COLOMBO -- Sri Lanka's government has reinstated a ban on women buying alcohol and being employed in places where the drinks are produced and sold, saying it's in line with the country's cultural values, a senior official said Wednesday.
The decision came nearly a week after the finance minister revoked the 38-year-old ban.
Government spokesman and Health Minister Rajitha Senarathna said the Cabinet at its weekly meeting on Tuesday reinstated the ban. He said its removal violated the country's cultural and moral values.
"(Alcohol) is not a requirement of women in this country. This is against our culture," Senarathna told reporters.
He said that although alcohol is part of the social system and foods and drinks in Europe, "it is not so in Sri Lanka. Therefore, laws on alcohol are different here than there (Europe)."
The ban had been in force since 1979, the early years of Sri Lanka embracing an open market economy. Many businesses had ignored it and employed women to serve and sell alcohol.
The turnabout came two days after President Maithripala Sirisena instructed the Finance Ministry to rescind the government circular that revoked the ban, saying he was committed to building a "cultured society with values such as freedom, morality and democracy."
Liberalizing alcohol consumption has been a sensitive issue in Sri Lanka, where the Buddhist clergy plays a dominant role in society.
However, liquor consumption is not banned in Sri Lanka and many Sri Lankans consume alcohol.
Apart from removing the ban, the finance minister last week also amended regulations to allow liquor outlets to stay open an hour later, until 10 p.m.
According to the Finance Ministry officials, the original decision to revoke the ban was done at the request of the tourism industry and also to ensure equal rights for women. It drew criticism from opposition lawmakers who say it will have an effect on the island's cultural and religious values.