, , , ,

War widows in Sri Lanka

| by Victor Cherubim

( October 17, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Women-Headed Households, as war widows are now classed, has come into the fore once again. Besides, the world today is also more attuned to women’s and children’s plight not only since Syria, but after the recent devastations, earthquakes, floods and even the husbands without work since “shutdown of government in the USA.”

This time, the situation of War Widows in Sri Lanka, including the North and East with an estimated 7,000 women headed households, was highlighted at a meeting in a crowded Committee Room of the House of Commons, convened last evening (16 October) by The Centre for Community Development, a woman’s organisation in London. It was largely attended, chaired by Labour MP’s from a preponderance of ethnic minority and Tamil constituencies, with a sole Tory Peer and a mix of many nationalities, all in eager anticipation of feedback for action.

Many were concerned about the after effects on women and children affected, with particular emphasis on the conflict in Sri Lanka. Sensitive as the issue was, there was some unanimity among those present.

Margaret Owen, Director,” Widows for Peace through Democracy,” stated:

“Tamil women are victims of rape, rape in detention and sexual as well as economic exploitation,
(for example, in the garment factories and army brothels) on a massive scale, but we now have
evidence of forced sterilisation of Tamil women in a city in the North-East. Moreover, Sri Lanka
has the highest number of “forcibly disappeared” people anywhere in the world. And of extra
judicial killings.”

No one had told her that hardly any Tamil war widows had jobs, let alone in garment factories.

As many MP’s – male and females - expressed anxiety of the situation as they flitted in and out of the meeting to attend a Commons vote for a Deputy Speaker, there was undertones of concern of their Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary acting against the will of the Foreign Affairs Committee, willing and wanting to attend the CHOGM in Colombo in November.

Overtones unstated

Mike Gapes, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Labour MP for Ilford South, stated that his Committee would make public a report, the product of a wide ranging inquiry about the role of the Commonwealth and its Secretariat.

It has since come to light that this report has concluded that:

“Continuing evidence of serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka shows that the Commonwealth’s decision to hold the 2013 CHOGM in Colombo was wrong. The Committee urges the PM to state publicly his unwillingness to attend the Colombo meeting unless he receives convincing and independently verified evidence of substantial and sustainable improvements in human and political rights in Sri Lanka.”

War Widows issues

“Discrimination against and abuse of widows, of all ages,occurs across a wide spectrum of cultures, religions, ethnic groups, regions, irrespective of the economic or education status of the women subject to this oppression.”

Attitudes to and treatment of widows varies from relatively mild indifference and social exclusion to extreme mental, physical and sexual abuse and even murder. Women widows are often beyond the reach of law, for various reasons, unable to access the justice system or inherit from their lost husband’s estate, or even lose custody of their children.

The situation in Sri Lanka for war widows whether Tamil, Muslim or Sinhalese is a serious lack of rights, as widows are in extreme poverty and destitution.

War Widows issues as stated at the meeting

Many MP’s and speakers were concerned of the day to day support of the women and children while two MP’s. Ed Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton and Keith Vaz, M.P for Leicester were more poignant, as they highlighted their individual plight. They brought the audience to take serious note of their own situation, as children living fatherless from an early age, brought up by their mother’s singlehanded. This touched a chord for some action.

Lack of Coordination

It was generally the consensus that due to lack of coordination work for the support of war widows in Sri Lanka was lacking. One comment which reflected the mood of the meeting was that if assistance from abroad both from international Governments and bodies could be essentially and properly coordinated resources need not be unnecessarily wasted.

Planned Action

It is hoped that with the establishment of the Northern Provincial Council, the issue of the plight of war widows and the welfare of children will fall on local ears and administrators will find it their priority to arrange for coordination of aid funds from abroad – both from Governments and Diaspora -to War widows, with the understanding and support of the Central Government of Sri Lanka.