By Niranjala Ariyawansha
A woman is raped every 90 minutes somewhere in Sri Lanka” – News item
The common term used in Sri Lanka to identify those practicing in commercial sex is ‘Ganikawa’ (Prostitute). Prostitution is illegal in the country and such a person could be arrested and then punished by a court of law. Ganikawa in Sinhala is a feminine gender word. This implies that all those engaged in prostitution are females. But all over the world it is not only women who are engaged in prostitution. Even in Sri Lanka there are many practicing male prostitutes. There is no specific term in Sinhala to identify them. However the majority of those engaged in this profession are females.
Feminists all over the world are against the use of this term – ‘Prostitute’. And they prefer to call them as sex workers. The women’s organizations, by using the term ‘sex workers’ maintain that “providing sexual services for money is another job”. They emphasize the fact that this is one among thousands of other professions. Feminist organizations in Sri Lanka has also removed this word from their vocabulary and instead use the term ‘sex worker’. By using the term sex worker over a long period, the feminist organizations all over the world are emphasizing the fact that “there is nothing special.This is a another job among thousands of other jobs.” Why are they doing this?
There is an answer in Moralism. The term ‘prostitute’ implies many moralistic connotations as a person who sells her body and corrupts society. Those who engage in such behavior are uncivilized or barbarians. Therefore prostitutes should be socially condemned. Those who get caught in practicing prostitution in Islamic countries are stoned to death under the Sharia Law. This shows the power of this moralistic attitude.
The feminists are trying to convince society that the moralistic sense attached to the term ‘prostitute’ needs to be removed. Their position is that no one engaged in this profession should be subjected to moral questioning. In other words, practicing prostitution is not a matter for social censure. As a first step, they want to take off the word ‘prostitute’ in order to liberate these women from the social discrimination. The use of the term ‘sex worker’ at least prevents the verbal maltreatment.
Not illegal in Europe
Most of the developed European countries have legalized prostitution. In those countries police do not raid brothels. Those societies have accepted the fact that men and women are free to use their bodies in any way they want and earning a living by using one’s body for sexual purposes is only another form of employment.
However, in many countries, including Sri Lanka, prostitution is a criminal offense. In some countries there are no specific laws. Some other countries have designated districts or areas where prostitution is legal. These are known as Red Light Streets.
In matriarchal societies sexual satisfaction has a divine meaning. Although presently it is a serious offense to provide sex for money, there is evidence that it had a divine meaning in the past. Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardene of the Horana Sri Palee Campus, who has specialized in cultural studies explained the historical perspective.
“Matriarchal societies considered sexuality as a miracle. In those societies there was a connection between sexuality and religion. These were not the present day established religions. While they worshiped the motherhood, they also considered sexuality as a divine phenomenon. Sexual satisfaction is a gift human beings received from Gods. While the mother earth maintains human lives by providing sustenance, women do the same through the reproductive process. Thus woman becomes a suitable object for worship. Accordingly those societies considered sex as a miraculous phenomenon that unite the human beings with the gods. As ‘Vaishyaa’ connects the divine with human beings, society treated them in the most respectable manner.
Dr. Wijesiriwardene further explained that although today we worship mostly male gods, in the matriarchal societies there were temples dedicated to goddesses. Such temples have been found in Greece and Egypt as well as in India. The women who served in these temples (Devadasi) were the Vaishyaas.
Sex is an Art
“They were honored as priestess. Since sexuality was considered a divine thing it became an art to be taught and trained. These women priests were the teachers who taught this art. Today in some countries if a woman does not have her virginity she will be condemned for life. But in those early matriarchal societies to be a good wife it was necessary to have sex with a man and sacrifice the virginity to the gods. Then only a woman was considered as mature and suitable to lead a family life.”
Even the tribal societies which were there before the matriarchal societies, considered sexual satisfaction as an art to be practiced. It was always the women who taught this art. The beginning of this profession of prostitution has such a remarkable history.
Nagara Shobini during Buddha’s time
In the early patriarchal societies she was known as ‘Puragana’ and considered as the highest institution wielding cultural power. During the time of the Buddha she was known as ‘Nagara Shobini’ which means the one who makes the city beautiful. In modern terms, she maintained a high level saloon with a retinue of attendants who provided various forms of dancing and music to the rich people for a fee. There was a belief that through their association a person will get a broader perspective on life. Instead of the insults they get today, these women received the highest respect in those societies.
Problem of Patriarchy
With the establishment of the patriarchal society the highest positions in the social hierarchy was taken over by men and as a result, the social power held by women declined. All established religions in the world today are patriarchal religions. In spite of the non-violent teachings of the founders, those who wield the state power took over the religions as well. Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardene says, “with this development, social value of the ‘Nagara Shobini’ came down and the meaning completely turned upside down”.
Christian Church, Victorian Morality and Bourgeois Family
With the rise of capitalism and the nuclear (bourgeois) family the law started interfering with the institution of ‘Vaishyaa’ which existed as a form of divine and liberated art. However the Marxists argue that Victorian morality and the family unit built around marriage under Christianity provided a legal permission for prostitution. The Christian church did not give any consideration for the sexual satisfaction of woman because she became an object owned by man in the patriarchal society.
Kumudini Samuel, of the Women & Media Collective says: “Christian church does not recognize the idea of sex for pleasure. Sex is a prohibited thing. But throughout history there was always sex soliciting. But only the man was permitted.”
Legal Marriage and Sexual Jealousy
Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardene says that the early Buddhist societies, before they were influenced by the Christian chruch, did not consider it wrong to seek sexual satisfaction outside the family. Those days marriage was an agreement between men and women. Witnesses were the people only. But the Christian church making it an agreement between human beings and god, created the concept of holy marriage. Accepted view of the Victorian morality was that marriage brings in civility in to uncivilized families, practicing sex not approved by the law. Private property became a compulsory component of these legal marriages. In order to maintain this arrangement, sexual jealousy evolved as a cultural creation.
It appears that sexual jealousy which crept in to the family through Victorian morality made the fulfillment of sexual needs outside the family a morally wrong act. This is how the social disrespect for the profession of prostitution started. Any sexual fulfillment outside the legally allowed limits will lead to the disintegration of the family. Thus the person who provides sex for money, promotes the disintegration of the family unit. Therefore the civilized society should condemn such action and those persons should be subjected to social ridicule.
However in the patriarchal societies today, it is only the women who are condemned for practicing prostitution. A well known saying in the Sinhala-Buddhist society is that: “The man who comes home after engaging in illegal sex could be taken to the house after a bath”. But the society was never that lenient with women. Therefore the woman who provides sexual services has become the most exploited person. As prostitution is illegal, both persons involved should be persecuted as in a bribery case, where the one who pays the bribe and the one that solicits the bribe are both punished.
Woman is the victim
The most powerful argument put forward by those in favour of legalizing the provision of sexual services, is the physical and mental insecurity experienced by the woman in this profession. Possibility of contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, being subjected to forced sex by men and getting involved in drug trade and criminal activities of the underworld are the main problems faced by women sex workers. The most pathetic thing is the social rejection experienced by these women. Commenting on this Ms. Kumudini Samuel said that: “In this context where provision of sexual services is not legalized, the women who works as sex workers face many dangers. This is a relationship based entirely on power. The woman is required to do anything the man wants. As the relationship is based on power and money everything happens to the advantage of the man. High class sex workers may be able to demand. But a woman from a lower class can’t do that.” Those who argue for legalizing of sexual service industry are of the opinion that most of the above problems could be resolved favorably with legalization. But another section of the Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lanka vehemently oppose such legislation. According to them it is a severe blow to the Buddhist morality. But Thailand, another Buddhist country, has legalized prostitution. According to Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardene this was possible because Thailand never came under the Christian influence. It is very clear that early Buddhist societies did not have sexual taboos of this nature. It is a well known fact that from time immemorial all over the world people have gone in search of sexual fulfillment. That is why prostitution is known as the oldest profession in the world. Dr.Wijesiriwardene says “if sexual services are not legalized we should introduce an alternative way to achieve sexual satisfaction.
Could the law make it respectable?
In this so-called Sinhala Buddhist country a woman is allegedly raped every 90 minutes. Sexual satisfaction is a fundamental human right. We have the responsibility to remind the legislators as well as the hypocrite moralists, that every time this basic human need is blocked it creates an environment to overcome this barrier and women become the victims.
Everybody is aware that men from the top most strata of the society to the lowest levels go to prostitutes seeking sexual satisfaction. But people behave as if they don’t know about it.
These are the same people who will oppose the legalizing of prostitution. It is true that this hypocrite moral problem due to Victorian influence cannot be resolved by merely legalizing prostitution. It will remain a problem in our society until the men change their attitudes and learn to treat woman as equals and respect them.
As something is better than nothing we should promote the enactment of required legislation. This will resolve some issues faced by women. The increasing numbers of reported rape incidents make us wonder whether in this country we have a sex problem bigger than our political issues.
Both men and women should be punished
“I don’t think that the law can answer this. If sex is a human need, we must find a way to satisfy that need. Why do women have to sell their bodies? It is never for their sexual satisfaction. Reason is poverty. That is a social problem. The basic issue will not be resolved by tackling a part of that social problem. For that, the whole system should be changed. Without changing the social attitudes on women, by legalizing alone, women will not get the respect they deserve”
“I definitely look at this within the legal framework. The dialogue taking place on the health conditions of these women is very important. If this is legalized it will be very beneficial to their health. On the other hand punishing only the women is a grave mistake. It is a violation of human rights. If prostitution is illegal, then both men and women who engage in this activity should be punished”
Kishali Pinto Jayawardene, Lawyer
“When something is legalized it has a meaning and a value. That is in disciplined societies where people respect each other. Not in a country like Sri Lanka which is an uncivilized barbaric society where nobody respects anybody. This should be legalized only in a society where women are treated as human beings and accept this as another profession. I totally agree that this should be legalized. But if it is legalized in our barbaric society, it will be like giving a permit to carry on with that brutality”
Prof. Desmond Mallikarchchi
Punishment for Rape
A new provision was added to the Section 363 of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka in 1995 increasing the punishment for rape to 10 years of imprisonment. Thus rape is considered a serious crime and it is an offence punishable under the criminal law.
Further the police arrest the men and women loitering on the roads and prosecute them under the Vagrancy Ordinance. This law is implemented on the presumption that inducing a person for sexual activity is an offence.
Police has the power to arrest those in lodging places under the Brothel Houses Act. Under Section 2 of this Act, running a brothel house or aiding and abetting such action is an offence. Therefore Police could arrest all the people in such a place. However police has the power to arrest the women, only if she was providing sexual services inside the house.
Police also has the power under the National Child Protection Authority Act, to arrest anyone inside a brothel house with a minor (less than 18 years). The charge in this case will be sexual abuse of a minor.
Although the Penal Code has so many provisions against illegal sexual conduct, there were 317 complaints of rape during the first quarter of 2012. Out of these, five were incest cases where the rapist was a blood relation. The number of sex workers arrested during this period for engaging in sex for financial benefit was 65.
When we consider the legal position it is clear that engaging in illegal sex is considered a grave crime. However in strict legal terms sexual satisfaction is prohibited only in the following selected areas.
1. Engaging in sex by force without the consent
2. Engaging in sexual activity with minors with or without their consent.
3. Providing the body for sexual satisfaction for financial benefit (Commercial Sex)
With regard to the 1 & 2 above there is no confusion as it is very clear that these are grave offences. The issue is the third category, where a person sells one’s body to another person to achieve sexual satisfaction. In other words this means charging money for providing sex or providing sexual services as one’s livelihood. This is a punishable offense under the law.
A Transvestite – “Please legalize Sex workers”
I am 29 years old and from Dehiwela. I studied in a leading Catholic School in Moratuwa. I became a sex worker around 2003. Though I was born a male I think and act in a feminine manner. I started feeling these changes when I was about 15 years of age. At one time my father had his own company which was considerably large. We even had our own house at Dehiwela. My father’s business collapsed. Now my father works for someone else for a monthly salary of Rs 6,000. I have two younger brothers and two younger sisters. Now I have to take care of my familiy’s finances.
I earn about Rs 70,000 a month. Sometimes about Rs 5000 a day. I have sex only with males. It’s only us who know of our true feelings. Once I was chased away from home. Now I am back. Most think that I am a woman. Outwardly I look a woman. Sometimes the police arrest us. We get assaulted. But, I have never been remanded nor taken to court. Sometimes when the boys on the streets get to know that I am a male they harass me and has even raped me. Even policemen have raped me.
This is very disturbing I live in constant fear of men. I do not go out at all during the day. They would harass me. Though I am a sex worker I am also in transformation of my sexuality. If being a sex worker is legalised we would be free”.