Others too have portrayed her not only as a ‘Sudhu Amma’, but also in terms of her championship of Buddhism, and her dedicated service to education as well as to Sri Lanka. I would, however, like to explore her identity as a woman. As she writes of her arrival in Sri Lanka (I am citing [...]

Sunday Times 2

Buddhist education of women: A feminist perspective

We publish today the first part of excerpts from the Marie Musaeus Higgins and Peter de Abrew Memorial Lecture delivered by Maithree Wickramasinghe

Others too have portrayed her not only as a ‘Sudhu Amma’, but also in terms of her championship of Buddhism, and her dedicated service to education as well as to Sri Lanka. I would, however, like to explore her identity as a woman. As she writes of her arrival in Sri Lanka (I am citing Musaeus teacher, Thilaka Subasinghe), “There was an advertisement in The Path, the magazine of the Buddhist Theosophical Society, indicating that consequent to the death of Miss Picket, there was a need to find a learned lady, who is keen to work for the advancement of Buddhist girls in Ceylon.

I saw the letter signed by Col. H. S. Olcott and Mr. Peter De Abrew. As this was what I wanted, I confirmed to them that I was willing to come. I arrived in Ceylon on November 15, 1889 and met Col. Olcott.”

Here then is a woman, who in the late 19th century, decides, simply on the strength of a modest advertisement, to embark on a journey to the other hemisphere, alone, to a land known to her only through her reading. Of course, we need to contextualise her journey in the context of her times.

No doubt she may have been grieving for her husband; no doubt that she may have been already familiar with Colonel Olcott through the Theosophist movement, but she was also part of an intellectual dynamic of the times and (like other educated fellow liberals and radicals), she was questioning the rise of a social order created by industrialism, the ethics of the colonial enterprise and the contradiction between social needs and orthodox religion in Europe and the US. Like a number of other white women who came to South Asia, (Feminist researcher Kumari Jayawardena records their journeys) Helena Blavatsky, Annie Besant, Madeline Slade, Margret Noble, Mira Richard, Agnes Smedley and Katherine Mayo, Ms. Higgins too was willing to give up the familiarity and security of her life in Washington DC to pursue educational and social activism in Sri Lanka under the British.

In other words, she was a woman actively engaging with the intellectual currents and politics of Sri Lanka; agitating for social change. Remember, she later co-founded the Ceylon Reform Society along with Anne Besant.

Musaeus College today. Pic courtesy musaeus.lk

This indomitable strand of social activism was what led her, along with Peter de Abrew (with the help of William de Abrew’s generous donation of land), to establish the wattle and daub hut with a cadjan roof that was to serve as a school for a group of 18 students in 1891 .
This was what led her to continue her work of educating generations of young women — despite a climate somewhat hostile to her constitution, despite the primitive conditions of those early years and despite the relentless attacks of white ants on the mud walls of the original school.

This was what led her to continue to fundraise with her friends and acquainted philanthropists to upgrade the school; moving to a two-storied building within a couple of years, adding a shrine room, and then a nursery as well as a cottage at different times, and ultimately, launching a women’s teacher training college to further the cause of women’s Buddhist education in English in Sri Lanka.
Imagine how gratified Marie Musaeus and Peter de Abrew would have been to see the school today — with its multistoried buildings, its indoor swimming pool and its hi-tech auditorium — a school which provides an education to 6,700 girls and which, I am told is the largest private girls’ school in South Asia. In fact, even I am amazed when I think back to the homely quadrangle bordered by flowers that served as the heart of the school during my days.

Nineteenth century Musaeus College was not confined to Buddhists. An article in the Island in 2009 maintains that its gates were open to students from all communities; and of course, it had members of various nationalities and communities in its teaching staff. I think it is important for us to make a distinction here — despite the title of the institution as a ‘Buddhist Girls’ Schools’, Musaeus was founded to provide an education based on Buddhist ethics, not as an institution to provide an education for Sinhala Buddhist girls only.
Similarly, Ananda College, started in 1886 to provide a Buddhist education in English for boys, did not impose limitations on its students at its inception.

Sudu Amma: Marie Musaeus Higgins

On the occasion of this memorial lecture then, I would like to express my gratitude to both Marie Musaeus Higgins and Peter de Abrew for their vision and their action, which led to tremendous transformations in the lives of generations of young women.

Consequently, the topic that I would like to focus on today is that of The Buddhist Education of Women – from a Feminist Perspective. As such, I would like to explore the historical trajectory of women’s education and contemplate what is meant by an education and especially what is meant by a Buddhist education over time.

As a feminist scholar, I will be subscribing to feminist and gender perspectives in so doing. You may wonder why I have chosen a somewhat tedious and perhaps even ‘tired’ topic such as women’s education.

Let me tell you. Is not only because of the current woes and vagaries that the education system in Sri Lanka is experiencing; but it is also because of the distinct role that our school, Musaeus College, historically played in Sri Lankan women’s education; and because, as an academic and an educationist, my life is interlaced with the field of education.

Women’s education in antiquity 

To contemplate women’s education we need to return to the sepia tones of the distant past, to the threadbare ola leaf chronicles of the Sinhalese; to the religious zeal of the Christian missionaries disembarking on the island’s shores; to the colonial impulse of the British and the distinct religious politics pertaining to education in this country; as well as the revolution brought on by the welfare reforms of the 20th century. As a feminist, I find it extremely tempting to conceptualise an island cloaked in the mists of antiquity, inhabited entirely by women (yakkinis), and to trace the education of Sri Lankan women to the proud Queen Kuveni.

Kuveni’s educational prowess, as we know, was in the occult rather than in traditional education or the competence of all rulers — military warfare. Kuveni practised her knowledge of witchcraft to protect her dominion from invaders like Vijaya. While we must be cautious about the validity of speculating on legendary material, we must also remember that we will always be dependent, by and large, on the imagination, when it comes to narratives claiming the origin of a nation.

So, if the choice were concerning Suppadevi of the Vanga kingdom (and her keeper ­- the Lion), or the incestuous, patricide Sinhabahu or the marauding coloniser Vijaya, personally, I would prefer to go with Kuveni. With the advent of Theravadha Buddhism in the 2nd century BC, the bhikkhuni order established by Sangamittha Theri provided a rich source of spiritual education as well as a religious sanctum for women from the higher tiers of Buddhist society to the lesser.

However, as we are well aware, the bhikkuni order was socio-culturally a lower order than the bhikku order, and today, in complete decline. Further, women’s historian Sirima Kiribamuna contends that there were fewer bhikkunis than bhikkus throughout the centuries -­ going by the inscriptions and chronicles of the dhanas given by the monarchy and records of vihara ceremonies. Moreover, the remains and ruins of nunneries are scarcer than monasteries. Perhaps this can be related to the multiple roles and responsibilities within the domains of the family and home to which women were consigned, which prevented them from ‘renouncing the secular world’ to pursue knowledge and enlightenment within the Buddhist scope of life. For, when they did take to the saffron robes they did so not only to attain nirvana and be freed from the gyration of birth, death and rebirth but also for a range of reasons as poetised in the Theri Gathas and noted in the Chulavamsa.

Peter de Abrew: Founding father of the school

These include an impassioned desire to be free — free from domestic violence and kitchen drudgery, free from being captured by enemy armies, free from compulsory submission and service to her family, and free from sexual obligation to her husband. While the bhikkunis who attained renown in the Dipawansa were essentially vinaya teachers, it is plausible that these bhikkunis were equally conversant with other aspects of the dharma; and that they took part in the critical debates and controversies relating to the different intellectual strands of Buddhism -­ given their affiliation to the three historical nikayas of the Mahavihara, the Abhayagiri and the Jethavana. In fact, Sirima Kiribamuna contemplates the bhikkuni order of having possibly impressed the Chinese pilgrim Fahsien to such an extent that Sinhala bhikkunis were invited to Nanaking, China to establish a bhikkuni order there in the 5th century AD. Note that the practice of proselytisation or spreading the religious word is common to all religions not only to the Christian churches.

The foundations of modern education

The systematic education of girls and women does not seem to have had a place in this country until colonial times — barring a few exceptions where women from the upper strata were perhaps privately versed in Sanskrit, Sinhala or Tamil. The Buddhist pirivena education carried out in the temples and monasteries was open principally to men. In the 16th century, the Portuguese explorers who stumbled onto the island began a string of parish schools — although these too did not necessarily provide the opportunity for the education of girls.

However, in the 18th century, there was a flowering of literature — including women’s literature as a result of a folk revival of Sinhala literature in Southern Sri Lanka as well as some women being able to access the Dutch parish schools in the Maritime Provinces. For instance, Dona Isabella Cornelia Perumal, better known as Gajaman Nona of the Matara School of poets; her sister Dona Arnolia Perumal as well as her daughter Dona Katherina, Attaragama Kumarihamay, Dissanayake Lamathani, Ranchagoda Lamaya and Runa Hamine.

Some of Gajaman Nona’s impromptu poetry focused on the blend of indigenous cultural concerns and the growing influence of westernisation during her time — issues that still preoccupy some individuals even in the 21st century. But she is equally famed for having defied convention ­- dressing up as a boy to obtain a pirivana education (whether historically accurate or not), and later dressing up in the attire of a Dutch gentlewoman, writing letters and verses for money, ‘daring to’ correspond with erudite men, going about unaccompanied and of course, her erotic and highly risky poetic exchanges with the Elapatha Dissawa.

Runa Hamine too is noteworthy for having transformed much of the Bible into popular Sinhala verse — even though she was neither officially recognised for having done so nor adequately compensated. Interestingly, she thus complains in verse (I am referring here to Kumari Jayawrdena’s citation of Denham): ‘If this work had been done by a man, he undoubtedly would have received both money and fame, but since it was done by a woman she received no such reward’.

Yet by the mid-19th century, Christian missionary education schemes in English began to focus on girls and women — not only to propagate religion but also to provide suitable wives for the native men in the middle rungs of the British administration as well as the emergent capitalist class, and later on, the bourgeoisie — all who were increasingly adopting the values of the English colonizers.
Consequently, the curricular in girls’ schools, imported wholesale from England comprised English, British history, English literature, arithmetic, geometry, Latin, French, German, Pali, Sanskrit, trigonometry, botany, physics, animal physiology, book-keeping, shorthand, (notice, it did not include any knowledge of Sinhala/Tamil or local history). It did, however, contain domestic economy, needlework, drawing, dressmaking, and music.

These were value additions for girls in making them into presentable housewives and mothers — you can detect how the gender ideology relating to women’s education during the period was transformed into educational practice.

The backlash against the Christian schools consolidating their influence over the island came in the form of the Hindu revivalist movement in Jaffna headed by Arumuga Navalar in the mid-1860s, which was swiftly followed by the Buddhist revival initiated by Hikkaduwe Siri Sumangala and Nigatuwatte Gunanada Theros. This was coupled with the campaign against the colonial government’s liquor policies — the Temperance movement, and the local members of the Legislative Council of Ceylon insisting on controlling finance in government.

Clearly anti-colonial feeling was building. The demand for a ‘Buddhist education in the English medium’ for girls (as well as boys) arose in this context — assisted by the liberal impulses of the Theosophical movement, which stood for ‘the universal brotherhood of humanity without race, creed, sex, caste or colour’. In this context, Olga Weerakoon was the first Sri Lankan woman to mount a public stage to speak out on women’s education at the opening of Sangamitta School in Maradhana — the first girls’ high school to give a Buddhist education in English.

As we all know Marie Musaeus Higgins, Helena Blavatsky, and Anne Besant were the key women Theosophist social activists and educationists who worked alongside local activists — particularly members of the Women’s Education Society of Ceylon (founded in 1889) such as Mallika Hewavitarne, Madelina Perera Dharma Gunawardana, A. de Livera, Dona Madelena, E. Wijeysinghe, Margaret E. de Silva, and Isabella Dharma Gunawardana, as well as local funders such as William and Peter de Abrew, Ms. Wijeratne from Galle, and Cecilia Illangakoon from Matara. Yet despite this resurgence for what was called ‘protestant Buddhism’ by Richard Gombrich and the introduction of a Buddhist education in the English medium modelled on the protestant educational system, we must remember that there were patriarchal strands of Buddhism then, as well as there are now, which strove to control women’s education and confine their lives.

Unfortunately, some of these narrow thinking emanated from some of the women themselves. Hilda Peiris ­- the wife of a prominent civil servant of the time, Paul E. Peiris, felt that educating girls simply to become ‘good Buddhist wives and mothers and homemakers’ was adequate — similar to the Christian missionary objectives. She, in fact, states (as narrated by Kumari Jayawardena). ‘…A good deal more might be done by devoting the time which is wasted on obtaining a valueless smattering of Latin, French, theory of music and trigonometry … to studying music drawing, dressmaking, and fine needlework, subjects which will not only add to the charm of a girl’s home life but will also lead to a considerable saving in household expenditure’.

You will note that women’s education is considered an asset in home making; education is not seen as an individual right — probably because women were not considered as individuals. However, Musaeus graduates seem to have far exceeded these patriarchal expectations by emancipating themselves through secondary, professional and tertiary education.

Ms. N. K. Pilapitiya records the progress of some of the Musaeus students in those early days. Elsie de Silva passed the junior Cambridge Examination in 1897, and Lucy de Abrew became the first Sinhala girl to enter the Medical College in 1902 (and the first woman to win the Jeejeebhouy scholarship). Jane de Zoysa, another pupil, became the first principal of the Teacher Training College for women teachers.

(To be continued next week)

* Maithree Wickramasinghe is a senior lecturer at the Department of English of the University of Kelaniya and wife of Opposition and United National Party leader Ranil Wickremaesinghe









Some Statistics on Contemporary Education & Employment
In complete contrast to the situation at the turn of the 19th century, today, the landscape of education shows a surge of girls and women in both secondary and higher education (I am moving away from the topic of women’s Buddhist education for a moment).
Statistics from the Ministry of Education show that in 2011, of the country’s total student population of 3,973,847 at school level, 50.5% were girls and 49.5% were boys.
Each year, there are more boys enrolling into primary schools than girls; but there are more girls in Advanced Level classes. This indicates that boys drop out mid-stream during their education. There were 62,607 men teachers and 157,279 women teachers confirming that teaching is indeed a female-dominated service.
In sharp contrast, the university statistics for 2011 (given by the University Grants Commission) discloses that there were virtually 60% women undergraduates enrolling into the universities as opposed to 40% men undergraduates — indicating a clear feminisation of higher education — at least in terms of undergraduate numbers.
Moreover if we were to break that down to look at the gender proliferation within disciplines — women undergraduates are a majority in all streams; except engineering, architecture, quantity surveying, computer and the sciences — the most significant gender gap being in engineering.
On the other hand, when it comes to university teaching staff there are more men than women in all levels of academia with the sharpest gender differences between women and men being at the professorial level. For examples, of 512 professors in the island only 129 are women.
These statistics communicate significant increases in the numbers of girls’ participation in secondary and tertiary education; in fact, there have been more girls in education than boys for a number of years. There are no available gender disaggregated statistics of teachers in relation to their educational qualifications and positions.
Within universities, not only are women lecturers lesser in number than men lecturers; but many women lecturers have yet to reach the topmost rungs on equal terms with men.
When correlating education with employment in a wider sense, although women have been in the workforce for decades (both formally and informally), there are distinctive gender inequalities in the labour market. Given the relative invisibility of women in the informal sector, the labour force participation rate of women is significantly lower than that of men. For instance, in the fourth quarter of 2012, the labour force participation rate of men was 67.9% while the rate of women’s participation was 31.3%.
Male participation in the labour force has been approximately twice as that of females for the last four decades (the gender disparity being particularly broad among youth and those with secondary education).
No doubt it has been reiterated over and over that in Sri Lanka’s three leading foreign exchange earning sectors (garments, foreign remittances and tea), women constitute the bulk of the work force, thereby making a valuable contribution to the GDP, balance of payments and overall economic development.
What we should note in addition is that they are employed only at the lower end of the employment ladder -­ as assembly line operators, in overseas domestic service, and as plantation workers.
Thus while women may have access to education, their participation in the labour force, in comparison to men, is half that of men’s.
Furthermore, they do not occupy the higher echelons of work institutions. Except for a minority of much publicized exceptions in high places, our often­cited woman prime minister and president in politics, a handful in public administration (including a woman Chief Justice and Attorney General) and a few CEOs in the private sector, women as a sex/gender have not breached the glass ceilings at workplaces.
As such the link between education and the employment of women remains highly problematic. Suffice to state then that despite over a century of women’s education the dividends expected for women as a sex/gender have not materialized. While there is no harm in education being an end in itself – as opposed to the means to an end – can young women afford to be self-indulgent? Or do they remain officially uncounted because they are in the informal sector or in domestic work? How do their educational levels compare with their income levels? The lack of a means of income generally signifies economic dependency, which as we know, can act as a barrier to women’s independence and empowerment.
Extracurricular Activities
In this scenario, let us now consider the quality of education today. What concerns me, in particular, is not necessarily the curricular of formal education (which is, in today’s context, governed by both local market needs as well as the commercialisation of education worldwide amongst other factors), but extracurricular education and value-­? based education. When it comes to extra curricular activities, I believe that Musaeus is in the lead.
While I was researching for this speech, I happened to surf the website of Musaeus College – I was vastly impressed by the scope and spectrum of academic disciplines, fields, programs, services, sports, hobbies and activities that current students can access – aside from the regular curricular.
For those of you, who are, perhaps like me, unfamiliar with current school activities, I have listed some of them. They include an Astronomy Society, a Commerce and Bank Society, a Creative Writers’ Club, a Diabetic Task Force, a Drug Preventing Society, an Environment Society, a Young Inventors’ Club, an English Debating Circle, an ICT Society, a Music & Drama Society, a Media Unit, a Mathematics Society, a Photography Club, an Orchestra, a Scrabble Club, a Social Worker’s Club, a St. John’s Ambulance Brigade, a United Nations Club, a Welfare Society, a Young Entrepreneurs’ Club as well as Squash, Chess, Rowing, Table Tennis and Wushu.
This is in stark contrast to what was available to us thirty years ago. Value-­?based Education While it is apparent that these girls do benefit from a highly versatile all-rounded education — beyond the textbook, my question remains -do they also gain a value-based education based on ethical principles? What about core understandings of sincerity and faithfulness; care and compassion; honesty and integrity; gratitude and generosity? Do today’s young women try to understand, respect and include those who are different from them – whether it is a case of sex/gender, language, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability or whatever? What about the capacity to be free from egoism or the strength to admit responsibility for one’s actions? Are our young women able to display equanimity in joy and suffering, in honor and dishonor, and in success and failure? Are they taught to be open to all forms of knowledge; are they able to achieve a degree of balance and independence of thought? And most importantly, are they able to express these values through thought, feeling and action? Or are these young women (and perhaps their parents) hopelessly entangled in an educational system- where the parents themselves seem to be going to school; avidly pursuing the ‘best’ — the ‘best of schools’ the ‘best of teachers’, the best of classes; aiming to win at all costs, constantly looking to score marks; trudging to innumerable tuition classes, collecting dozens of certificates and perhaps even using their children’s achievements for social prestige?
Recently I watched a Japanese documentary, which showed how teachers and pre-teen students after having watched a movie (about a man who had done a great disservice to another man) were deliberating on the need to articulate the word ‘sorry’. These children were discussing when and why and actually how to say sorry: the effect of saying sorry with emotion and without, as well as the politics of saying sorry.
They were discussing what we usually understand to be an expression of politeness from the perspective of ethics, religion, etiquette, public relations, politics, and psychology and so on as part of their formal education.
In contrast, I have been told that one of the first principles that you learn in a particular media class in Sri Lanka is not to ever say that one is sorry (though I must confess that I am not too sure about the veracity of this statement).
In universities, we are concerned with the wider social implications of primary / secondary education that is based on the current objectives of single-minded achievement, the ethic of winning, and consumerism.
How do such values impact on law and order? On ethnic and religious relations? On those who are weak and poor? On gender equity / equality? One of the initiatives that I am involved with is the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Kelaniya.
Our goal is to promote gender equity and equality in Sri Lankan universities and society. This involves, integrating gender issues and women’s specific concerns into university curricular as well as gender-­?perspectives into academic courses.
Yet, our work does not stop at education. It encompasses changes to policy and practice as well. We are also advocating that equal numbers of competent women be appointed to University Councils and the management of universities; the institution of mechanisms within higher educational institutions to support and offer redress to those affected by ragging, sexual harassment, and sexual and gender-based violence; the recognition of the importance of a healthy work/life balance given that women’s multiple roles as well as rigid employment conditions are seen as possible reasons for the stagnation of women in lower employment ranks; and the development of gender-sensitive infrastructure and facilities such as crèches, areas for breast-feeding, and dry toilets in accessible places.
I am not raising the issue of toilets for humorous effect — but if women’s toilets do not match the increase in numbers; or if they are located in close proximity to male dominated areas such as security offices or monks’ rest areas then it poses problems for the women who use these toilets – given inequitable gender ideologies and cultural values.
In this sense we are attempting to operationalize value-­?based education relating to gender equity / equality into university practice. Challenge to Buddhism and Social Responsibility During the past forty minutes I traced women’s education in this country, discussed the promise made by educationists like Marie Musaeus Higgins, Peter de Abrew, and others, pointed out the significant achievements over the following decades and appraised the disappointing failures in realizing women’s emancipation on a larger scale.
I would now like to turn my attention to the imperative issues of education that we, as Musaeites, or for that matter, educated Buddhist women all over the country have the responsibility to engage with today. I believe that one of the biggest threats to a Buddhist education comes from within – from the fundamentalist corps of Sinhala Buddhists, who not only distort the very goals of education and enlightenment propounded by the Buddha — but who also misinterpret the very doctrine of the dharma for personal and political gain. I am talking about parochial worldviews of Sinhala Buddhism that, for instance, may padlock the spirit of peace, compassion, respect, tolerance and inclusion of others when it comes to different gender, ethnic or religious groups.
For instance, views which yoke together Buddhism with cockeyed notions of culture that may curtail or deny women their human rights (including the right to live a life free from sexual and gender-based violence).
I am talking about a siege-mentality adopted by certain Sinhala Buddhist groups – who bind together Sinhala Buddhism with misguided concepts of patriotism, who refuse to practice insight or self-­?knowledge, and thereby, abuse Buddhism for political advantage.
I am talking about discriminative worldviews of Sinhala Buddhism – based on pungent notions of racial purity, supremacy and exclusivity that stridently deny the flexibility of a religion that allows for inter-religious practices and beliefs.
Consider how many of you have not sought solace at a church or kovil-­? aside from the temple in times of crisis? I am talking of militant worldviews of Sinhala Buddhism that currently promote the persecution of Muslims, Tamils and Christians, through scorching populist rhetoric and criminal acts of arson -­? burning down churches, mosques and kovils, forcing the closure of selective business enterprises- chiefly because they are sanctioned by various powers to do so. In this context, it is possible for us to turn to the historical strands of Buddhism in Sri Lanka for guidance. From the arrival of Sangamitta onwards there has been a tradition of openness, respect and inclusion in Buddhism in Sri Lanka, which promoted the integration of what was worthy and valuable from a variety of cultures and countries throughout the eras.
Archives and archeology tell us that we are all the descendants of waves of migrants over the centuries — not only from the crotch of Bengal but also from the eastern rims of the Bay of Benagal (popularly called Javakas), the shores of Malabar, the Coramandal coast, and the Persian Gulf; furthermore, the invading Portuguese along with kaffirs (slaves from the East of Africa), the Dutch and British with indentured labour from Maduari have all mingled their genes amongst us.
The island has also been hospitable to silk and spice traders sailing the cusp of the Indian subcontinent from Rome, Greece, Central Asia to the lands of India, the islands of Java, ancient Sinae (or China) and perhaps even beyond.
Within institutionalized Theravadha Buddhism, we know that monks had to be brought down from Thailand and Myanmar in the 18th and 19th centuries to give upasampadha so as to re-establish the Buddhist order through the dominant Siyam, Amarapura, and Ramanna nikayas.
In the 19th century, in setting up the Ceylonese chapters of the Theosophical society, Colonel Olcott was amply supported by Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero, Walane Sri Siddhartha Thero and Ratmalane Dhammaloka Thero, along with Walisinghe Harischandra, and D.B. Jayatilaka. If some of today’s Sinhala Buddhist attitudes were in place at that time Musaeus College would never have materialized because we all know how closely Peter de Abrew worked with Marie Musaeus to establish our school.
The cross-fertilisation of ideas and collaboration of people as well as the peaceful coexistence with all faiths and communities of this land (for the most part) has been the greatest strength of Buddhism historically. But in the face of the dangerous strands of so called ‘Sinhala Buddhism’ in today’s context, the challenge for women who want to identify themselves as Sinhala Buddhists, is firstly, to stop being silent. For, I believe that it is exceedingly important to speak out against what you do not believe in-­? even if you are in the minority. Often we tend to ignore extremism if we ourselves do not subscribe to it.
Yet this only serves to crystallize fanaticism as the dominant opinion. At this juncture, speaking out is the least one can do. It will not be easy. After all — if doing the right thing were easy, I doubt that all religions would have to keep urging us to do it. We can all take heart from the young Pakistani girl, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for her educational activism.
Luckily, she survived, and went on to win education for all girls in Pakistan, and is today addressing the UN asking global leaders to ensure that every child goes to school – what is considered to be a shockingly achievable goal. If you found a guiding principle or abiding value in my speech, take note; If you found passing inspiration, take it to heart; If you found something of usable worth take it away and use it; The rest – you may throw out. In fact, you may throw out the whole thing if so inclined! The writer is a professor and the director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Kelaniya.

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