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Sri Lanka: Women’s Insecurity in the North and East

December 20th, 2011

The International Crisis Group has issued a new report that looks at the serious lack of security for women in the north and east of the country in the aftermath of the long civil war.

Sri Lanka: Women’s Insecurity in the North and East warns that the heavily militarized and centralized control of those areas – with almost exclusively male, Sinhalese security forces – creates serious problems for women’s safety, sense of security and ability to access assistance. According to the report, they have little control over their lives and no reliable institutions to which to turn. The ICG is concerned that the Sri Lankan government has mostly dismissed women’s security issues and exacerbated fears, while the international community has failed to appreciate and respond effectively to the challenges they face.

“More than two years after the end of the war, many women still live in fear of violence by the state and from within their own communities”, says Alan Keenan, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst and Sri Lanka Project Director. “The conflict has badly damaged the social fabric and has left women and girls vulnerable at multiple levels. A concerted and immediate effort to empower and protect them is needed”.

Thirty years of civil war between the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has resulted in tens of thousands of female-headed households in the north and east. The report shows that they struggle daily to cope with the detention or absence of family members, continuing displacement and desperate poverty.

The consequences for women and girls reportedly have been severe. ICG reports that there have been alarming incidents of gender-based violence, with many women forced into prostitution or coercive sexual relationships. Fear of abuse and the reassertion of patriarchal norms within the Tamil community have further restricted women’s movement and impinged on education and employment opportunities. The fact that women must rely on the military for everyday needs not only puts them at greater risk of gender-based violence, but also prevents them from building capacity within communities.

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