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Combatting Sexism in Sri Lanka. Slowly.

By: MaryBeth Apriceno Emerge Intern

When I arrived in Sri Lanka in June, I was excited to work with Emerge, but also to see more of the world. I wanted to spend my summer getting to know the real Sri Lanka, not just the touristy, sight-seeing spots. Luckily for me, my fellow interns, shared my desire for cultural emersion. Together, we started to learn Sinhala (the language spoken by most Sri Lankans), began a quest to taste all the typical Sri Lankan dishes, and tried our best to do as Sri Lankans do. Therefore, I have enjoyed my time here in here immensely, except for one thing: sexism.

I would never claim that sexism does not occur in the United States; it does. Sexism in Colombo, however, is different in degree. It is something we deal with every day; it is overt, and it is constant.

When it comes to gender equality, Sri Lanka is in many ways a very progressive country. It was one of the first nations to elect a woman as Prime Minister, it is common for women to hold political office; there are laws on the books that make sexual harassment illegal. Yet, street harassment is so prevalent here that young women rarely go out alone. My fellow female interns and I, too, find it safer to travel together, and even still, there are some places we have to avoid all together. I have quickly found that my adventurous trip must be curtailed, my list of places to visit narrowed, and my experience in Sri Lanka restricted because of my gender.

We, as Americans, take gender equality for granted. We forget the struggles women have gone through to assert and maintain their rights. We fail to realize that elsewhere in the world, girls just like us are confined and denied their autonomy simply because of their gender.

But, Emerge and the girls with whom we work are going to change all that – first in Sri Lanka and then all over the world. Emerge girls are resilient; they are strong and courageous. They are standing up for their rights and the rights of their younger sisters and daughters. They will lead by example, demanding the respect due to them.

When I see our girls battling sexism, overcoming patriarchy, and asserting their autonomy, I am touched by their courage and inspired by their strength. I am empowered to demand my own rights and combat sexism in the United States. We are women, and we are strong. We are equal, and we should be tried that way. It is time we stopped accepting sexism, but instead demanded respect and equality.

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