Last week I wrote about the Sri Lankan government declaring its intention to remove an unenforced old law that prohibited women from buying alcohol. But now the president, saying he had only heard about the move from newspapers, has ordered that the prohibition should not be lifted. It should not be a surprise that the Buddhist clergy, an utterly reactionary force in the country, has played a role in this.
Leading monks in the Buddhist-majority country had criticised the decision to lift the ban, arguing it would destroy Sri Lankan family culture by getting more women addicted to alcohol.
Saying he had listened to criticism of the government’s step, President Sirisena told the rally he had ordered the government to withdraw its notification announcing the lifting of the ban.
It came as no surprise to some as he runs an anti-alcohol campaign and has warned in the past that alcohol consumption among Sri Lankan women is increasing “drastically”.
Critics have accused the president of hypocrisy because he has been urging women to be more involved in all aspects of national life. This move is not just a reversal to the status quo, but a step backward. Before, few even knew the law even existed so it was not enforced. But as a result of the publicity, it seems like that vendors will actually no longer sell to women, fearing prosecution.
I was surprised by some statistics in the article obtained from the World Health Organization.
According to World Heath Organization data from 2014, 80.5% of women never drink, compared to 56.9% of men.
Less than 0.1% of women above the age of 15 are prone to heavy drinking, compared with 0.8% of men in the same age bracket.
This is far less than the US, which reports that 23.2% of males and 10.9% of females are heavy drinkers. I would have thought, based purely on my own observations and conversations with friends, that the number of people in Sri Lanka who drink, and drink heavily, would be far higher than the numbers quoted, and greater than in the US.