’s efforts to address it. Yet, the new legal action combined with continuing on-ground efforts brings hope to Sri Lanka. Thanks to the new legislation by the Sri Lankan Cabinet of Ministers, a significant decline of  Sri Lankan child marriage seems within reach.

– Hariana Sethi
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tea Plantation Workers in Sri LankaSri Lanka is one of the largest tea-producing countries globally and is home to many tea plantation workers. Sri Lanka is known for its Ceylon Tea, which is “acclaimed as the best tea in the world.” However, the process of tea cultivation is arduous and time staking, requiring meticulous care. Tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka put hours of hard work into the job. However, workers, including child workers, are often exploited and unfairly compensated. Organizations are committed to fighting for the rights and protection of tea plantation workers in countries like Sri Lanka.

History of Tea Plantations

Tea plantations, also known as tea estates, came about in the 19th century. The British Empire brought people from Southern India to work on the tea plantations. Most of these workers were from Tamil Nadu. Even though the British Empire abolished slavery, these Tamil tea plantation workers were certainly subject to conditions of slavery. The workers did not receive compensation and endured harsh working conditions “with long hours and heavy quotas.” Furthermore, the “workers lived in crowded shacks, without sanitation, running water, medical facilities or schools for their children.”

After British rule and achieving independence in 1948, Sri Lanka labeled the tea plantation workers as “temporary immigrants,” outrightly denying them citizenship despite years of employment in the country. Only about 30 years later, in the 1980s, Sri Lanka granted citizenship rights to the “descendants of Indian Tamil indentured servants.” To this day, many Tamils still work on tea plantations. While they gained some rights as Sri Lankan citizens, workers, including children, continue to face exploitative conditions.

Present Day Exploitation

Even though the tea industry is one of the foundations of Sri Lanka’s economy, tea plantation workers often experience exploitation. Laborers often walk barefoot through the hills of the tea estates and pick tea leaves for hours. To earn the daily wage, workers have to pluck a minimum amount of tea leaves. Up until this year, to receive the daily wage of 700 Sri Lankan rupees (LKR) (about $4.15) a plantation worker needed to gather at least 40 pounds of tea leaves.

Since around 2016, “tea plantation trade unions” have demanded a raise in the daily wage to 1,000 LKR. The protests finally paid off in January 2021. The Cabinet of Ministers amended the Wages Board Regulations, implementing an increase of the daily tea worker wage to a minimum of 1,000 LKR. Despite this wage increase, most tea workers still struggle to meet their basic needs. Furthermore, the workers do not receive sick leave, and since “no work means no pay,” workers cannot afford to take a day off.

Along with inadequate compensation, children also experience exploitation within the tea industry. Due to poverty, many Sri Lankan children drop out of school to earn an income to support their families. While the minimum legal working age at Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs)  is 16 years old, one study found that 73% of Sri Lankan children were engaged in employment before the age of 12. Long working hours and strenuous labor adversely impact children. Furthermore, child labor means education is not a priority, perpetuating the cycle of poverty even further.

Ethical Practices

While Sri Lankan tea plantation workers continue to battle unjust treatment, organizations aim to fight for tea plantation workers’ rights. In 2018, the Mother and Child-Friendly Tea Plantations project, funded by Save the Children Hong Kong, launched the Child Protection Policy. In partnership with Kelani Valley Plantations and Talawakelle Tea Estates, the policy “is a voluntary undertaking through which participating tea companies” promise to protect children living in tea estates from harm and exploitation.

Another organization dedicated to tea workers’ rights is the Ethical Tea Partnership. The Ethical Tea Partnership works “with tea companies, development organizations and governments to improve the lives of tea workers.” The organization works in tea-producing regions in Africa and Asia. Between 2016 and 2020, the organization’s efforts benefited more than one million tea workers across the world. Its Women of Tea program in Sri Lanka runs until the close of 2021, aiming to improve “the health and nutrition” of Sri Lankan tea plantation workers. The initiative also aims to improve “hygiene and sanitation practices and financial management strategies.”

The Way Forward

Although there is still room for progress, organizations have achieved significant success in improving the lives of tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka. With further efforts to uplift and empower tea workers, there is hope for tea plantation workers to live a life outside of poverty.

-Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness In Sri Lanka
Nestled off the southeastern coast of India, Sri Lanka is a beautiful island country. It has long beaches, beautiful greenery and a rich cultural history, making it a popular tourist destination. Sri Lanka has a population of almost 22 million people and the country boasts a relatively low crime rate. Yet, inside Colombo city and across the country, Sri Lanka has many homeless individuals. Though exact numbers of the homeless population in Sri Lanka are unavailable, 1.5 million Sri Lankans do not own land, a factor that certainly impacts homelessness. The homeless inhabit bus shelters and street corners around Colombo city and are often located in rural regions. Homelessness in Sri Lanka remains one of the most visible forms of poverty in the country.

Poverty and Homelessness

Sri Lanka, a country that was traded between colonial powers like the Dutch and the British, only gained its independence in 1948. Agriculture remains the largest industry, employing anywhere from 25% to more than 35% of the entire population, according to varying estimates. In addition, 80% of the population lives in rural areas, making Sri Lanka one of the top five least urbanized countries.

The Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2009, has had a lasting impact on poverty and land ownership in the country. The conflict displaced thousands of Sri Lankans, many of whom still feel the impacts of the war today.

Land is a valuable resource to those who have it, a fact that more than 1.5 million Sri Lankans living and working without land are well aware of. Legally, those who do not own land lack many basic human rights. Without an address, Sri Lankans cannot claim state welfare assistance. They also cannot send their children to school or vote in national and local elections. Restrictions are placed on activities in homes controlled by landlords, largely because landlords do not have a lot of oversight. The homeless in Sri Lanka, especially the elderly, remain the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis.

The Good News

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lankan government officials are ensuring the protection of the homeless living in the capital city of Colombo. When the government implemented a curfew in March 2020, many of the homeless remained living on the streets. With the help of local police, more than 300 homeless individuals living in Colombo have been housed in quarantine shelters with food and basic necessities provided for them. Senior deputy inspector general of police for Western Province, Deshabandu Tennakoon, notes that it is not safe for people to be living on the streets with a respiratory virus circulating the globe.

Homelessness in Sri Lanka is a persistent issue that impacts the country. While the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more awareness, there is a long way to go to eradicate homelessness. Moving forward, the government of Sri Lanka and other humanitarian organizations must make homelessness in Sri Lanka a priority.

Alex Pinamang
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 On Poverty In Sri Lanka
The COVID-19 pandemic has had countless effects on every aspect of life. However, it has particularly affected the economy and poverty levels. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Sri Lanka has halted significant poverty reduction progress due to how the pandemic has affected work stability and household income.

The Severity of the Pandemic

In May and June 2020, Sri Lanka faced increasing COVID-19 rates. The country is currently reporting about 1,282 new cases each day with the peak occurring on May 25, 2021. Sri Lanka remains on the lower end of the proportion of the South Asian population infected. However, the extremely low vaccine rate makes the situation dire. The country has administered approximately 5.3 million vaccine doses so far.

The Unstable Situation for Workers

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Sri Lanka is clearly visible in the labor market and job stability. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka had made significant progress in reducing poverty. However, a majority of workers still work in agriculture and service with low incomes and poor job quality.  About 70% of these jobs fall in the informal sector, a sector vulnerable to job losses and wage cuts.

Increased unemployment along with low wages and little opportunity to save put workers in a tough situation when the pandemic began. Even workers who had formal employment still clearly felt the effects of the pandemic. For instance, certain export industries struggled due to decreased demand and restrictions on travel.

However, the pandemic caused these groups of people to lose their stable wages and fall below the poverty line, contributing to an increase in overall poverty. The unemployment rate overall rose by about 0.6% from 2019 to 2020. However, this figure may not take into account the workers with part-time employment or informal jobs. The increase in poverty rate is dramatic, going from 9.2% to 11.7% from 2019 to 2020 based on the $3.20 poverty line.

Effects on Households

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Sri Lanka and the ensuing instability in the labor market has had significant effects on households and forced many to adjust their lives. In just the first few months of the pandemic in 2020, nearly 40% of households had lost all of their income and 93% faced some consequences from the pandemic.

Sri Lankans are still feeling the effects of the initial economic shock. Because of reduced income, families have to find alternative ways to meet their basic needs. For many, food insecurity is now a prominent issue. As a result, many people have cut back on food consumption. To save on costs, households may consume less nutritious food, which could adversely impact the health of people, especially children.

The Government Assists

When there is a crisis as widespread and impactful as the current pandemic, governments will often take action to mitigate the effects on people. It is impossible to fully negate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Sri Lanka. However, some of the programs may help reduce the impact and prevent the complete collapse of the economy.

Using welfare programs that had already been in place, such as the Samurdhi program, the Sri Lankan government was able to lessen the blow to people who lost part of or all of their income. During the first wave, the government gave five million families a payment of Rs 10,000. During the second wave, it gave 1.4 million families Rs 5,000.

Along with these payments, the government also instituted programs to help with employment and training for public sector jobs to help keep people employed with a stable income. Other organizations such as the World Food Programme and CARE have also been working in Sri Lanka to ensure food security.

As more Sri Lankans receive vaccines and cases decrease, Sri Lankans will hopefully be able to return to their normal lives. Being back at work with a stable income will have an immense impact on the livelihoods of millions and government programs will help restore the economy. Sri Lanka had already been making progress in lowering poverty and will hopefully get back on track after the pandemic ends.

Ritika Manathara
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Sri Lanka
The world is gaining understanding regarding the importance of mental health, with increasing awareness and acceptance of mental disorders. As society progresses and science advances, the realization frequently emerges that a greater need exists to address mental health as a contribution to total wellness for individuals. Sri Lanka, an island east of India in the Indian Ocean, has a population of about 20 million and one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Each year, mental health in Sri Lanka results in about 100,000 people attempting suicide and 6,000 losing their lives.

Mental Health Challenges in Conflict Scenarios

The topic of mental health in Sri Lanka includes the idea that a difference exists between mental health in normal times and mental health as a result of a conflict. Mental health issues are normal to have, occurring across every country and population for varying reasons, whether they be genetics, living conditions or stress triggers. On top of the mental health problems that exist in normal circumstances, it is necessary to address mental health issues that occur as a result of a conflict as well.

In 2009, Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war ended with a death toll of more than 70,000 and lasting health effects on its people. Such a destructive war left civilians and soldiers with lasting anxiety, PTSD and depression as a result of the violence they experienced. Along with negative effects on health as a result of war and conflict, the economy and financial abilities of the country suffered as well.

The Effects of The Indian Ocean Tsunami

Sri Lanka’s location as an island in the Indian Ocean makes it prone to natural disasters such as tsunamis. Around 35,000 Sri Lankans died as a result of The Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, leaving hundreds of thousands of others injured and homeless. It also adversely affected their mental health.

This kind of event can leave civilians in a state of shock and anxiety, often resulting in disorders such as PTSD and depression following their losses. While the tsunami inflicted immense physical damage and mental illness, other countries provided support funding to reform Sri Lanka’s mental health system. Though the disaster has renewed the country’s attention to mental health, it has also left Sri Lankans with little to nothing in the way of resources or infrastructure.

The Necessity of Resources

Mental wellness requires adequate resources in order to successfully aid those in need. Basic mental health resources include psychiatrists, therapists and a facility or technology if no facilities exist. In Sri Lanka, estimates determined that only one psychiatrist exists for every 500,000 people. The urban areas of the country are war-torn and the rural areas are too far outside of the urban concentration, so resource availability for necessities such as facilities is quite limited.

Without trained staff and medical providers, it is hard to effectively address mental health needs and expectations. Additionally, without resources like facilities and funding, challenges exist that inhibit the ability to innovate the current mental health system to a higher standard.

Initiatives to Address Mental Health in Sri Lanka

In 1985, a group of individuals concerned about mental health issues formed the NGO called Nivahana Society of Kandy (NSK). NSK focuses on mental wellness improvement in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. In 1999, the World Health Organization (WHO) approved a proposal for a project called the Mental Health Policy and Service Development (MPS) Project on behalf of NSK, aiming to reduce the number of admissions/re-admissions to psychiatric hospitals and to establish supportive infrastructure.

Through the Mental Health Policy and Service Development (MPS) Project, the number of re-admissions to psychiatric hospitals decreased by 70% in the Western Province. This project is successful and also creates a strengthened network of psychiatric services among Central and Western Provinces, establishing new clinics and extending the range of reach for the project’s support.

The Sri Lankan government collaborates with the Sri Lankan National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to integrate mental health into primary care within the country. The effort began in 2009 with a training program for medical practitioners that are integrating mental health care into primary care plans.

The lack of resources and funding for mental health awareness projects tends to be the main obstacle to total mental wellness in Sri Lanka. Mental health in Sri Lanka remains a critical issue in healthcare that needs innovation. With initiatives from NGOs like NSK and the Sri Lankan NIMH collaborations with the government, Sri Lanka can make its way to mental wellness among its population.

– Kylie Lally
Photo: Flickr

Alcohol consumption in Sri Lanka
The Center for Disease Control of the United States (CDC) recognizes 54 different severe, persistent diseases or medical conditions that are directly caused by alcohol consumption. Globally 3,3 million people succumb to alcohol-related diseases, accidents or incidents, making alcohol responsible for 5.3% of all deaths. Alcohol consumption in Sri Lanka has significantly increased in recent years creating social and economic burdens for the developing nation.

Costs of Alcohol Consumption

In 2015, the costs resulting from alcohol-caused conditions in Sri Lanka were nearly $886 million constituting 1.07% of the nation’s gross domestic product. A study that a Norwegian researcher, Bergljot Baklien, and Sri Lankan Professor, Diyanath Samarasinghe, conducted showed that 10% of male participants were spending more on alcohol than they earned in wages. Furthermore, another study found that families from the two lowest income brackets spent 40% of their total income on alcohol, showing the troubling spending habits in impoverished households and the importance Sri Lankans place on alcohol.

The cost of alcohol consumption in Sri Lanka consistently prevents individuals from lifting themselves out of poverty. Consuming alcohol is most common among low-income workers and farmers who earn their wages daily. Alcohol workers often miss work resulting in a loss of wages or jobs and loss of productivity for the country. Many drinkers become indebted to loan sharks for the rest of their life or have to pawn valuables to get cash for liquor.

The Alcohol Culture in Sri Lanka

Major events, parties and celebrations are all presumed to have alcohol present as a social expectation or requirement. A social norm has arisen in which people, mostly men, behave inappropriately at such events without consequences. High rates of alcohol consumption in Sri Lanka have led to frequent incidents of domestic violence, road accidents, violent crimes, self-harm and its most persistent consequence: poverty.

Alcohol can be a sign of financial comfort; often used to celebrate economic success and create a sense of social solidarity. While creating solidarity in a community can be positive, in Sri Lanka, the intertwined, impoverished communities tend to pull each other down rather than help to lift each other up. The accepted culture of daily alcohol consumption in disadvantaged communities has allowed toxic social dynamics to develop.

Furthermore, the consumption of alcohol undergoes underreporting in Sri Lanka. This can be a major obstacle and makes it difficult to find proper interventions and government policies. The underreporting can stem from shame, guilt, denial or a simple misunderstanding regarding the money that Sri Lankans spend on alcohol. Additionally, the most practiced religion in Sri Lanka, Buddhism, strengthens the above-explained problem since the consumption of the substance contradicts Buddhist beliefs.

Possible Cures and Solutions

The Sri Lankan government is aware of the costs of high alcohol consumption rates not only for the financial welfare of the nation but also for the safety of all of its citizens. Therefore, the government has implemented bans on alcohol advertisements and look for new methods to reduce consumption.

In order to effectively lower alcohol consumption in Sri Lanka, the government is seeking to take further steps. One is increasing the alcohol tax to reduce the affordability for the poor community. The hope is to wipe out the drinking culture in disadvantaged areas. Additionally, the government must fund research to collect accurate data on consumption rates to create evidence-based policies and drive down alcohol consumption in Sri Lanka.

– Veronica Booth
Photo: Flickr

Measles in Sri Lanka: a Thing of the PastAt a time when the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, other potentially lethal diseases can go overlooked. Measles is a disease that has had the status of “eliminated” in the United States for 20 years. This disease still affects countries across the globe. However, Sri Lanka has eradicated measles.

Despite having a vaccine since the 1960s, measles continues to afflict the world’s poor. Annual outbreaks in low- and middle-income countries have a severe and pronounced effect on their health systems. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 140,000 people died of measles globally.

COVID-19 Pandemic’s Effects on Measles

COVID-19 has made the possibility of wider measles outbreaks more likely. The pandemic has constrained health systems. As a result, it has been hard for some children to get the two vaccine doses they needed in order to be immune to measles. However, the international community is coming together to solve the problem. The WHO initially set a target of 2020 for eradicating measles in South-East Asia. Recently, the 11 member countries of the region have pushed back the goal until 2023.

Sri Lanka’s Eradication of Measles

One South-East Asian country that has already seen success in eradicating measles is Sri Lanka. A small island nation in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka’s health infrastructure is pretty effective at combating disease and promoting health outcomes. This strong healthcare system, combined with a robust vaccination program and effective monitoring, made measles in Sri Lanka a thing of the past.

In a large outbreak of measles in 1999 and 2000, 15,000 people contracted the disease. Following this outbreak, the government decided to implement a two-dose vaccine schedule throughout the country. In order to facilitate access to vaccines, early campaigns partnered with non-governmental organizations. In 2004, The Red Cross assisted the Sri Lankan government in messaging, training volunteers and administering vaccines.

Sri Lanka was able to increase vaccination rates to over 95%. This figure is important because health experts estimate that vaccinations need to be at least that high in order to create “herd immunity.” Herd immunity is the concept that high levels of vaccination mean that enough people are immune to the disease, that even small outbreaks can spread. This protects those who are vaccinated and those who may not be able to be vaccinated due to lack of medical access or adverse health effects.

Because of these efforts, measles is officially considered eradicated in the country. In addition, the last indigenous case of measles in Sri Lanka occurred in May of 2016. Although there were some smaller outbreaks since then, they have mostly been cases contracted abroad, or from people mitigating into Sri Lanka. Fortunately, the government was able to slow these outbreaks.

Cases of measles in Sri Lanka have fallen faster than they have in the rest of South-East Asia, where only 5 of 11 countries have fully eradicated measles. The region is, however, making some progress. Between 2014 and 2017, deaths in South-East Asia have dropped by 23%.

Thomas Gill

Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan civil war ended over a decade ago, but the nation still feels the effects today. The Sri Lankan government tightened and expanded its authority, among other aftershocks of this multi-decade war. These decades of instability coupled with a history of colonial rule created an uphill battle for women’s rights in Sri Lanka. Though women are making tantamount strides, women are up against a long history of instability and patriarchal rule. According to the UN Gender Inequality Index, Sri Lanka ranks 74th among 187 countries. While there is hope for a future of gender equality, women in Sri Lanka still lack representation in government and access to employment opportunities while suffering from cultural preconceptions of female roles. Here are five facts about women’s rights in Sri Lanka.

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Sri Lanka

  1. World’s First Prime Minister: Sri Lanka elected the world’s first female Prime Minister. The people elected Sirima Bandaranaike as head of government in 1960. Sirima Bandaranaike entered into politics after the assassination of her husband Soloman Bandaranaike due to pressure from his party and the people. Critics who held the belief that a woman was incapable of running a political party described her as “unruffled.”
  2. Government Representation: Women have little representation in government. Sri Lanka ranks lowest for women’s participation in politics among South Asian Countries. Women have never exceeded 6% representation in parliament, with less than 5.8% elected in the 2015 election. Representation is even slimmer on the local level, with around 2% of women holding political office. Due to these numbers, UN Women has made strides to increase female political participation in government. Through financing from the Norwegian government, UN Women implemented a two-year program entitled “Promoting Women’s Political Participation in Sri Lanka.” The program supports gender-responsive budgeting, which requires the inclusion of women in political campaign budgeting and ensures that political party nominations are more inclusive of women.
  3. Universal Free Education: The initiation of universal free education in Sri Lanka in 1945 created educational opportunities for women, leading to huge increases in educational gender equality. In 1946, only 43.8% of women were literate as opposed to 70.1% of the male population. By 2001, 90% of the female population was literate in comparison to 93% of the male population. One can attribute this massive improvement to the requirement that teachers had to teach universal free schooling in the “mother tongue” of the student. Free education benefited females in particular because as long as school was not free, parents with limited resources would choose to educate the men in their family over the women. The statewide implementation of universal free education did away with the economic reasons for parents to keep their daughters at home.
  4. The Workforce Gender Gap: The workforce gender gap remains high. Despite rising levels of education, the majority of women in the workforce exist in the agricultural and domestic spheres. Many employment opportunities are reserved for male candidates due to a history of gender ideologies. Due to this culture, many women have experienced relegation as “supplementary earners” despite their education or others have consigned them to focus on household work because of views that it is “women’s work.”
  5. Maternal and Infant Mortality Rates: Maternal and infant mortality rates have significantly dropped since Sri Lanka gained independence. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Sri Lankan government established health units that provided community-based maternal and child care services for free throughout the country. The government also expanded the nationwide ambulance fleet and invested in training midwives in the 1960s. These sweeping efforts to mitigate maternal and infant mortality rates led to Sri Lanka reducing maternal deaths from nearly 2000 per 100,000 live births to only 33 per 100,000 live births in 2015. The Sri Lankan government has proposed that the country will reach a single-digit maternal mortality ratio in the next 10 years.

Looking Forward

There is a promise of a future of flourishment for women’s rights in Sri Lanka, given educational opportunities and the upward trend of female health outcomes. The Sri Lankan government invested in many programs in 2017 to promote gender equality such as the National Plan to Address Sexual and Gender-based Violence and the National Framework for Women-Headed Households. The government also implemented quotas for the percentage of women in the workplace and dedicated 25% of the positions in local public institutions for women to enhance political participation. Despite a long history of gender discrimination, the Sri Lankan government is making an important commitment to promoting women’s rights in Sri Lanka, providing hope for an equitable road forward.

– Tatiana Nelson
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Period Poverty in Sri Lanka
Located off the southern coast of India, Sri Lanka is home to almost 22 million people, 52% of whom are female. Despite its small geographic size, the country ranks 73 on the Gender Inequality Index, but behind that figure stands a monthly challenge for the nearly 12 million women and girls – having their period. This article will explore period poverty in Sri Lanka as well as three initiatives aiming to combat it.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty refers to the lack of education on menstruation, as well as having little to no access to essential sanitation for basic hygiene during the menstruation period. These factors frequently result in social stigmas that exclude women from basic activities, such as attending school or work and can lead to physical health risks. Period poverty in Sri Lanka takes the form of association with the impurity of the body. The subject is taboo, creating a culture of fear and misinformation. In a survey from 2015, 66% of girls were unaware they were going to have a period until their first one occurred. When they did have their period, more than a third of the girls reported missing one or two days of school to avoid embarrassment and stigma. However, over the past decades, three initiatives to eliminate period poverty in Sri Lanka have emerged.

3 Initiatives to Eliminate Period Poverty in Sri Lanka

  1. Sinidu: A new, local and affordable pad has entered the market. Inspired by the Indian social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham’s low-cost pad-making machine and funded by the SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council (SCWEC), Sinidu, an organic pad, sells in Sri Lanka at a third of the cost of competitors. A pack of 10 imported pads costs upwards of R.s, 200-250, and commercially-produced pads are not much better at R.s. 150-200. The national minimum wage of Sri Lanka is R.s. 10,000. Given that the average woman uses 20 pads per month, or spend about R.s. 400, they spend about 4% of their salary on the necessity. For comparison, the average household expenditure on meat is 4.8%. At R.s 60 per packet, Sinidu has decreased expenditures related to pads to 1.2%.
  2. Reduced Taxes on Sanitary Products: Taxes on sanitary napkins has significantly decreased. Until 2018, sanitary napkins received a tax of 101.2% of their sales price. For low-income Sri Lankans, the tax significantly impacted their ability to afford the napkins. Only 30% of Sri Lankan women could afford to use sanitary napkins, meaning 70% of women had to use cloth, which, when not sanitized properly, can lead to health risks such as reproductive and urinary tract infections. However, after the social media outrage in September 2018, the Minister of Finance repealed the 30% import tax.
  3. Free Sanitary Napkins: Awareness of women’s rights issues – including addressing period poverty – is increasing. During the 2019 presidential election, presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa attempted to win over women voters by promising free sanitary napkins to all women and girls. Though he faced criticism and the country ultimately did not elect him, he successfully called attention to the issue of period poverty in Sri Lanka.

Period poverty in Sri Lanka remains a challenge. However, through these three advancements, access to sanitary napkins in Sri Lanka has improved.

– Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

HIV in Sri Lanka
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) affects 38 million people globally. Spread via the exchange of bodily fluids, it attacks cells that can help fight other infections, making people more susceptible to other illnesses. While new cases have decreased by 23% since 2010, there is still much progress that needs to be made. Fortunately, innovative countries like Sri Lanka have established extensive programs to eliminate HIV.

HIV Around the World

On a global scale, HIV primarily affects people from more disadvantaged countries with low to middle incomes. As a result, HIV often goes hand-in-hand with other humanitarian issues. A majority of countries impacted by high HIV rates also struggle with food insecurity, economic disparities and other infectious disease issues.

While no cure exists for HIV, it is treatable with antiretroviral therapy (ART). By addressing HIV with medication, HIV-positive individuals can live abundant, healthy lives and have minimal risk of passing HIV to others around them. It is essential that more people are able to become aware of their diagnosis and combat it with ART to prevent spreading it further.

Sri Lanka’s Comprehensive Efforts

Recent efforts to reduce HIV have shown some progress, with 81% of HIV-positive individuals aware of their condition. However, there is still considerable progress to be made in providing access to testing and treatment. Fortunately, Sri Lanka, a south-Asian country with more than 21 million inhabitants, has made headway in preventing and treating HIV.

The Sri Lankan government has led efforts to combat and eliminate HIV by 2025. With an admirably low HIV-prevalence rate of 0.01%, it has enacted different social measures to meet this goal. These include educating Sri Lankans on HIV, testing at-risk individuals and providing quality treatment options to those who are HIV-positive.

Some of the government’s online efforts include launching the website Know4Sure.lk. This initiative trained caregivers from the private health sector on providing testing and treatment to those with HIV, in addition to providing a number of services for Sri Lankans. The website provides anonymous appointment scheduling and at-risk assessments, with paid advertisements and influencers encouraging HIV testing.

Furthermore, the program set up a peer network to call for more testing, treatment and social awareness of HIV. Mobilizers within this network encourage peers to get tested and communicate with others via a multimedia effort. Founded on the principle that “Your Life Matters,” this movement combats the transmission of HIV by instilling hope and optimism about one’s career and livelihood. HIV is preventable and treatable as long as Sri Lankans follow safe-sex practices, get tested regularly and take preventative measures.

Success and Global Impact

Sri Lanka’s commitment to eliminate HIV has already seen success. In 2018, the nation stopped vertical transmission – the transmission from mother to child – of the virus entirely. All pregnant women diagnosed with HIV are provided with ART treatment, assuring their health and the health of their unborn child. The elimination of vertical transmission is the culmination of the steadfast, multifaceted government effort to provide testing and treatment to all men and women.

HIV impacts people on a global scale. By establishing preventative measures and treatment programs, Sri Lanka has pushed back against HIV and taken significant steps to eliminate HIV by 2025. These efforts can be an example for other countries experiencing HIV outbreaks and setbacks. Hopefully, with more government efforts dedicated to fighting HIV, the virus will soon be eliminated worldwide.

Eliza Cochran
Photo: Flickr