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Women Power in Sri Lanka

Sandya Salgado's picture

‘Equal to whom?’ seems to be my burning question when I see women in post conflict Sri Lanka battling it out all alone due to their present circumstances.

A three decade old war that ravaged north – east of Sri Lanka is now in the throes of reaping its peace dividends, slowly…

The war changed not just the landscape of the north-east Sri Lanka, but also the demographic profile, leaving many widows and women headed families destitute. While the official head count of this group is yet to be released by the government, it is apparent that the male to female ratio that was almost 50 -50 has now changed significantly in this part of the country.

I am the mother, father and the entrepreneur of my family” sums up the plight of 26 year old Sutharshini. A widow who has lost her husband and brother to the war that forever changed the lives of many Sri Lankan Tamils. Sutharshini and her two children represent the typical Sri Lankan Tamil woman who has just been resettled after being an internally displaced person (IDP) in a refugee camp for almost a year. 

Sutharshini, like many other widowed women, has managed to set up a meager home with a resettlement grant given to her through The Emergency Recovery Project (ENREP), a project funded by The World Bank on the request of the Government of Sri Lanka.

Starting life all over again for these sole breadwinners is no mean task as they literally have nothing to call their own. Getting a roof over their heads, walking for miles to fetch drinking water, laboring for a daily wage, fending for and feeding the children, sending them to school, taking care of their health issues and most importantly planning for their future... is all in a day’s work for them.

Their strength is never in short supply. These ‘all purpose women’ lose no time in planning for their self employment strategy by seeking assistance through micro financing loan schemes also made available for them through ENREP. Most women are recipients of small loans through these micro finance schemes which help them start up their own small businesses. In addition to the myriad of chores they have to look into, they manage their entrepreneurship astutely; honouring the regular interest payment, to make sure that their credibility is at the highest notch at all times. Needless to say these women are in the centre of their villages’ micro economic growth.

I saw too much death and destruction in the past, I want to make it right for our people to the best of my ability” says Imelda Sugumar, Jaffna Government Representative.

‘At every level in post conflict Sri Lanka, women power is emanating strongly. The Government Agents in both post conflict North and East of Sri Lanka are also women and so are the Mayors of these two districts. They all lead numerous groups of men to make a difference to these parts of the country which badly need not just human capital, but emotional and intellectual capital which seem to be in abundance in these women who are leading all fronts – be it families, village organizations or even government administrations.

Call it equality, circumstance, post conflict challenges or even fate, but these women are making the best out of a very bleak situation with determination, equal to the men they’ve lost.

As a woman, I salute them.

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