Words that will Never be Forgotten

The tropics are the region on Earth which is situated closer to the equator. It is approximately the region between the latitude by the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern hemisphere and the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern hemisphere. In this region, it is a fact that the climate throughout the year has mean temperature more than 32 degrees of Celsius. If this temperature was achieved in a seasonal country, they will have called it the “spring” where they consider it as the season which is mixed with coldness and warmth, leading to the hottest climate, the “summer”.

Because of the hot weather in summer the inhabitants of these regions, tend to wear light weight and airy fabrics for outfits which makes their bodies and skin comfortable in the hot weather. But, in Sri Lanka, which is situated in the tropics where climatic condition is not significant at all in choosing of what to wear, people select outfits considering the so-called social values, cultures and also for protection from harassment.

This opinion of the society is not something which comes as an intellectual criticism or a privately spoken opinion. And it is not be about whether the outfit suits the person or not, but be based on how much revealing the outfit is. A person will be abused based on that fact. And these abuses are received by women, especially the young ones often. Men have the habit of admiring revealing bodies of women secretly, and yet abusing the women and their act in public. It is a popular scenario for women in Sri Lanka to undergo verbal abuses in this criterion called “outfits” or simply about what they wear.

There will be at least one woman every hour in Sri Lanka who undergoes a verbal abuse aiming at her outfit, even whilst walking on the road. Verbal abuse refers to the repeated improper and excessive use of language to humiliate someone or to undermine someone’s dignity which causes emotional harm. Even if the verbal abuses, which is also known as verbal bullying, expressed in the form of non-physical, it still be rather damaging, such as being threatening, insulting, or humiliating toward someone, and is considered as a serious crime in some countries. Verbally abusing someone can harm the mental stability of that person and make that person lose her/his confidence in blending with the society.

Some men think that women are bound to wear skirts that are long enough to sweep the roads while walking, or denim jeans which they consider modest.

Even at the Freshers’ night which is a celebration that occurs only once in every university undergraduate student’s life, the female students have to cover ourselves with a sari, that is six yards in length. While the male students were comfortable in their well-tailored western suits, dancing away, the females faced embarrassments tripping while dancing due to the uneasiness of their outfit.

Wearing a sari during menstruation is an added burden on women and girls, and while menstruation according to our cultures is still a topic that is not discussed with the males, females find it hard to avoid wearing a sari in such instances.

It would better to miss the event and regret later on, than staying there with struggling with the sari, and the difficulties I was going through to have myself use the washroom in this situation”, said one of my friends who left the Freshers’ night early due to her menstruation.

Even during our monthly menstrual period, we are forced at times to wear uncomfortable clothes, either because of the society, or because of having to face the ridicule of some men. The society too blames turns a blind eye towards the abuses of men when it comes to female outfits, as most of the elders in the society want the women and girls to choose clothes that will cover them fully, and not outfits that will suit them, or make them feel comfortable. When men are allowed to wear what and how they like, women are deprived of same under different tags.

There are some words used by men and women to define a girl according to the dress fashion that she follows. For an example, if you wear something which has a deep neck, you are a ‘slut’, if you wear a short skirt, you are an ‘easy going girl’, if you wear a red dress, you are a ‘prostitute’. One day, when my friend Maya wore a dress little above the knees, and waited at the gate of our university, until the others joined her, was asked by a total stranger, who was in his late fifties, “Nangi enawada math ekka yanna” [Will you come with me?].

Dewika (54), Maya’s mother, said that she felt horrible after listening to what her daughter had to undergo. But what she decided as the solution for the situation left me in awe. She said,

“This happened because of the clothes my daughter wore; wearing revealing dresses out of home will create such problems. I will never let her wear such outfits again nor will I let her go anywhere again without me or her dad.”

This is the common scenario that most of the young girls have to face with their families. Parents as a way of taking precautionary steps, limit the freedom of their children who tend to have their own likes and dislikes.  In the case of verbal abusing or sexual harassment, instead of standing up to change the existing negative practices of the society, they force pressure on their girl children to change.

The question is if we are to continue being prisoners in the eyes of men, or re engineering the social norms and values of these societies, to bring freedom to women, where she can chose what outfit suits her best, and what she feels comfortable wearing.

I asked one of my female friends who faced abuse due to clothing, if she will wear what she desired, if every girl in the batch wore so, ignoring all possible dress oriented abuses. Her answer was,

“It is not practical, even if all of us do the same; men will be keen enough to criticize all of us and waste their time on us. It is as if they don’t have any other important work in their lives”.

Yet when I asked the same question from a male batch mate of mind, he simply responded,

“Take courage and wear what you desire to wear, and ignore all the mean abuses of the men and women. And one day you will realize that abusive words cannot rule your life anymore”.

Girls and boys do not think alike; but there are also men like this boy; and our society would be a better place if we had more people like him.

Today in our country due to these verbal abuses related to clothing, young girls and women fear to follow their desires. Women are bound to get permission from either their parents, or their husbands when purchasing clothes.

The issue here is not just about clothes of women; it is how the lives of women are revolving around men, how women are deprived of their freedom and how women are not safe in the society that they live in. Therefore, it is necessary to take steps to reduce verbal bullying of women. If we cannot work towards overcoming this issue, how are we going to move forward with the greater problems that women are facing each day.

Don’t turn your face away, once you’ve seen, you can no longer act like you don’t know. Open your eyes to the truth. It’s all around you. Don’t deny what the eyes to your soul have revealed to you. Now that you know you cannot feign ignorance. Now that you’re aware of the problem, you cannot pretend you don’t care; to be concerned is to be human. To act is to cure.   Vashti Quiroz-Vega (author)

Damsha Jayawardena | Sri Lanka