Our Context

Batticaloa District is one of the districts with a high level of poverty and high numbers of migrant workers. Many women seek foreign employment as housemaids in the Middle East. Unable to meet their basic needs many others have taken high interest loans and are unable to meet their debt repayments.

Thirty years of armed conflict has greatly impacted on women’s lives. Multiple displacement and loss of assets, loss of family members due to the conflict, disappearances and arrests, high numbers of women headed households (more than 23.4% of households in Sri Lanka are now headed by women), loss of livelihoods, underage marriages and child pregnancies are some of the challenging issues faced by women in Batticaloa.

Violence against women and children has also become a grave issue in Sri Lanka. High incidents of rape and incest are reported nationally. Our impression is that even though the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVAct) was passed by the Sri Lankan Parliament in 2005, the incidents of violence within homes and communities are increasing. In the post war context, this could be due to increased awareness and support networks being put in place, however, we also see a strong continuum between the violence against women and girls during conflict and afterwards, resulting from normalisation of violence and brutalisation of communities over a 30 year war.

In the context of increasing poverty, lack of sustainable livelihood options for women and loss of assets women have had little opportunities and are powerless to leave abusive relationships or take action against perpetrators of violence.

Compounding decades of war, came the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami which devastated the region. The largest number of casualties in Batticaloa were women. Many drowned in an attempt to rescue their children and running was made difficult in a saree where metres of fabric, together with the women’s long hair, often got tangled in the debris. Though its been close to a decade since the Tsunami disaster, the gendered impacts continue in terms of increasing poverty, loss of livelihoods and increasing violence.