Saturday, March 7, 2009


Non -provision of restrooms for plantation women, a violation of their rights

Although it is an accepted concept that men and women are equal, in practice women had lived with less social recognition and with lots of discrimination. The attitudes and the structures that maintain the attitudes that lead to discrimination against women need to be changed. International Women’s Day on March 8, reminds men and women that they are equal and are entitled to equal treatment and respect.

Since discrimination against women has been an issue throughout history, on December 18, 1979 the United Nations General assembly adopted the "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women" – which is best known as CEDAW and was ratified by the Sri Lankan government on October 5, 1981. The important concept of CEDAW is that "anything or any action that stops women from enjoying the human rights and freedoms (political, economic, social, cultural and civil and other fields of life) that men enjoy, should be considered as discrimination".

Part of article 11 of CEDAW stresses the point that women have the right to "health and public security" and Article 14 too speaks of women as having the right to "enjoy health care services". The purpose of this article is to examine whether the plantation women who remain the back bone of the economy of this country, enjoy at least basic minimum health care and health security.

We could take a basic need of the working women in the plantation as an example. These women work in large open tea and rubber fields. Their homes are normally very far from the place of work. Women have special physical needs and arrangements need to be made to protect their privacy while working, but in the field where hundreds and hundreds of women work, there are no rest rooms or toilet facilities for them. Men too work in the field and they too have some physical needs. The men answer their calls of nature without any problem and the way it is done is accepted by society as normal. But women cannot do this. We need to reflect and see how these women answer their calls of nature and attend to their private physical needs in the absence of rest rooms or toilets.

It is also not unusual to find plantation women sitting under tea bushes or on roadsides to have their tea or meals. These women tolerate such discrimination of a high degree without protest. What does this situation mean? The message is that these women are not treated as human beings. In our country, life patterns and the facilities people enjoy have changed and developed so much. The plantation sector itself too has undergone changes and development. But don’t we feel ashamed to realize that even the most basic needs of these plantation women are not being fulfiled, their right to privacy is not being respected? One cannot only blame the plantation companies and the managements for this state of affairs. The trade unions in the plantations who have more than 50% women among their membership have also not taken this matter seriously.

The demand to provide rest rooms with toilets facilities in the field had been a longstanding one by the people. There had been agreements between the plantation companies and trade unions that rest rooms with toilet facilities should be provided. But these agreements remain a dead letter. Having rest rooms with toilets in the field is not only a basic human right of women, it is also an occupational right. In these circumstances the question arises why this demand has not been met. As stated earlier, more than 50% of the membership of all the plantation trade unions is women. Trade unions consider their female members as mere workers but do not see them as women or as persons with human dignity and with special gender needs. Most trade unions do not have women at any level of decision- making. Gender sensitivity in the trade unions is very low. This makes the trade unions treat their female membership, who pay the same subscription fee as men, in a discriminatory manner.

This is the reason why trade unions did not agitate for the implementation of the provision for rest rooms in work locations. The trade unions need to genuinely accept this and change their attitudes and approaches. It is the responsibility of trade unions to collectively stand up for the basic rights of their female membership. They have a duty to enlighten the people about the agreements, mobilise them and pressurise the plantation companies to provide rest rooms in the field to ensure the basic rights of women.

It would be unfair if I do not mention that a few estates have provided rest rooms for female workers. According to reports, some of the INGOs working in the plantations have contributed towards such projects. Anyway, the number of rest rooms is so very few and therefore negligible. However, the question that needs to be asked here is that if a few of the plantations could provide this facility why not the others? All have the same responsibilities towards their female workers.

Finally, it should be stressed that the demand for rest rooms with toilets is not a mere demand, but is really a demand that the women in the plantations be treated and respected as human beings having dignity. On the other hand, it is a demand for a legitimate right ensured by CEDAW and through the agreements entered into between trade unions and the companies.

M. Pushpakumary
Gender Promoter
Plantation Rural Education and Development Organization

Prabath Sahabandu/editor

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Pertinent musings by Lotus Prince:

History of Black slavery in America

As per historical records, all slaves were not black and there were all kind of slaves. Slavery originated during the times of kings and mostly it was white kings, who treated their own people as slaves. It was this concept which was later applied to blacks in Africa who were powerless to defend themselves. This was why famous Irish poet wrote these verses, when they were faced with British oppression.


‘’It is better that

we are in our graves,

Than doing slavery,

for slaves

- J. Swift’’


Some early records of American slavery

Martin Luther King

Jamestown had exported 10 tons of tobacco to Europe and was a boomtown. The export business was going so well the colonists were able to afford two imports which would greatly contribute to their productivity and quality of life. 20 Blacks from Africa and 90 women from England.

The Africans were paid for in food; each woman’ cost 120 pounds of tobacco. The Blacks were bought as indentured servants from a passing Dutch ship low on food, and the women were supplied by a private English company. Those who married the women had to pay their passage - 120 pounds of tobacco.

(Gene Barios, Tobacco BBS: tobacco news)

So at the beginning, in early 16th century, Black men (by Dutch ships) and white women (from England) were traded for tobacco. Although they were both servants, blacks were indented servants.

As Native American societies in the Southeast were primarily matrilineal, African males who married Native American women often became members of the wife’s clan and citizens of the respective nation. As relationships grew, the lines of distinction began to blur.

The evolution of red-black people began to pursue its own course; many of the people who came to be known as slaves, free people of colour, Africans, or Indians were most often the product of integrating cultures. In areas such as Southeastern Virginia, the Low Country of the Carolinas, and Silver Bluff, S.C., communities of Afro-Indians began to spring up.

The depth and complexity of this intermixture is revealed in a 1740 slave code in South Carolina: all Negroes and Indians, (free Indians in amity with this government, and Negroes, mulattos, and mustezoes, who are now free, excepted) mulattos or mustezoes who are now, or shall hereafter be in this province, and all their issue and offspring...shall be and they are hereby declared to be, and remain hereafter absolute slaves.

(Patrick Minges, Beneath the Underdog: Race, Religion and the “Trail of Tears)

This was how white race treated fellow humans not more than 300 years ago; even so called brutal Red Indians did not treat their animals this way. But then again they had no guilt over it, as they thought Back men were inferior and they were there to serve the white race.

They failed to comprehend the meaning of Chief Seattle’s statement, “tribe after tribe, nation after nation,” To be fair to white race, it was not only the colour difference that made them think black man as a slave, but behavioral differences as well (due to poverty existed among black nations). And religion too openly stated that Back man was created to serve the white race, by the white god.

One has to understand at that point of time, church had more power than kings certain issues and kings used this power to control their own kingdom in every possible way. So the concept of slavery was nothing new, but a projection of the slavery existed among white race towards blacks, with the blessing of so called servants of god.

Slavery in the United States was governed by an extensive body of law developed from the 1660s to the 1860s. Every slave state had its own slave code and body of court decisions.

All slave codes made slavery a permanent condition, inherited through the mother, and defined slaves as property, usually in the same terms as those applied to real estate. Slaves, being property, could not own property or be a party to a contract. Since marriage is a form of a contract, no slave marriage had any legal standing. All codes also had sections regulating free blacks, who were still subject to controls on their movements and employment and were often required to leave the state after emancipation.

(American Treasures of the Library of Congress: MEMORY, Slavery in the Capitol,

But then as it was predicted, “Everything was a wave in an ocean”, Indians were enjoying the land for thousands of years, and white race have done it for mere 300 years and now their era is slowly coming to an end. And now it is nothing to do with black and white anymore, but economic prosperity at large. The great American dream of a super nation is withering away and new era is downing.

Had anyone predicted 20 years ago, that America would be ruled by a black president in 20 years time, he would have been considered as a lunatic. It was never a possibility as America was the most powerful country in the world and black man was considered as a second class citizen. Perhaps this was why Shakespeare said “There is tide in men’s affairs, if taken at high, lead to fortunes. Omitted all our voyages in life bound to end in shallow waters”.

Although it was taken at high,
at last, after 300 years tide seems
to be changing

Although things changed over the time, the quality of life of Black did not change, significantly. Blacks were oppressed in many ways for many years and this is vividly illustrated in a statement of Late Martin Luther King, which I have quoted above.