Sri Lanka Reverses Archaic Law; Women Can Now Purchase Alcohol

By Victoria Kim 01/12/18

For the first time in more than 60 years, Sri Lankan women over the age of 18 are allowed to buy alcohol without the state's approval.

Sri Lankans standing in front of the Indra Wine Shop.

Sri Lanka just rolled back a 1955 law that prohibited the sale of alcohol to women—marking a departure from archaic policies that are said to impede progress in the South Asian island nation.

It is now legal for women over the age of 18 to purchase alcohol and work in establishments that sell alcohol, including restaurants, without needing the approval of the state.

The amendment to the law was announced Wednesday (Jan. 10) by the Minister of Finance and Mass Media, Mangala Samaraweera.

How will this affect Sri Lanka? Apparently enforcing the previous law was not a priority for the government, but nevertheless, according to the BBC, many women are happy about the change.

The BBC also said that “a majority of women traditionally choose not to drink alcohol as they see it as contrary to Sri Lankan culture.”

But the president is not so enthusiastic about relaxing alcohol laws. President Maithripala Sirisena is known for his opposition to alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use. He has claimed that Sri Lankan women are drinking more alcohol in recent years.  

“We all are aware that drug abuse has become a pressing national issue,” he said in 2016, according to BBC.

However, Minister Samaraweera, who made the Wednesday announcement, is more hopeful that scrapping outdated laws will usher in new progressive policies.

In a November 2016 interview with The Hindu newspaper, President Sirisena listed reducing substance use as one of his goals in office. “One is a campaign to improve indigenous food production. Second is sustainable development, taking into consideration climate change and global warming,” he said at the time. “Third is a campaign against illicit drugs, and also gradual reduction and elimination of tobacco and alcohol usage.”

In May of that year, Sri Lankan newspaper Colombo Page reported that Sirisena, who previously served as Minister of Health, blamed alcohol and tobacco use for rising poverty and poor health among low-income Sri Lankans, claiming that they spend 35% of their income on smoking and drinking.

Another goal outlined by Sirisena is to eliminate tobacco cultivation in Sri Lanka by 2020, and raising taxes on cigarettes.

The government already has one victory under its belt. Tobacco companies had previously tried resisting the government’s attempts at maximizing the surface area of health warnings on cigarette packages. But in 2015, the Sri Lankan Parliament established a bill that requires that health warnings cover 80% of cigarette packaging.

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