Female Headed Household

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War widows in the Northern Province Of SriLanka.

Centre for women and Development(CWD) is a non profit organization , legally registered under the NGO secretariat Colombo.The organization commenced its activities in 1988 addressing women’s  Rights and build capacity  as to empower them to take part in all the activities. When we started this organization there were no such organizations existed in Jaffna with a commitment to address women’s issues.CWD aimed to work for the under privileged , the marginalized, the discriminated and the victimized women and girls.

  • CWD’s involvement;

Almost six years after SriLanka’s civil war came to an end , the extraordinary high number of war widows struggling to make ends meet.This has remained a huge problem since the end of war .Soon after the war which ended in 2009 May CWD committed with dedication to carry out a field survey in order to gather needed information about the situation of war widows ,the land issue  and to find out other related problems caused in consequences of the war.

  • As an out come of the survey main issues were identified

Sri Lankan Government has never confirmed the number of deaths during the final war. Although there is no gender breakdowns in the figures it is assumed the vast majority  were men.A generation of war widows was created and the women left largely to fend for themselves.

Priority issues are;

  • Livelihood of female headed households
  • Land issue
  • Social security
  • Militarization and illegal settlement
  • Injured and elders


The land issue emerged in the North has become an important humanitarian issue. The mass exodus has compelled the people to lose their lands . Land is deeply and emotionally linked to family and identity. It is not just a socioeconomic issue. Land issues unresolved can become major sources of  discontent and inhibit efforts to reconcile people and wounds.

  • CWDs important publications;

The survey outcome and the relevant information collected has been documented and CWD made two publications. One on “ The female headed households in the Northern Province of SriLanka” and

the other on “The land rights of women in the Northern Province”. These two publications are very useful to continue working with war widows and planning our activities for them.

Data reveals that  women headed households have increased in number considerably in the war tone North of SriLanka. Beyond the economic problems , the war affected women have to face several other social issues. The miseries caused by the mass exodus have not been improved and the war affected women have difficulties in establish and ton pursue their livelihood because of the gaps in the long  term plan for development.

W.H.H in the Northern Province (Covering the five Districts)

District                       WHH                       Widows

Jaffna                       29378                        28322

Vavuniya                   5862                          4019

Mannar                      6888                         3766

Mullaithievu             6294                          4799

Kilinochchi                 6110                         5427

Total                         54532                         46333


  • Land issue;

Following  at the end of war wnen resettlement was being started the displaced families made effort to return to their former dwelling places. But they had to have documentary prove to take up residence in their own places.But the war widows , husband disappeared wives, children disappeared mothers, and persons without legal documents have difficulties in  settling in their own places.

  • CWD’s programs for widows;

CWD with the information and the data collected in this region met women and formed groups particularly with the widows and conducted awareness and capacity development programs.Its so hard to bring them back to normalcy as they are still bearing the hardship of the sufferings that they have undergone and the memories of their lost ones. Most of them are physically weak and mentally traumatized. Therefore a psychological counseling needed for them to ease their minds and come back to normal.

Land rights programs;

CWD  has organized and conducted many programs to displaced women and widows on land rights in order to support them ton get their own lands back. CWD assisted women to whom who have lost their legal documents to get them back through the Authorities concerned. CWD ‘s lawyers  assisted in this process.

The women groups were empowered to fight for their rights and the group leaders initiated campaigns and protests against the authorities to release their lands back.

  1. Particularly in the Vallikamum North around Palaly area nearly 20000 thousand families have been evicted by the forces to establish military base and the people   are living in the welfare camps more than 26 years. There are promises given by the politicians and so far no  attempts made to release their land except 700 acres recently released by the President.
  2. Land issue has become a political issue rather than a humanitarian issue and the people need to fight for their rights It is one of the major recommendations of the LLRC report and still it is not being carried out by the Government.
  • Livelihood programs of CWD,

Although CWD has addressed several other issues in the community  recently special focus has been addressed towards war widows as their living situation has become so vulnerable  and deteriorating.CWD has initiated several livelihood programs such as home gardening, Small scale business, Food making and selling, Dry fish selling, Chilli powder making and selling,Running a boutique, Poultry rearing,Cow and Goat rearing, Running preschools ,Running grinding grinding mills,etc and also for their children as an educational support CWD used to supply writing note Books, Pens , School bags, Shoes and even Bicycles for them to go to school. This activity has reduced the school drop outs  from the displaced community.

  • Gender based Violence Programs of CWD,

The new Government which took office in Jan 2015 has signaled a new policy to addressing the divisive issues that still linger including the situation of women in war ravaged Northern Province.There is a centre established in Kilinochchi,to look after the war widows  and ther have been few programs designed to help the war widows to date.

In Jaffna District female unemployment rate stands 10.9%, In Kilinochchi district 20.4%, In Mannar District 21.6%, In Mullaithevu District 20.5%, and in Vavuniya District 9.0%.According to the survey done by Dr Sarvananda, a Researcher. In these Districts poverty forces many women leave their children behind as they seek jobs away from their villages. As a result children dropping out of school and there are frequent cases of child abuse , and also cases of women sexually abused by forces.

CWD has on its legal access to justice program conduct  gender based violence programs to women particularly war widows in order to provide legal information and the reporting procedures available .The Lawyers assigned  in this project inquire the cases and file court action for legal remedy. Women are so active  in reporting the sexual harassment and rape cases in these Districts. The legal empowerment programs through our activities make war widows to be vigilant and help safeguard themselves with legal information that they have gained.

UN  women’s commitment to widows recently at the CSW 60 conference

 in UN headquarters  ,NY—to take the last woman first is commendable .As it is vital because while women enjoy only subaltern status in most societies ,most woman would swell numbers of the last women. When circumstances force her to support a household and bring up children with little or no economic support and social security she is truly the last among the list.

  • CWD’s Global Alliance  for widows;

Very recently CWD has aliened with the Global alliance for widows Federation of SIGBI

(Soroptimist International  of Great Britain and Ireland)

Within the alliance , organizations learn from each others experiences and best practices and gain lobbying strength  we will evolve and will be a loud voice for all the voiceless last. More recently widows of political figures  have been elected to high office in many Countries as well as in SriLanka.

It is our duty to bring the most affected women into the mainstream of economic process, political participation and leadership positions to have a dignified life in the society

Saroja Sivachandran

Executive Director , CWD


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