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Features » International

Sri Lankan widows still lag behind

Life is hard with just odd jobs to make enough money to live on

Sri Lankan widows still lag behind
A group of widows with pictures of their lost relatives reporter, Vavuniya International

March 8, 2011

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Efforts to improve the lives of Sri Lankan women are making steady progress, according to the government and NGOs; however, for many thousands of widows, life remains one long battle for survival. Three decades of civil war and its aftermath have left around 89,000 women without husbands. Their future and that of their children still remain uncertain as society ignores their plight. There are a great many widows struggling to make ends meet, say many priests. With a lack of employment opportunities and not being able to provide for their children’s education, many have to cope with discrimination, problems with their in-laws and legal disputes. “Just as the war ended, my husband died of a heart attack, one daughter was killed, another daughter lost a hand and a leg,” said Pushparani Suntharampillai, 49, a mother of six. Living a small rented house in Vavuniya, she does a few odd jobs to make ends meet. Much of her time is still spent standing in aid queues. For years the Catholic Church’s social arm Caritas has provided assistance, but the organization admits it is difficult to provide effective help to such a large number of widows, especially when they have no steady income. “Although the law is supposed to protect them and their rights in theory, there is little protection when it comes to how society really treats them in practice,” said Father Amirthanathar Francis Xavier Jayasegaram, the Director of Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace in Jaffna. There are many stories regarding being stigmatized, as well as legal and land problems. The story of Stella Celestine, 31, a mother of three in Jaffna is typical. Her family left their home in Kilinochchi after her husband, a grocery store owner was shot dead while on a buying trip.  “Four days after he left, my elder brother brought his body back in a lorry,” she said. “My in laws insist I hand my children over to them and remarry someone else in their family. They say people will look down on me if I go out to work, Celestine said. “I am confused. I can’t leave my children to live with other people. If I go to work I risk being stigmatized, on the other I fear that if I leave my children with others they will reject me," she lamented. “Those that do look for work end up working for low wages because employment opportunities are rare,” says Father Jayasegaram. “More needs to be done to allow these women to support themselves,” he said. The government agrees. “Widows are worst affected,” accepts M.L.A.M.Hisbulla, the deputy minister for Children Development and Women Affairs.” “ “The Government has to do more to provide employment opportunities for widows and to help educate their children,” he said. Related report Sri Lankan war widows clear landmines for a living SR13527.1644
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