SRI LANKANS OVERSEAS
THE GENDER BALANCE
Marissa Jansz pictures a future where everyone is treated equally
Q: How do you perceive the progress or lack thereof in Sri Lanka today?
A: To me, Sri Lanka is an interesting paradox. There’s a tremendous amount of energy especially among younger working people. Thanks to the internet and greater travel opportunities, there is more exposure and a broader world view together with important changes in mindset.
That said, there is so much political and economic instability so the future of the country is uncertain. The conservative factions have become even more extreme and there’s a scary attempt to divide society along race, religion, class and gender lines.
Q: And how do compatriots in your country of domicile view Sri Lanka?
A: Most people I speak to are gushing and full of praise! Sri Lanka is a very attractive holiday destination, and many of my colleagues and friends have visited the island over the last six years or so.
They absolutely love the country – commenting on its natural beauty, friendliness of the people and a delicious range of food. Even taxi drivers whom I chat with have a very positive impression of Sri Lanka, and the two most discussed items are tea and crabs (Sri Lankan crab is something of a delicacy in Singapore!).
Q: What were your impressions of Sri Lanka on your last visit – and how much has it changed from the past?
A: I visit Sri Lanka at least twice a year. There are two things I notice immediately on each visit – viz. the number of new food outlets and coffeehouses, and the steep rise in the price of basic items. The cost of living is increasing steadily and I hear regular complaints from my peers about how trying it can be to meet day-to-day expenses.
I’m also very disturbed by the number of high-rise buildings being constructed; there is no proper urban planning or regulation and this will have an impact in the not too distant future.
Q: From afar, how do you perceive news about Sri Lanka?
A: Although I’ve lived overseas for more than a decade, my heart is very much in Sri Lanka so I do have strong emotional reactions to news from the country.
Having been a part of Sri Lankan news media for a while, I am aware of the limitations of traditional media platforms, and try to stay abreast of the news using legacy media as well as alternative platforms.
Q: How do you view the brain drain – and why is there no reversal of it, in your opinion? And what are the root causes of this phenomenon?
A: This is such a sad situation. We have so many intelligent, talented and qualified professionals who are doing exceptionally well overseas.
There are many reasons why such individuals tend to want to remain overseas but I believe that two primary causes are financial security and the quality of life.
Singapore is very sensitive to gender equality in the workplace – and as a woman, it is so much easier to work in a setup that enables you to flourish. It also recognises teaching as a profession, and teachers are paid relatively well and highly respected. We all want to be respected for the work we do and are more likely to stay on in a place that offers this.
Q: What should Sri Lanka focus on most in the coming decade?
A: Political stability is crucial if Sri Lanka is to make progress. Urban planning is also a must.
Q: And what are your hopes for the country in the next decade or so?
A: I would like to see patriarchy and gender discrimination being overthrown – and males and females of all ages being treated equally.
Hopefully, Sri Lanka can build a society where women will not be judged by what they wear, how much they weigh, their marital status or their lifestyle choices. And I look forward to a day in the near future when women can step out of a building confident that they will not be harassed, threatened or harmed on the way to their next destination.