Embody: Gender |

Sachini Perera & Natalie Soysa

Projecting the Sri Lankan Woman

First conceptualised as part of a gender based photography and audio narrative documentary fora citizen’s journalism website called Ground views, 30 Years Ago initiative, this series of photographs is a meditation on the position and prejudices around the Sri Lankan woman through the eyes of the mainstream print media vis-à-vis the bolder reality of who she is becoming in today’s context – an inscription on her actual body, and the manner in which it has been defined and claimed. Key issues such as rape, abortion, the political discourses around womens’ bodies and a woman’s so-called place in Sri Lankan society in all three of the country’s main languages give a visual and conceptual narrative about how far Sri Lankan women have journeyed to fight for their rights and what has held them back in the past,as well as the present. Through these narratives on the female body, we have tried to create a form of analytical enquiry, even a sensual quest of the female form as a figure of beauty as well as violation. It is hence an attempt at irony.

All images from the series Projecting the Sri Lankan Woman, Colombo, Sri Lanka July 2013

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Most Sri Lankan women strive to find a balance between archaic societal norms and their own inherent identities as equal citizens within the country. This was expressed through the simple use of projections of newspaper clippings on a woman’s body, letting the individuality and social embodiment find balance in one host, but represent the bigger picture surrounding the treatment of such a body at a general level. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in Asia that have a sex ratio favourable to women. It is undisputed that women in Sri Lanka have a good social and economic status, especially in comparison to their South Asian counterparts.

However, women still face exclusion in politics and are marginalised in society due to patriarchal practices and discriminatory attitudes towards them. Sri Lanka for instance, has the lowest record of women’s overall participation in national and local legislative bodies in the South Asian region. In the past few years, there has been an increase in sexual abuse of women and girls in Sri Lanka and the sexual and reproductive health rights of women here are being restricted more and more despite improvements in maternal health. Currently there are more than 1.1 million female-headed households in Sri Lanka and this is mostly attributed to the ethnic conflict as well as the tsunami. However, the State continues to reinforce the concept of male heads of household by posing various restrictions on widows.