Women-headed families: no husband, no home and no future for their children


by Melani Manel Perera

In the Eastern Province, some women head their household all alone without a job, sometimes without a home, or without doors and sanitary facilities, unable to send their children to school. Their husbands died in war or disappeared into the hands of police.

Trincomalee (AsiaNews) – The Women’s Desk of the National Fisheries Solidarity Organisation (NAFSO) has released a report on women-headed households. Titled ‘Empower women-headed families, ensure right to life’, the report found that in some eastern villages, some families are without shelter. Among those who are housed, their homes lack doors and windows against the cold. In many cases, sanitary facilities are a luxury only a few can afford even when they are shared. When children can go to school because there is money to buy books, they have to walk on streets that lack lighting. Worse still, most of these families headed by women lost their fathers (and husbands) killed during the civil war or detained by the police as a Tamil Tiger terrorist suspect from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

In recent months, NAFSO representatives met 377 women from the villages of Pumphuhar, Kilikunjimale, Lovelane, Karamalaiuttu, Vilankulam, Muthunagar, Manayaweli, Salli, Weeranagar and Kappalthurai (Eastern province). The report it wrote is based on interviews with 171 of them.

In 102 cases, women lost their husbands in the war, accidents or illness. In another 40 cases, the men disappeared into the hands of the armed forces. In seven cases, women had to take over the family after their husbands became disabled because of wounds sustained during the war.

“In Manayaweli,” said Devahi Sunil, “we have major economic problems. We do not have a job, and many of us do not have even a house. We would like to educate our children but sending them to school is a dream. There is no money. The older ones who graduated are at home because they cannot find a job.”

“For years, we have not received any government aid,” she explained. “What we would like to have is help for our children and job opportunities of us and them. We need housing and know what happened to our husbands.”

Twelve widows live in Vilankulam. “All of them have serious economic problems,” Sundaram Theresa said. “Our homes do not have doors or windows and without a job we cannot get the money to fix them or buy a meal for our families.” And the “lack of sanitary facilities” has made matters worse. “Because of that, we have to go into the jungle.”

Public transit also bypasses the village so children have to walk six kilometres every day to go to school. The main road in the village also lacks electrical lighting.

In the village of Kappalthurai, “we are 69 women head of households,” said Chadrasekaram Kumarajee. “Twelve were abandoned by their husbands who left the village to remarry. Without a job, it is hard to raise our kids and send them to school.”

According to Lavena Hasanthi, Women coordinator for NAFSO, “each Sri Lankan citizen has a responsibility towards these women and their children, to value them and guarantee them the security they deserve. Today, they are most vulnerable component of society. These families deserve a dignified existence.”

Tamil women coerced into joining the military


A Statement of Concern by the Women’s Action Network

Womens Action Network (WAN), as a collective of 11 women’s groups from the North and the East, is deeply concerned by the recent efforts to recruit women into the military in the districts of Killinochchi and Mullaitheevu.

Post-war development has failed to provide the most basic needs for those who live in Killinochchi and Mullaitheevu, especially the women of the area. People continue to live in vulnerable situations without sufficient security and independence, so may even lack the basics such as a safe place to sleep. After the war over 60% of families in Vanni are headed by women and they have become the primary wage earners of their families, in addition to being the main care givers in the household.

Hence, women play a critical role in fulfilling social, economical and cultural needs and rights in the country. High unemployment and the rising cost of living control the choices and women are forced to make decisions that go beyond choice. This militarised environment, including military involvement in economic activities, administration and even reconciliation, is not conducive for human development further debilitates the already fragile existence of this community.

As the media has highlighted in recent weeks Tamil women have been recruited to the military. While this may seem as an action in the direction towards reconciliation and inclusion, a cursory glance into the appointment process shows a lack of transparency, information and coercion. Military personnel of Mullaitheevu and Killinochchi area were involved in the recruitment process and have targeted economically vulnerable families. In some villages it has been announced through loudspeakers or they have gone in-person and in a few others they have used the GS of the area.

Young women from women-headed families or families with five or more family members have been targeted in general. The greatest concern is the lack of information and informed consent. Those recruited have been informed that they would be engaging in clerical work, or with the GS, that work will only be for a few hours, and that they would be able to work in their own areas. They have also been promised a pay of Rs.30,000 per month. Around 109 women applied and appeared for interviews. The information provided never mentioned that they will be working for the military and will have to join the military to perform these duties.

On the 5th of November 2012, the military took the women who registered their names for these jobs to the military camp in Bharathipuram in Killinochchi District. The women underwent a medical exam conducted by male military doctor and a male-nurse. All information was gathered in Sinhala, except for their names and addresses. The women were also requested to provide a letter of recommendation from GS or Justice of Peace and/or from Christian priest for Christians, birth certificate, and school leaving certificate and to hand to police in their area of residence. Subsequently, the women who went to deliver their documents to their police who fingerprinted them. Later on military personnel visited the houses of these women and instructed to join work on the 15th of November. The military informed the women and girls that they will be in 03 month residential program to learn Sinhala and English.

On November 15th, male military personnel picked up the women from their homes and transported them to the Bharathipuram camp. The first day was spent collecting detailed personal information of the women. A military function for new recruits was held on the 16th, the second day. It was only then that the women realized that they were to join the military. Some panicked and called their families, and informed the military that they did not wish to join. The military informed them that they could only leave after the function. On the 17th the function was held inside the Army camp while some of the family members of the women protested standing on the other end of the same military camp.

A female military officer stood next to each new recruit thus preventing the women from communicating with their families. Fathers of these women had been garlanded and the mothers were given badges with the title of ‘brave mother’. Of the 109 girls, 6 were released due to the efforts of their families. As a result, the rest of the women were permitted to meet their families without any restrictions. As of 2nd December, mobile phones have been barred inside the camp.

The families were informed that the women have been provided with uniforms. It is obvious that the women or the families were not provided with accurate information, and therefore not allowed to make an informed choice. Moreover these activities have violated the gazette notification procedures which is required by law.

This situation raises grave concerns regarding the role of the state and the military in the lives of women, particularly from Killinochchi and Mullaitheevu, the need to provide physical fitness training and the continued militarization of the North, and the continued security of these women while in service. In two other occasions civil service appointments (Montessori teaching and working in government farms run by the military) have been given to women through the involvement of the Civil Defense Department of the Sri Lankan military rather than the relevant civilian administration bodies. The militarization of civilian administration and of the community in the Wanni raises deep questions regarding the commitment of the Sri Lankan Government in creating a society that is equal, equitable and free of violence.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1325 clearly states that the full participation of women is essential for the rehabilitation process in the post war situation, and women’s specific needs should be taken into account in developing a prerequisite to disarmament and demilitarization. WAN is deeply concerned about the lack of choice and decision-making power for women in the formerly war-torn areas request that the civil administration be completely handed over to civil structures as a genuine measure of the Government’s reconciliation program.