From the IPS, writer Suvendrini Kakuchi talks about the survey from an advocacy group representing the Sri Lankan widows.
Indeed, a year since the bloody ethnic conflict ended in May 2009, research conducted by local women’s groups on the plight of the South Asian island state’s war-affected women shows employment and security are their top priorities as they struggle to rebuild their lives. Many of them lost their husbands to the war, because they were either killed or went missing during the almost 30-year conflict with the Tamil secessionists.
A report compiled by the Association of War-Affected Women (AWAW) in August 2009 following a visit to the Jaffna peninsula and the east coast showed women continued to feel vulnerable and feared the heavy military presence in their areas.
AWAW represents some 2,000 women across Sri Lanka whose sons or husbands were either disabled or killed during the war against the LTTE rebels, who were fighting for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority.
The women surveyed by AWAW also voiced their desperate need for economic stability so they could provide for their young children and elderly parents. Many of them had neither high school nor college education while others were younger women who had gone into computer training but still lacked jobs.
"Providing better conditions for women to rebuild their lives as well as giving them a voice in postwar development must take priority as the Sri Lankan government moves into a large-scale resettlement and reconciliation process," said Visakha Dharmadasa, head of AWAW.
Government estimates some 50,000 war widows are living on the east coast, including Trincomalee in the north and Batticoloa and Ampare districts farther south.
Widows usually receive around 250 dollars as a one-time settlement and an extra 100 dollars from the state when they can produce their husbands’ death certificates. On a monthly basis, they also get food rations that barely cover their basic needs.
A majority of the widows are Tamils, followed by Muslim and Sinhalese ethnic groups, and belong to rural farming or fishing communities, where poverty and malnutrition are major problems.