A Woman’s Place
Diane Faires – Sri Lanka
Last month I had an experience that reminded me of the powerful role I can play here as an outsider, with different perspectives and ideas. Sometimes I get discouraged by the lack of progress my English classes seem to be making, but I forget that simply being here and interacting with the students can be just as meaningful as the day-to-day teaching work.
We had our annual inter-school English drama competition, and my students had rehearsed hard and did a fantastic job presenting scenes from “The Diary of Anne Frank”, a moving play, very relevant to their own experiences as an oppressed minority that has survived war and ethnic violence.
Their competitor staged a play based on the theme that a woman’s role is in the home, and her duty is to take care of her husband and children while the man supports the family financially. They acted out a story that showed the negative consequences on a family in which the mother “selfishly” chose to work outside the home. I could feel my blood pressure rising while I watched them perform. I couldn’t believe my ears, that in the 21st century this kind of oppressive attitude towards women still exists and is being impressed upon young women! To top it off, all of the actors in the play were teenage girls (many of whom probably didn’t fully understand the script chosen for them by their teachers), AND their production was awarded first place in the competition by a panel of local judges.
Although Sri Lanka was the first country to have a female prime minister (Sirimavo Bandaranaike) and, in fact, the current president is female, and women do enjoy a high degree of professional freedom (even the school performing that play has a woman as principal!), socially women here still face a lack of freedom. Many marriages are still arranged by parents,
sometimes with little input from the daughter. Women, even those who do work, are expected to serve their families and do their household duties with very little help from their husbands. The ideal wife or daughter is expected to be obedient and submissive.
But as I was discussing the drama afterwards with the students from my school, I was happy to hear them disagree with its message, both the girls and the boys. I know their attitudes have been shaped by positive role models in their lives – strong mothers, teachers, sisters, and friends who have the courage to speak their minds and demand their rights. And I hope that as someone who brings different experiences and perspectives to Jaffna, and as a confident young woman who challenges the gender norms here, I can add my influence, too.
I hope these youth will grow up feeling they have more choices for themselves and more control over their lives. I hope they will feel the freedom to express their own ideas, even when they clash with the social standards they see on stage and at home.
Diane serves as a Global Mission Intern by the Common Global Ministries Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. She teaches English and participates in community- based work.