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Sri Lanka lifts 'sexist' 39-year ban on women buying alcohol

© AFP/File | Sri Lankan Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera: relaxing restrictions on alcohol

COLOMBO (AFP) - 

Sri Lanka has lifted a 39-year ban on women buying alcohol or working in places that sell or manufacture liquor, an official said Sunday.

The 1979 law prohibiting the sale of any type of alcohol to women on the island of 21 million people was overturned in an effort to strike sexist bills from the statute books, said a spokesman for the finance ministry.

"The idea was to restore gender neutrality," Ali Hassen told AFP of the decision Wednesday to roll back the ban.

The move also repeals a ban on women working in places where alcoholic drinks are made or sold, like bars.

Liquor vendors are still forbidden to sell spirits to police or members of the armed forces in uniform, Hassen said.

Sri Lanka in its November budget unveiled steep tax rises on hard liquor, but greatly reduced tariffs on wine and beer.

Under new measures also passed by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, bars and pubs can remain open longer.

It was unclear why the ban on women was imposed in the first place, but a finance ministry official said he believed it was intended to appease the conservative Buddhist hierarchy at the time.

The relaxed laws on alcohol have provoked a backlash in some quarters of the majority-Buddhist nation.

The National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection accused the finance minister of encouraging drinking, and urged President Maithripala Sirisena to intervene and restore the restrictions.

Samaraweera has said that strict curbs on Sri Lanka's licenced liquor manufacturers only encourage a black market for spirits, and deprive the state of much-needed revenue.

© 2018 AFP