Between The Nation State And A Hard Place

May 26, 2015

This interesting piece discusses the cultural expectations of women and the family in South Asia, and the restrictions placed on women’s autonomy, particularly over their own bodies and access to sexual and reproductive health.

“Cultural norms and religion no doubt affect the way we perceive the world. They shape one’s behaviour, habits and practices, and values and ethics. They also dictate how we perceive women in relation to the traditional family. In most countries, including those in South Asia like Sri Lanka, nationalism shapes the discourse on family, gender and sexuality. The family unit is seen as building blocks of an ideal nation, and women are treated as national symbols, valued for their ability to birth future citizens of the nation. Such notions about the family generate norms and values that force women to be submissive and honourable in order to play the role of respectable gendered citizens of the country. Women are forced to fulfil their duties as daughters, wives and mothers throughout their life cycle, not only for the welfare of the family but also that of the country. The country’s honour rides on their good behaviour, and women are policed and controlled in order to create the ideal nation. They do not have access to information and services to affirm their bodily autonomy and they do not have control over their fertility. Restrictions in mobility, decision-making and access to economic resources constrain them from enjoying their rights and exercising their choices. The limited power for decision-making in families directly affects the health-seeking behaviour of women.“

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