Sri Lanka’s president on Sunday reimposed a four-decade-long ban on women buying liquor, just days after his finance minister had lifted the restriction.
Maithripala Sirisena said he had ordered Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera to revoke his decision last week to overturn the 1979 law prohibiting the sale of any type of alcohol to women.
“From tomorrow (Monday), the minister’s order will be rescinded,” Sirisena’s office said in a statement, which added that the status quo will be restored but offered no explanation.
The reversal comes after a finance ministry official said Samaraweera had revoked the 39-year-old law in an effort to strike sexist bills from the statute books.
“The idea was to restore gender neutrality,” ministry spokesman Ali Hassen said of the decision Wednesday to roll back the ban.
But last week’s decision to relax laws on alcohol provoked a backlash in some quarters of the majority-Buddhist nation of 21 million people.
The National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection had accused the finance minister of encouraging drinking, and had urged Sirisena to intervene and restore the restrictions.
Under further new measures passed by Samaraweera, bars and pubs can remain open longer, and a ban on women working in bars, distilleries and breweries was lifted.
But Sirisena’s office said he was reducing the time period that bars could be open. It was not clear from Sirisena’s statement Sunday if the decision to allow women to work in the alcohol industry had also been reversed.
The ban on women buying liquor was likely originally imposed in 1979 to appease the conservative Buddhist hierarchy at the time, a finance ministry official told AFP.
Liquor vendors in Sri Lanka are also forbidden to sell spirits to police or members of the armed forces in uniform.
Samaraweera has said that strict curbs on Sri Lanka’s licensed liquor manufacturers only encourage a black market for spirits, and deprive the state of much-needed revenue.
Sri Lanka in its November budget unveiled steep tax rises on hard liquor, but greatly reduced tariffs on wine and beer.