Drowning Demurely


An Oxfam report, noting that the December 26 tsunami killed three times as many women as men, has prompted a discussion about reasons for the disparity. Women stayed behind to look for children and were less likely to be able to swim (although men were also unlikely to be able to swim). Part of the explanation may be the cultural modesty described in this child's account of losing her mother:

"My mother helped my younger brother to tear of his shorts to swim away, but she didn't follow. She was just too modest to remove her clothes to escape," says Supini.

This kind of modesty can be hard to fathom, but it's deeply ingrained and leads to all sorts of strange situations. Women brazen enough to go for a swim in Myanmar won't wear their traditional ankle-length skirts, which run the risk of billowing up and exposing them. But a swimsuit is out of the question. The solution is Western dress, which is frowned upon in polite company but A-OK for the beach. Girls will throw on a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt and jump in.