Sri Lanka has never been in need of great women. Chronicles tell us about intrepid, patriotic womenfolk who made selfless sacrifices for this land. Behind every great king there was a courageous woman who was either his mother or sister or consort. There have been instances where queens themselves fought for the country.
At present, too, women defend the country to the hilt; they keep the national economy afloat by slaving away in garment factories, on estates and in West Asia though this fact rarely gets highlighted. But for foreign remittances they help rake in the economy will come crashing down. Besides, women have excelled in every field and shattered the so-called glass ceiling to a considerable extent. This country takes pride in having produced the world’s first woman prime minister *though women’s representation in politics remains woefully inadequate.
Two great women have attracted media attention during the past several days. Today, we carry an article on the University of Visual and Performing Arts (UVPA) honouring Kalasuri Barbara Sansoni. A living legend, she needs no introduction. Suffice it to say that the UVPA has, in conferring a doctorate on her honoris causa, honoured both her and itself!
Barbara is in a league of her own as a truly Sri Lankan artist. Prof. Sarath Chandrajeewa, in his citation, paying a glowing tribute to her as a colourist, illustrator, painter, fashion designer and writer, recalls what she has said about herself: “My entire source of inspiration has been this island. Travelling all over I have been overwhelmed by its wonder, inspired by its colour.” These words remind us of another great Sri Lankan who is, unfortunately, no longer among us. Lakshman Kadirgamar was his name. Describing himself, at the unveiling of his portrait at the Oxford University, in 2005, the late legal luminary cum statesman famously said: “Oxford was the icing on the cake but the cake was baked at home.”
The other remarkable woman currently in the news is a 73-year-old resident of Nadugala, Matara. N. S. Kalyani, a retired state employee, is no achiever as such. But, she is an inspiration to all those who are inhibited by the deeply-entrenched socio-psychological barriers to education. She has recently sat the GCE O/L examination, offering Information and Communication Technology as a subject. She has said she intends to study Hindi and electronics as well! Her insatiable thirst for new knowledge is truly fascinating. She has proved that ‘education is a journey, not a destination’. She is worthy of emulation. (Will the Education Minister give her at least a tablet PC?)
We are reminded of a report the USA Today published last year on an American woman, named Doreetha Daniels, who graduated at the age of 99 from the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California with an associate degree in social sciences. It was reported that Daniels had ‘battled to keep up in intensive subjects—such as college-level math and statistics—becoming a regular at the Tutoring & Learning Center’.
Stressing that she wanted to finish her education to better herself Daniels advised prospective students thus: “Don’t give up. Do it. Don’t let anybody discourage you. Say that, ‘I’m going to do it,’ and do it for yourself.” This is, more or less, the message Kalyani, too, has sent out to her fellow Sri Lankans.
Meanwhile, in 2014, we pointed out in this space that out of 225 Sri Lankan parliamentarians 95 had failed the GCE O/L and 145, GCE A/L. There is no reason to believe that the situation has improved since then. Now that the MPs have received from the present administration pocket money to the tune of Rs. 100,000 each a month besides luxury vehicles and an increase in the sitting allowance etc, let those who have failed the GCE O/L and A/L examinations be urged to emulate Kalyani of Matara.
The Department of Examinations usually sets up special GCE O/L and A/L centres in places like prisons. Our privileged lawmakers can have one at the parliamentary complex so that they will be able to sit the aforesaid examinations there and parliamentary standards will improve.
There must be many more senior citizens like Kalyani, desirous of gaining new knowledge and bettering themselves but without the courage to overcome socio-cultural barriers associated with advanced age. They must be encouraged to come forward and realise their educational goals.
Sadly, adult education is a totally neglected field in this country. It should be developed as a national priority and the government, toying with the idea of creating a knowledge economy, which needs to be based on intellectual capital, ought to weigh in with necessary funds. Citizens of all ages have a right to education.
TW’s contention is women should not be forced into politics unless they volunteer themselves.