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Women on Top: Sexuality and rights in Sri Lanka

in SRI LANKA, 11/03/2011

The author delivered the speech below at the annual International Women’s Day celebration event organised by Equal Ground - WOMEN ON TOP. This event also marked the launch of the 2011 campaign: A woman loving another woman is also a woman. Respect her rights.

The idea behind the commemoration of International Women’s Day 2011 by Equal Ground was to provide lesbian, bisexual and transgender women of Sri Lanka a space to voice their concerns and share their experiences. At the event, Ms. Sumika Perera spoke on the role of the women’s movement in Sri Lanka and its responsibility to the Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender women of this country who are still marginalised and shunned by society. In addition, Bhoomi shared her experience as a trans-woman in Sri Lanka. The audience comprised of women diplomats, activists, academics and businesswomen.

I was asked to speak about what it is like for me as a straight woman to be part of the LBT movement here in Sri Lanka, but I am going to address a more fundamental issue which I believe is vital to all Sri Lankan women – the issue of sexual freedom as a woman’s human right.

The issue of sexual freedom raises a whole host of other related women’s issues: individual choice and privacy, sexual identity and whether we should carry labels and be boxed, as well as gender politics. Have women leaders really contributed to increased political participation for women and increased rights for women in society? There are also the issues of reproductive control and sexual health, economic empowerment, and finally the importance of leadership.

However, sexuality and sexual freedom are not subjects that enter easily into our realms of communication. None of us – straight or LBT – can claim to be entirely comfortable talking about these issues when it relates to us. Is this not true?

Our religion, our culture, our society and our family as well as our friends generally find it “wrong” for women to discuss their sex and sexuality. The spaces that exist for women to do so are few and far between, but what is indeed essential is the creation of more spaces for all women to talk openly, freely and share experiences in order to develop common solutions. This is essential for the success of the LBT movement and in my view, this is where the Sri Lankan Women’s Movement must reach out, without prejudice or bias, to their sisters in the LBT community to create this larger space to bring about the legal and attitudinal changes that are required to ensure the equality of treatment for all women regardless of their sexuality.

I would like to conclude by stressing that we must stop being afraid about our sex and sexuality and perhaps, we could learn something by listening to the lyrics of ‘Born this way’ by Lady Gaga, and shout it out for the world to hear – we are proud to be women.

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