law bars liquor sales to women
Even wine cannot be sold to females!
By Sonali Siriwardena
Believe it or not! Women in Sri Lanka cannot buy alcohol at
any retail store or tavern, according to a 50-year old law
which remains valid today and has gone unchallenged over the
years, a Sunday Times Business investigation has revealed.
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into law by parliament in the form of subsidiary legislation
to the Excise Ordinance in the early 1950s, this law prohibits
the sale of any kind of liquor to a woman at a retail liquor
store or tavern.
Times Business stumbled on this law after noticing a tattered
poster at the bar of a local cinema which said alcohol cannot
be sold to women and those under 21 years of age. Further
investigations revealed that while the law is still valid,
retail storeowners either ignore it or are totally unaware
of such a provision and continue to sell liquor to women,
thereby committing an offence.
revealed that these provisions were a blatant violation of
fundamental rights guaranteed by the 1978 Constitution, which
includes the right to equality and non-discrimination on the
grounds of sex. It also found women freely purchasing liquor
at retail stores apparently oblivious of the law.
journalists from the business desk met marketing managers
manning liquor outlets of two leading supermarkets who readily
acknowledged that women account for half their daily clientele
with around 15 of some 30 customers being female. "In
fact no one even gave us a second glance when we strolled
to the store counter picked up a bottle of Cinzano Rosso and
a carton of Carlsberg beer and presented it at the cash counter,"
one of the journalists said. The management of one store in
fact indicated that they would like to cater to a greater
number of women in the future!
even more puzzling is that, according to the investigation,
women - by law - can own a liquor store by virtue of having
a liquor licence but cannot - by law - purchase any kind of
alcohol including wine. Normally licences are given at the
discretion of the minister in charge of the subject and several
years back one female applicant was refused a licence on the
basis of gender. She challenged the ruling in the Supreme
Court as a fundamental rights issue and won. Since then women
have been given the right to liquor licences and some do own
stores, but legally can't buy from these stores.
for the Excise Commissioner's Department confirming the validity
of this law, stated that detection by its officials of a sale
of liquor to a woman would result in the retail shop concerned
being fined for a technical offence under the Ordinance. Investigations
revealed that there have been no detections made by the department
under these provisions. The offence applies to the seller
and not the buyer, in this case the customer.
senior Excise official agreed that this law is inconsistent
with other related provisions. "If women are permitted
to apply for licences to sell liquor it seems illogical for
women not to be allowed to buy liquor," he said as the
investigation revealed an urgent need to review these antiquated
laws and make suitable amendments according to modern day
Excise Commissioner who did not wish to be named, said that
although there is an obvious gap in the law, the momentum
to lobby for change is sadly lacking in the department. "They
have a tunnel view to these things so it is very difficult
to effect any change," he said. Officials from the Attorney
General's Department, while acknowledging that such inconsistencies
in the law need to be looked into, added that these provisions
come under the purview of the government and therefore amendments
have to be initiated by the government.
of a law that bars women from purchasing alcohol from a store
has surprised many people including the legal profession and
women's rights activists, who were unaware of this clause.
Rights Activist and Attorney-at-Law Nimalka Fernando said
that when such issues of gender equality are taken up with
lawmakers of this country, they justify these laws on the
basis that women are the carriers of culture. "But this
stance itself is very discriminatory because you cannot legislate
to condition the lives of women. And more importantly, why
is it that society expects only the women to keep the culture
intact? What about the duties of the men? These laws are nothing
but a reflection of a patriarchal ideology, which has influenced
the formulation of laws in this country," she said.
although the 1978 Constitution accepted equality within the
framework of upholding fundamental rights, there are a number
of laws such as this, which having been formulated in the
context of particular social values, contradict these rights
guaranteed by the constitution. "But unfortunately the
present constitution does not contain a provision to review
these discriminatory laws. This is something, which has constantly
been highlighted even during discussions held on the draft
that while women in high society generally enjoy their liquor
indoors, it is the poor women who will be compelled to go
to a tavern. "The Excise Ordinance in fact contains a
class bias, for if the law is implemented today, it is only
the poor women who will be caught violating its archaic provisions.
And if the law prohibits the sale of liquor, then we might
as well impose a ban on the very consumption of alcohol,"
criminal lawyer Ranjit Abeysuriya, commenting on this "amazing"
provision, asked why such prohibition has not been complied
with, if the law of the land has clearly decreed against the
selling of liquor to women in certain places. "If such
prohibitions are illogical, should not the law be suitably
modified?" he questioned. Abeysuriya pointed out an exception
under Section 5 of the parent Excise Ordinance, which states
that nothing within the Ordinance shall apply to any canteen,
shop or tavern opened or operated under military or naval
regulations. This implies that the law prohibiting the sale
or liquor to females would apply to all other taverns, shops,
etc, other than those falling under the category of military
or naval regulations.
Excise Notification 447 of 29.4.1955:
Section 12 (c): No liquor shall be sold or given to a woman
within the premises of a tavern.
as to what constitutes a 'tavern' has been left unanswered
by the parent law, which does not define the word. Senior
officials of the Excise Commissioner's Department state that
originally the main Excise Ordinance provided for arrack,
toddy and foreign liquor taverns, which were given out on
rent on tenders to the highest bidder by the Department.
the late 1970s the arrack tavern system was done away with,
and on a gazette notification, they were converted into "Foreign
Liquor 11 Restaurant Licences." But in today's context
the word 'tavern' would mean a 'place of sale' or retail shop.
this may be argued as not being a strict interpretation, a
tavern can be understood to mean a liquor shop because that
was the originally intended meaning to the word," said
a senior excise official who did not wish to be named. Therefore
as the law stands today the sale of even one bottle of any
kind of liquor to a female at a retail shop is a technical
offence under the Excise Ordinance.
Notification 417 of Ceylon Government Gazette No 100266 of
(b) Prohibits the possession by any female of any quantity
of arrack or fermented toddy in any public place throughout
the whole island except under the authority of a permit or
pass duly granted under that Ordinance.
bars a woman from the possession of alcohol at any 'public
place'. The interpretation relied on by the Excise Dept. for
'Public Place' includes a public road, railway station, bus
stand. etc. Therefore while a woman is permitted possession,
for example inside the premises of a licensed restaurant,
the right to possess any kind of alcohol by a woman, does
not extend outdoors.
lice in Paradise
Marico Ltd has put off its plan to set up a subsidiary in
Sri Lanka for its anti-lice oil under the brand name 'Mediker'
since on further study it was found that the market does not
hold the potential it expects, according to a report in capitalmarket.com,
an Indian-based website.
had acquired the anti-lice treatment business with Mediker
brand from Procter & Gamble for India and the SAARC region
in the first quarter of 2000. Currently, Marico is test marketing
anti-lice oil in Tamil Nadu and depending on the response,
the product will be marketed nationwide.
loans to buy generators
The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has asked the DFCC Bank to
provide soft loans for the purchase of generators and for
energy saving, environmentally friendly investments.
The bank should make available concessionary financing support
for private sector investments in securing self-generation
capacity, cost effective demand management and energy saving,
and environmental protection and enhancement, it said in a
the bank to develop such a line of credit with support from
the government and multilateral lending agencies.