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Sri Lanka restores alcohol ban for women

January 15, 2018

Women in Sri Lanka have long been banned from buying alcohol and working in bars and liquor stores. The government lifted the ban, only to reverse its decision less than a week later.

Sri Lanka woman holding up a tea cocktail
Sri Lanka woman holding up a tea cocktailImage: Getty Images/AFP/L. Wanniarachchi

Sri Lanka reimposed a nearly four-decade old ban on women buying alcohol on Sunday, only days after Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the ban was over.

"I spoke with the finance minister... prime minister, and several other ministers and asked them to cancel [the lifting of the ban] immediately," President Maithripala Sirisena said at an election rally.

The dominantly Buddhist nation of 21 million is preparing for local elections in February.

Women have been banned from purchasing alcohol and working in places that produce or sell it, such as bars and liquor stores, since 1979. 

Read more: Sri Lanka foreign minister resigns over corruption charges

Harming 'Buddhist values'?

The nation's finance ministry announced the lifting of the ban last week, apparently responding to the pressure from the Sri Lankan tourist industry, who requested the change in order to allow female foreign tourists to buy alcohol. The finance ministry also extended bar hours.

At the same time, the authorities kept the legal restriction from selling alcohol to police and security forces members in uniform.

"The idea was to restore gender neutrality," ministry spokesman Ali Hassen said on Wednesday.

Opposition politicians criticized the move, however, saying it would threaten the nation's Buddhist values. The National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection also accused the finance minister of encouraging drinking, and urged President Sirisena to restore the restrictions.

Read more: Sri Lanka admits to massive 'baby farm' adoption schemes in the 1980s

The Sunday order to keep the ban said that Sirisena was committed to values such as freedom, morality and democracy.

dj/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)