Breadwinners: War Widows as Heads of Households

Text and Pix by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Sri Lanka’s total population 20.27 million consists of 53% women according to the latest census.

Saila Ithayaraj’s father was killed in shell attack in 1981 in Kantharmadam, Jaffna and her husband was shot dead at sea in 1996 in Araali, Jaffna

More and more women are becoming breadwinners all over South Asia.

Women are forced to bear multiple burdens due to poverty, conflict and displacement and climate change.

There are more than 40,000 widows including 26,340 in Jaffna District according to Centre for Women and Development. And, there are 89,000 widows in north and east of Sri Lanka according to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs.

The latest Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2009/2010, which was conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics, and the estimates reveal that, out of five million households in Sri Lanka, 1.1 million (23%) households are headed by women. And, most of the women heading households are in 40-59 age group, while 50% of them are widows, and 4.5% are reported as never married.

The high percentage of widows can be attributed to the prolonged war in Sri Lanka. Recently published research study book “Invisible Forgotten Sufferers: The Plight of Widows Around the World” reveals that, there are an estimated 245 million widows worldwide, and 115 million widows live in poverty and social stigmatization. These women are in constant search for a sustainable source of livelihood.

Women, whose husbands have been killed in the war gathered to share their grievances at “Strengthen Women Headed Households, and their Right to Life” symposium held in Trincomalee District, which was organised by National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO).

Some of these women have also lost their fathers and brothers due to war, and have been pushed to bear the family burden from their childhood. And, some of their husbands and sons have either been killed in war or have been disappeared over the past years or in detention.

Yogavathana Pulendrarasa’s husband was killed during a cross fire at sea in 1991

A. R. Jamun Umma’s husband was abducted and killed in 1990 in Trincomalee, and her son was shot dead in Kinniya

Nirmaladevi Shanmugananthan’s husband was shot dead at sea in 1986 in Trincomalee

Anjalidevi Rasalingam’s husband was abducted in a “white van” from Trincomalee town in 1989, and has been missing ever since

A.M. Fareeda Umma’s husband was killed at sea in Mullaithivu in 1998

Nirmala Priyadhashini Nishantha’s husband has been missing since 1999 from Mullaithivu sea. “I went and met Colonel Karuna (at that time) during the Ceasefire period in Vanni, but the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam told me that, they have not captured my husband. Since the war ended in 2009, I have given up hopes about my husband” ~ shares Nirmala Priyasharshini Nishantha from Trincomalee

Jeyakili Pushparatha’s husband was arrested at sea in 2000 in Trincomalee, and has been missing ever since

Shyamaladevi Ponnuththurai’s husband was killed in an air attack in 1990 in Trincomalee

Mohamed Kasim Kasara’s husband was killed at sea in Mullaithivu in 1998 ~ via: PassionParade Courtesy: CeylonToday