'Disrespectful men, disrespectable women': men's perceptions on heterosexual relationships and premarital sex in a Sri Lankan Free Trade Zone - a qualitative interview study.BMC Int Health Hum Rights. 2015 Feb 07; 15:3.BI
Gender norms have been challenged by unmarried rural women's migration for employment to urban Sri Lankan Free Trade Zones (FTZ). Men are described as looking for sexual experiences among the women workers, who are then accused of engaging in premarital sex, something seen as taboo in this context. Increased sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) risks for women workers are reported. To improve SRHR it is important to understand the existing gender ideals that shape these behaviours. This qualitative study explores men's perspectives on gender relations in an urban Sri Lankan FTZ, with a focus on heterosexual relationships and premarital sex. Further, possible implications for SRHR of women workers in FTZs are discussed.
Eighteen qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with men living or working in an urban Sri Lankan FTZ and were analysed using thematic analysis.
Two conflicting constructions of masculinity; the 'disrespectful womaniser' and the 'respectful partner', were discerned. The 'disrespectful womaniser' was perceived to be predominant and was considered immoral while the 'respectful partner' was considered to be less prevalent, but was seen as morally upright. The migrant women workers' moral values upon arrival to the FTZ were perceived to deteriorate with time spent in the FTZ. Heterosexual relationships and premarital sex were seen as common, however, ideals of female respectability and secrecy around premarital sex were perceived to jeopardize contraceptive use and thus counteract SRHR.
The 'disrespectful' masculinity revealed in the FTZ is reflective of the patriarchal Sri Lankan society that enables men's entitlement and sexual domination over women. Deterioration of men's economic power and increase of women's economic and social independence may also be important aspects contributing to men's antagonistic attitudes towards women. The promotion of negative attitudes towards women is normalized through masculine peer pressure. This and ambivalence towards women's premarital sex are undermining the SRHR and well-being of women, but also men, in the FTZ. Awareness and counteraction of destructive gender power relations are essential for the improvement of the SRHR of women and men in the FTZ and the surrounding society.