Supreme Court grants leave for women rights activists’ FR petition

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The Supreme Court yesterday granted leave to proceed with a Fundamental Rights (FR) petition filed by several women’s activists and women’s organisations that sought an Interim Order to suspend a Gazette Notification which prevents a female from lawfully being employed at a place of production and sale of liquor.

The Supreme Court three-judge-Bench comprising Chief Justice Priyasad Dep, Justice Buwaneka Aluvihare and Justice Vijith Malalgoda fixed the petition for argument on February 6 next year. The leave to proceed was granted in terms of Article 12(1)(2) and 14(1)(g) of the Constitution.

This petition had been filed by Women & Media Collective, Centre for Women’s Research (CENWOR), Professor Camena Guneratne and 14 others naming Minister of Finance and Mass Media Mangala Samaraweera, the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance, members of the Cabinet of Ministers and several others as respondents.

The petitioners had also sought to declare that the Ministry of Finance or the State are not entitled in Law to revoke the Excise Notification in a manner which prevents a female from lawfully being employed at a place of production and sale of liquor. The Petitioners state that the subject matter of this application, relates inter alia to a matter which renders most poignant, the issue of equal protection of the rights of women in Sri Lanka, and more particularly, the equal rights of women to be engaged in an employment of their choice and to purchase or use according to their choice, any lawful article or goods available to Sri Lankan citizens as consumers.

The petitioners stated that recent Notification No.04/2018 issued by the Minister of Finance, and published in the Government Gazette Extraordinary No. 2054-42, dated 18.01.2018, pursuant to a Cabinet decision of 16.01.2018, restricting the rights of women; (a) to be engaged in and employed in the manufacture, collection, bottling, sale and transportation of liquor, and (b) to be sold or given Liquor within the premises of a tavern amounts to ex-facie and de jure gender based discrimination, infringing and violating the rights of adult women to the Right to Equality before the Law and the Equal Protection of the law, as guaranteed to all persons, by and under Articles 12(1) and 12(2) of the Constitution.

The petitioners are of the view that it is also severely offensive to the core values of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on the equal rights of women and men, as recognized in the recent judgment of Supreme Court in the case of Manohari Pelaketiya vs. H.M. Gunasekere, Secretary Ministry of Education et al (SC/FR 76/2012), where former Chief Justice Sripavan observed that; “Sri Lanka has undertaken international obligations to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women by acceding to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on 17.07.1998 and in pursuance of these international obligations, Sri Lanka has also enacted several (laws) to give vent to these global rights in favour of women”.

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