The pearl of the Indian ocean is well known to have elected the world’s first female prime minister holds an important stance in the role of women to the rest of the world. However what appears on the outside is not mirrored within the country. The culture within Sri Lanka being fairly conservative especially amongst the Tamils living in the north and east of the island may be the main cause of the treatment of women in the country.
Piriyasha reports on the plight of Tamil women
In a country where the rate if literacy for women is 94%, a role of Tamil women in Sri Lanka is predominant to be married and reproduce and serve her family for the rest of her life. In spite of the global advances we have seen in the 21st century, we don’t see any signs of progress for the rights and conditions of Tamil women, with in some cases there being shift of progress in a backward direction. For example, it would be unusual for a woman to go out by herself during late hours due to the high prevalence of rapes and assaults. Travelling on a bus can be described by many girls and women as a stressful ordeal where they are often groped by men and are too afraid to speak out against their aggressor.
The war that had Tamil women at the forefront of the liberation movement also resulted in 280,00 displaced people and created over 89,000 widows in the North and East of the country with a consequent 40,000 female headed house-holds (20,000 in the North alone). The very community that idolised those who took part in the liberation movement and the martha families have turned their back on these women now. These women are surviving war victims left in the fate of poverty and negligence with many earning less than US $1 per day. Day to day living is unbearable and upbringing of children is difficult. At the end of the war, many women were taken to IDP camps controlled by the government, with minimal facilities and no form of getting out without large sums of bribery. The cases of sexual violence are extremely high in the north and east with a soldier per 11 civilian found in the north exposing women to rape every 90 minutes.
The international human rights group reported that rape and sexual violence was a common tactic used by the Sri Lankan government against Tamil Tigers during the 30 year, bloody civil war, however this tactic is still used against the government’s political opponents. Tamil women who do not talk openly of such matters have come forward in testimonies where they say they have been abducted into a van and taken into a room and raped several times by many men wearing civilian clothing.
Life in North-east Sri Lanka is very different to the life during the war. The story that grabbed most attention from media was that of Jeyakumari Balendran whose teenage son disappeared having surrendered to the Sri Lankan army nearing the end of the civil war. She and her 13-year-old girl have been prominent in campaigns to find out the whereabouts of her son. Instead the police retaliated by taking both Mrs Balendran and her daughter into custody accusing Mrs Balendran for harbouring a fugitive who supposedly shot a police. In spite of the high western media spotlight that was shone on India during the 2012 Indian girl rape case, no cases have been reported by the incise in neighbouring SL with complete blanking of this situation in the Global summit to end sexual violent in 2104 by the William Hague and Angelina Jolie.
Life is no better for those Tamil women who have managed to escape all the inequalities and feudal remands from their home country. They face discrimination, sexual harassment or even sexual assault at their work place. The stigma within the Tamil society prevents women to speak openly about their experience of such traumatic matters openly. There are not many support groups that take into cultural sensitivity of such matters. If a women was to tell her relatives about such matters she would be blamed for being promiscuous and either prevented from continuing with work or told that this is life of a woman and she must learn to adjust to situations and live with it.
With the freedom of marriage and divorce in western countries, many divorcees in Britain are left isolated by the Tamil community, blaming the women for not being able to adjust to the needs of the man; however the man on the other hand is welcomed with open arms for public gatherings or events. For those who have chosen their match, caste is a major issue with honour killings taking place in some south Asian communities.
On top of all of this the austerity measure in place by the current British government has further discriminated Tamil women with high rates of depression found in the communities due to lack of community support and the cut to mental health services. Tamil women are often in low paid jobs and are super exploited mainly due to their lack of skills and language barriers thus living in terrible conditions.
Tamil Solidarity’s demands
• No to violence against women!
• Full independent investigation of war crimes
• Withdraw troops from the North and East for immediate rebuilding of homes under the people’s control
• Stop the settlement and occupation programme
• Shutdown the official and unofficial prison camps and immediate release of all political prisoners.
• For the full disclosure of the disappeared or under custody of security forces
• No to super-exploitation in the special Economic Zones, supporting workers’ rights, decent pay and improved conditions for all
• End deportation of Tamils from Britain to Sri Lanka and the sale of arms
• Support building fully independent trade unions free from state interference.
• For the right to self-determination for Tamil-speaking people