Life revolves around the family for most Sri Lankans. In cultures such as that of Sri Lanka, the family is the first a person becomes a member of at birth. The interests of the family are expected to come before those of the individual and loyalty (such as preferential treatment) is shown to fellow family members. Furthermore, the acts of an individual can impact the perception of the entire family by others.
A person’s most important relationships are usually within the , but connections with one’s extended family are also deeply valued. Three or four generations often live together, with the male side of the family connecting the relations. While the mother holds a significant amount of household authority and is respected, the father (or eldest son) is usually the . Age is also a source of within the household, with elders being highly respected and cared for at home by the family far into their old age. As a token of respect, it is customary to address any elders as “aunty” or “uncle”.
Although there is a longstanding tradition of both men and women participating in the labour force, the general trend is for men to focus on income opportunities while women focus on the domestic sphere. Many women do participate in the paid workforce on a significant level; however, their contribution is not evenly distributed, with a high concentration of women in professions such as tea picking, garment creating and teaching.
However, women in Sri Lankan society tend to hold a higher position in society than they do in other South Asian countries. This is largely due to the fact that South Asian traditions such as child marriage are uncommon in Sri Lanka. Moreover, Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to elect a female prime minister (1960). Formally, women have full citizenship rights, but they are still expected to defer to men across most (if not all) domains of life.
Relationships and Marriage
Arranged marriages were once common in Sri Lanka and may continue in rural parts of Sri Lanka. Marriages are arranged to pair people of the same socioeconomic status, and caste (if relevant) to ensure the social order and structure of society. Linking to the idea of purity underpinning the , the sexual ‘purity’ of the woman also plays an essential part in the marriage contract. However, arranged marriages are no longer common practice among the younger generation. There is a rise in ‘love marriages’, which are initiated by the couples themselves. The newlyweds are often of the same socioeconomic status and , yet the man is expected to be slightly more qualified, educated and older than the female.
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