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Female-headed households struggle in Sri Lanka

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Summary of story from IRIN, September 8, 2011

Experts say that more policies and programmes must address the needs of female-headed households in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone.

Saroja Sivachandran, director of the Centre for Women and Development (CWD), an advocacy body based in northern Jaffna, told IRIN that, “most programmes [here] don’t take into account the unique role of women here.

“They may be providing for the families, but [women] still have to cook, look after children and do all household chores.”

Since returning to their villages in the conflict-affected north at the end of the country’s 26-year-long civil war in 2009, women have found their traditional role of household chores and child-rearing expanded with the burden of making a living, rebuilding damaged houses and a host of other tasks.

Though no official figures are available, the CWD estimates the war left 40,000 widowed, female-headed households in the north.

This does not include women whose husbands went missing during the conflict or who are in government detention for having ties to the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland.

In August, the World Bank re-launched a cash-for-work programme in the Northern Province, allowing women to choose how long they worked, and provided day-care by paying elders to look after the children, said Susrutha Goonasekera, a social protection economist for the World Bank.

A high demand for labour for jobs such as building roads has made appropriate work for women scarce.

“Women can’t compete with men for those jobs,” Sivachandran said.

The lack of new jobs, partly blamed on the slow inflow of private investment, is also a big factor behind many of these women feeling helpless, according to government officials.

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