Connect with us

Opinion

Think of poor women, girls

Published

on

Open letter to Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi

Dear Minister, I’m writing to you with grave concerns on the 75th budget presented to parliament recently and its lack of gender sensitivity, especially that related to women’s health. I believe I stand with the majority of women of Sri Lanka, when raising the issues of period poverty faced by women and girls. Inadequate access to menstrual hygiene and education, or referred to as period poverty, is an issue equally affecting women, in across both rural and urban settings. Over 30% of the population consists of menstruating women, therefore, a woman’s ability to access feminine hygiene products shouldn’t be hindered by the government.

Inaccessibility to low-cost feminine hygiene products, lack of infrastructure to address these specific needs, and unavailability of effective educational tools to teach menstrual hygiene, are some of the major issues women and girls deal with on a regular basis in relation to period poverty in Sri Lanka. The lack of proper Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) facilities within school premises, workplaces and general public, act as a strong deterrent for women and girls to engage in normal daily activities, including going to school or work during their period. Such deterrents include inability to afford proper sanitary napkins, the lack of facilities to dispose sanitary pads, privacy to wash and change feminine hygiene products.

Due to the lack of these very basic requirements, absenteeism is almost normalised within schools and workplaces amongst women and girls during periods of menstruation. This is especially evident during schools’ annual sportsmeet season, and when students have extracurricular activities such as tuition or other activities after school hours. The lack of basic WaSH facilities forces many girls to opt not to participate, rather than risk an uncomfortable situation. All these issues are not just women’s issues but health-related issues, if they aren’t addressed and dealt with timely.

On average a girl uses between 12-15 pads for a cycle of 4-5 days, using between 3-4 pads a day every month—approximately 1.5 packets of sanitary pads per menstrual cycle. A household with three female members of reproductive age may use up to 4-5 packets a month, costing them on average LKR. 500-625 (LKR. 125 per packet). In a low-income family, when given the choice, they would always opt to prioritise buying rations over feminine hygiene products. Or, in the case they do buy sanitary pads, it may not be enough causing female members to wear the same napkin longer due to its scarcity. Which makes them vulnerable to health and reproductive health issues.

A study conducted in 2018 by Oxfam in Ambagamuwa, Hatton revealed that 70% of women and girls use disposable sanitary pads throughout their menstrual cycle. While this figure indicated may show the shift in behaviour of girls opting to use disposable sanitary pads instead of cloth, this may be hindered if unaffordability makes it inaccessible. Even worse, this inaccessibility may cause more serious health issues, as women and girls may opt to wear the same sanitary pad for a prolonged period exposing them to other health issues.

Poor sanitary hygiene increases the bacterial flora in the genital area predisposing them to bacterial vaginosis, fungal infections and even urinary tract infections. Lack of menstrual hygiene has also been identified as a risk factor for developing cervical cancer, especially when women and girls do not have access to sanitary napkins they depend on unhygienic replacements such as old cloth. Therefore, the health cost related to period poverty is as important as the social and economic burden that may be highlighted in many dialogs following the presentation of the 2021 budget.

Increasing taxation on an essential hygiene product would cascade down to a health issue with socio economic impacts.

While women and girls do desire to live in a nation that is secure, as does every citizen of this country, their right to accessibility of essential needs should not be deprived or given any less importance. As period poverty isn’t just a women’s issue, it is a health issue.

As a tax paying citizen of the country, it seems imprudent to increase the price of an essential hygiene product that’s needed for more than 30 percent of the country’s population.

We are hopeful that the government sees the importance in creating a conducive environment, to encourage more women to engage in and contribute to the formal economy. The lack of access to adequate sanitary facilities has been identified as one of the main barriers women and girls face, whether it be in the workplace or at school. A step towards gender sensitive budgetary proposals would reflect lifting such barriers, and taking action to not enable the passing of inhibitive budgetary reforms for women, while also keeping in the line with the Sustainable Development Goals of promoting gender equity. Gender sensitive budgeting would be a milestone in that direction.

We have placed trust in your government to do the right thing in setting an example to the rest of the world by removing the taxation placed on this essential item.

LAKMINI JAYATHILAKE

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinion

Perish without western science and medicine

Published

on

The credit of elimination of many deadly diseases in the known history – smallpox, malaria and polio – goes to western science.

When the malaria epidemic raged in Sri Lanka, mainly in the Sabaragamuwa and northwestern provinces in the 1830s, nearly 80,000 people died out of a population of some six million. Sufferings of people were immense, and more than hunger, in some places there was no one to bury the dead. The leaders of the leftist movements at the time, took the lead in providing relief to the poor.

This is one of the first hand experiences of them, vividly explained in the book “Revolt in the Temple”, written in commemoration of the 2500 Buddha Jayanthi. The relief workers entered a village in Sabaragamuwa. No people could be seen, as most of them have either died and some had left the area. When they traced the village deeper, a cry of a child could be heard. It was a child sucking the breast of the dead mother. By the side of the mother was a dead elder child. In front of the house was a mound of soil, the grave of the father, who had died earlier.

Finally it was western science, quinine, not indigenous medicine, which rescued people.

I must hasten to add the following. When I returned after foreign training about 20 years ago, I was posted temporarily to a major hospital at Sabaragamuwa. After seeing quality healthcare abroad, it was shocking to see more than 25 newborn deaths per month. I, along with my senior female colleague (currently at Lady Ridgeway Colombo) got the JAICA Japanese project expedited and changed to the best standards. Finally, when we left, one year later, only one or two newborn deaths occurred per month. Very small babies were surviving and the quality of care was excellent. Now such care is available islandwide, thanks to western medicine (and free health service).

In both the above-mentioned examples, quality healthcare is due to the advancement of western science. The famous evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, referring to the journal New Scientist, says, (available in YouTube,”try to understand science or you ….).

Even a bodhisathwa would suffer thirst or hunger depending on the place of birth, as per Buddhist teachings. The availability of western science and medicine for survival, is part of niyama dharma of Buddhism? (Anyone interested in niyama dhamma can browse the same).

 

Dr LAL RATNASIRI

Child Specialist/Matara

Continue Reading

Opinion

Admission of medical students at the age of 18

Published

on

I am writing this in response to the news item in your paper of 26 January 2021 under the caption, “GMOA seeks university admission for medical students at the age of 18”.

This communication from me is practically from the horse’s mouth; from someone who, so many eons ago in 1965, benefitted by being allowed the privilege of joining the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ceylon, as a novice Medical Student, at the tender age of 18 years and two months.

I sat the GCE (A/L) Examination in December 1964, at the age of 17 years and five months, offering the four subjects of Physics, Chemistry, Zoology and Botany. In or around March 1965 we had the Practical Examination in all those four subjects at the University of Ceylon in Reid Avenue. I think the results of the examination were released around July or August 1965. There were around 250 vacancies for medical students, 150 in the Faculty of Medicine Colombo and 100 in the Faculty of Medicine, Peradeniya. There were only two Faculties of Medicine at the time. I qualified to enter the Colombo Medical School with just four simple passes in the four subjects. In fact, although there were vacancies for 250, there were only around 220 students who had got through all four subjects. Even those with three passes with a credit or a distinction had managed to enrol for medical education.

I qualified with MBBS 2nd Class Honours at 23 years and one month of age and started working as an Intern Medical Officer at the Colombo General Hospital at the age of 23 years and two and a half months. From then onwards after many postgraduate examinations I became a fully qualified Specialist Consultant at the age of 30 years. I was in England for my postgraduate studies when I cleared the final hurdle of the MRCP in 1977. I returned to Sri Lanka in 1978 and was posted as a Specialist Consultant Paediatrician to the Badulla General Hospital at the age of 31 years. Thereafter, I was most fortunate to be allowed the dispensation to provide my services to the hospitals at Badulla, Ratnapura, Kurunegala, Kalubowila and the Lady Ridgeway Hospital, all for 29 years, till my retirement at the age of 60 years.

I am not writing this letter as a manifestation of ‘monkey praising his own tail’. Far from it. I am doing so to firstly be ever so grateful to the education systems of our motherland that provided a child from a very ordinary lower middle-class family, which barely managed to make ends meet, the opportunities that

were perhaps the birth right of every child. We were all equal and given the chance of a lifetime to excel in our respective fields. Some of us at least, managed to make good use of it. I do hope that I have, at least even partly, fulfilled my obligations to the people of this country in return for what was given to me on a platter by them.

The 1960s were well before the advent of computers. Dedicated men and women of the Ministry of Education would have toiled, even burning the midnight oil, to organise the GCE Advanced Level Examinations, correct answer scripts, arrange the practical examinations, tot up the marks and then finally release the results, all within just about six to seven months. Everything had to be done by hand and even the results had to be entered by hand. Yet for all that, they did it with such tremendous devotion and commitment that benefitted all of us. There would have been thousands of files with neatly entered details. There was only a Ministry of Education. There was no Ministry of Higher Education. For the government of the day, education was education; higher or otherwise. Funding was also for education. All those fine people who worked in that ministry saw to it that the youth got a break. We were all very much like their own children.

As was quite rightly pointed out by the GMOA, the current set of doctors are only able to qualify with the basic MBBS in their late twenties or even early thirties. Most of their potentially productive periods of youth are spent waiting for results or twiddling their thumbs and doing nothing at home before they could either enter a medical school or waiting to be posted as doctors even when they finally qualify. So much of very valuable time is lost in the entire process of Higher and University Education. In fact, in the late seventies when I was posted as the Specialist Consultant Paediatrician to the General Hospital Badulla, there were junior doctors such as House Officers and Senior House Officers in the hospital, who were older than I. An indirect effect of these delays is also the necessary postponement of marriage and the starting of their own families for many doctors, male and female. The lady doctors of rather advanced age could even have problems of reduced fertility and the real risk of congenital defects of the babies that are related to maternal age.

All of this is indeed a crime. None in any government in living memory has even seriously attempted to redress this appalling situation. With the facilities available today and with some decent leadership and proper organisation of the systems, it would not be a huge big deal to take things back to what it was during the halcyon sixties. All it would need would be an iron-willed commitment, embellished by unwavering enthusiasm. I am quite sure that there are capable people around who could make a real difference in such a context.

I have been ever so fortunate to have been afforded the opportunities that I was provided right throughout my childhood and youth. I have written many times before, extolling my gratitude and veneration to people such as Dr C. W. W. Kannangara and other persona, who were the designers, architects, facilitators and perpetuators of our free education system. I would love to see the very same opportunities, especially in university medical education, which I had, being made available to the youngsters of today. We owe it to our people and our youth to do so in a gesture of obligation to the future of this resplendent isle.

The GMOA has reportedly written to the President and the relevant Ministers of Government regarding the topic under discussion. I hope very much that some acolyte would be kind enough to show this letter to the very same legislators who wield such power which would be able to make a difference.

Continue Reading

Opinion

ECT: A toss between confrontation and compromise!

Published

on

People placing their signatures on postcards during a protest campaign held by the railway unions on Monday against what they called a move to sell the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port (Pic by Thushara Atapattu )

 

By I. P.C. MENDIS

States and Governments exist and coexist internationally on the basis of mutual trust, understanding, good-will and cooperation. If any state or government chooses to work outside these norms, it is normally classified as a Banana Republic and generally finds itself isolated with none to care for it. If they choose to be so isolated, they should be confident of going it alone or have clandestine backing of some super-power. North Korea and Cuba for example are virtual dictatorships/authoritarian and their populations perfectly regimented to face any situation. Sri Lanka with its divisive forces and elements bred in democratic traditions, cannot afford to be North Korea or Cuba. Nevertheless, whether one likes it or not, its history is replete with treachery. One need not go so far, but the way some of our politicos behave and the frequency with which they switch political ideologies and affiliations could be ample testimony to prove the point.

 

The EasternTerminal

There is no question that covenants and agreements which we have entered into with other countries have to be scrupulously honoured, if Sri Lanka is not to be considered “a pariah state”. If we vitiate or digress, we lose faith, face and confidence with the entire international community, adversely affecting, inter alia, trade and commerce. This is not to say that the door is shut for any re-negotiation of any provision on expressly good compelling grounds. A complete abrogation of the Eastern Terminal MOU ex parte, as some do agitate, is not only out of the question but out of our reach, without adverse consequences. Perhaps that privilege is exclusive to powers which can boast of nuclear strength. They can even withdraw their contribution to the UN, withdraw from membership of its Agencies, and even compare some of them with cesspools and still trot about unscathed! Sri Lanka is not that fortunate — those who strain their muscles need to realise.

As for the Eastern Terninanal,, what is baffling is that although there were a few whimpers, here and there, it was only a few days ago, after permitting opposing sections to gather momentum and work themselves to a crescendo — that the government through the President, clearly explained fully at Walallawita, the government’s position that it is now carrying the Yahapalana baby, re-negotiated by him with the Indian Prime Minister.

It is indeed most fortunate that the latter did not refuse to budge or choose to ask for a “quid pro quo” as it happened in the case of the Hambantota Port and the Port City, where we had to concede a second 99-year lease and an additional block respectively. Mattala Airport was saved by the skin of its teeth !

President’s Dilemma

Apparently the re-negotiated formula (Jt. Stock Co.) had either been initiated by President Gotabhaya or agreed to mutually at the summit, and it is definitely not within the norms of international decorum and decency to go back and haggle on that issue, however strong the opposition to it is locally..The country’s image is at stake. He would not certainly expect his people here to make him look ridiculous in the eyes of the Big Brother across the Palk Straits, and more-so the international community. .Sri Lanka’s honour and pride are at stake, and his people need to stand by him and strive to understand and compare the re-negotiated formula with the Yahapalana Agreement, as to which is more beneficial or less dangerous. Many of those who shout hoarse now had maintained a stoic silence when the MOU was signed, and hence ought to share the responsibility. The opposition seems to be of a mostly political nature than a patriotic one.

India has unequivocally made its presence felt when it had no second thoughts of invading Sri Lanka through its armed forces, euphemistically called the IPKF,.preceded by the infamous “parippu “drop! President JRJ had his arm twisted into the 13th Amendment, with which we are now stuck – a white elephant- despite India failing to perform its part of the deal.. Former East Pakistan is now Bangladesh, “courtesy” India ! The “sandos” ought to realise. Sri Lanka has by necessity to be tactful and diplomatic without confrontation and bogus rhetoric.

Prime Minister Modi seems a different kettle of fish to Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, and we have to capitalise on his current goodwill. He could mean business if he wants to with the US on his side. In re-negotiating it would be beneficial if we were to point out the trade balance in its favour, and the fact of having already released our oil tank farm in Trincomalee, and a section of the retail oil business, as also the pronounced Indian business interests already here.

 

Compromise Solution

Without disturbing the already mutually agreed arrangement for a Joint Stock Company,some of the fears expressed by the opposing forces here could possibly be allayed, with the proposed company being registered as an unlisted company, with a strict embargo on the sale of any minority shares to any other party other than the Port Authority, the Chairman to be from the majority shareholding,(Port Authority), the Managing Director (CEO) to be nominated by he Investor(s) with the nod from the Board of Directors, the majority on the Board to be from the major shareholding, one of whom should be the nominee of the Minister of Finance. If there are to be more than one shareholder among the minority group, they could form a consortium and provide a written agreement enshrining these and other conditions. ( The President had hinted on the possibility of there being more than one minority shareholder). Such a solution would possibly take the wind off the sails and satisfactorily end the impasse.

 

 

Continue Reading

Trending