Celebrating Womanhood throughout the centuries

“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”

― N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

A woman’s love and care is unconditional, and her sacrifices for her loved ones are unmatched. Her unique ability to bear up agony makes her suffering and sacrifices go unseen and unheard. This is why the earth and nature is always compared to a woman. Yet, do we really honor and celebrate womanhood? Or have we made her a victim of gender based discrimination, unwanted labor and unpaid work, domestic violence and a victim of cultural misconceptions? The ‘womanhood’ that makes her a venerated goddess becomes the reason that she is being exploited and victimized.  

As the United Nation’s International Women’s day will be celebrated on the 8th March 2020, let us reconsider certain crucial matters regarding womanhood. Celebrating womanhood is all about honoring, recognizing and respecting women and girls and ensuring a secure society for her. And also it is vital to breakdown all the cultural misconceptions and put an end to the discrimination that women have gone through for centuries. 

Women are always celebrated for her unique characteristics such as unconditional love, motherhood, the sacrifices she does for her loved once, and her ability of tolerance etc. Terms such as Ama maaniyo, mawubima, mawubasa, sobadaham mawa, mahi-kanthawa, ganga manio and phrases like amma budu wewa, budu ammo, and gedara budun amma that are popular among Sri Lankans, shows the heartiest feelings people have towards the concept of ‘mother’. We all have spent our earliest days inside the mother’s womb, absorbing nutrition from her body to grow, which is what makes us feel so much warmer and secure when closer to our mothers. Also, scientists have revealed that all of us were actually ‘females’ for 5 to 6 weeks, which is during the time of early development inside the mother’s womb. 

Was our past matriarchy? 

Our history has always been retold and interpreted in a male perspective, ignoring the existence of women. Throughout our history the women’s role has been kept passive, overlooking her valuable contribution. As people who have grown up in a patriarchal society we find it peculiar and challenging to understand and interpret the past in a female’s perspective. 

Women have not always been considered as the weaker sex. There are speculations among scholars about the past being a matriarchal civilization, especially before many of the popular religions were introduced. Matriarchy is the woman playing a dominant role than the man in every aspect of the family and society. Present day matriarchal Asian communities’ hints lost traits of an ancient civilization that was once ‘female dominance’. In these communities the mother or the oldest female in the family is the head of the family. The mother’s surname is passed through marriage and all other relationships and land authority is reckoned through the female line. 

Women celebrated for their valor

A number of queens have ruled past cultures including Egypt, India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka had a number of female monarchs since the 6th century BC. Out of these rulers, some of them were really powerful and were strong political upholders. Anula (5th century BC), Sangha (5th century AD) and Sugala (12th century AD) are to name a few. Female pharos such as Nefertiti (14th century BC) and Hatshepsut (15th century BC) are known for their wisdom and intelligence as great rulers. History is evident about the fact that women have fought real battles in the battlefield. Women like Queen of Jansi (19th century AD), Jhalkaribaii (19th century AD) Viharamaha devi (2nd century BC) and Soma (1st century BC) are celebrated for their fierce nature and valor. 

The Goddess Concept: celebrating womanhood

Some religions have set restriction for the liberation of women while some are far more unconventional. It is widely believed that far before religions were introduced, women were not discriminated as they were after the birth of many popular religions. During many early civilizations the concept of womanhood and fertility was venerated. The mother goddess, jagan-maa, Maatha devi, Amma or Venus are examples of womanhood being personified. During these earliest times, there was no specific ‘male god’ veneration that was dominant. Instead it was the ‘Goddess concept’ that was popular. The Shakti movement and the yoni worshiping cults are evidences of this one popular goddess concept. The cults of Kali, Parvati, Durga, and Pattini are to name a few of well known goddess cults in Hinduism that prevails till to date. 

Gautama Buddha liberates the oppressed 

The Vedic period (1500 BC – 500 BCE),) marks a paradigm shift of human history. During this time, women were looked down upon and discriminated as ‘unclean’, ‘cursed’ and even deprived her from all rights and freedom. Women were considered as unintelligent, impious.  It was during this time Gautama Buddha (4th – 5th century BC) started his preaching and this new philosophy took almost all of northern India by storm due to its liberating and humane nature. Just as the many oppressed people of the lower castes, women too found liberation in this new philosophy. There are many prominent female figures that are highly venerated and followed in Buddhism. Queen Maha Maya and Prajapati, Yashodhara devi, Khema, Utpalawanna and Ambapali are to name a few.

Jesus as a savior 

Centuries passed by and Jesus found a new religion in the region of Middle East during a time of injustice and despair.  The new found religion was spread across Asia and Europe. Once again, oppressed groups of the society found liberation and recognition in this new religion.  The Virgin Mary or Mother Mary is just as prominent as Jesus among this religion. 

A paradigm shift: from venerated to cursed 

From being celebrated and respected, women had to go through a period of despair when she had to struggle for her existence. At one point of history, she was even whipped off her right to vote. Early religious beliefs and literature suggests that women were recognized for her skills and for her intelligence. The paradigm shift that occurred in history changed her place in the society and during these times women were deprived from many basic human rights and judged as the ‘weaker’ and ‘sinful’ gender.  

At present in some parts of the world women are not allowed to be educated or have a career or to choose a partner for marriage. The ‘girl-child’ is considered as a burden in many parts of the world. She is burdened with heavy amounts of unpaid domestic work and sexually harassed. A large number of women become victims of honor killing and domestic violence. Cultures still exists that considers a woman’s worth solely based on her marriage or her ability to produce a male child, and the dowry she brings in. A large number of girls are sold and forced into prostitution. It is surprising to know that the gender pay gap still exists in many parts of the world. Women are considered as ‘objects of pleasure’ and her value is not evaluated based on her education, knowledge, virtues and skills. 

The International Women’s Day 2020; a day to raise awareness

Having a special day dedicated to Women doesn’t mean that just one day will be sufficient for win her rights. This is a day to raise awareness and honor her for who she is. The aim is to secure a society where women are not oppressed or discriminated. The theme for the United Nations International Women’s Day 2020 is “I am Gender Equality; Realizing Women’s Rights”. This year’s ‘Generation equality Campaign’ demands equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, health – care services that respond to their needs, and their equal participation in political life and decision-making in all areas of life. 

Are we going backwards?  

The Sri Lankan society has such values where women are not discriminated or oppressed. Furthermore, compared to many Asian, African and Middle East societies Sri Lanka displays a balance between the two genders. The oldest surviving Pali chronicle Deepavamsa, is believed to be a scholarly work authored by female Buddhist nuns (Bhikkhunis) who lived during the 6th century AD in Anuradhapura. King Devanmpiyathissa’s chief queen Anula (3rd century BC) was free to take a decision to leave her royal status and enter the Bikkhuni order. However, as a culture that has always celebrated women, it is time to question ourselves regarding few controversial and crucial backward opinions that has stirred contemporary the society recently.    

Women are not allowed to entire the uda maluwa at Sri Maha bodhi as she is considered to be kili (impure), and this bo sapling was brought to Sri Lanka by Bikkhuni Sanghamitta, held in her hands. Moreover, the bo tree symbolizes Gautama Buddha who preached a philosophy that liberates anyone no matter their race, gender, age or social status. Isn’t this contradictory? 

Are we going back towards an orthodox society that discriminates women as ‘unholy’ and ‘weak’?  Have we reached that low to believe that a wife who enjoys a ‘cup of tea’ prepared by her husband will be cursed and suffer in hell and her slavery are to be accepted by culture? 

Queen Hatshepsut – Egypt

Queen Nefertiti – Egypt

Mother Goddess figurine from Catalhoyuk, Middle Asia (2)

A Female Bodhisattva

Buddhist Nuns

Sanghamitta arhat therani with the Bo saplin

Queen Viharamaha devi, Sri Lanka

Uncategorized, feminism, goddess concept, matriarchy, motherhood, womanhood, women in history