Bringing Hope to War Widows in Sri Lanka’s Conflict Zones

Originally published on March 5, 2015.

Reestablishing viable livelihoods has been difficult for war-affected communities in Sri Lanka since the end of the country’s 26-year civil war in 2009. Regular internal displacement, the erosion of economic infrastructure and insufficient training has made it hard for many to find viable employment – even after the onset of peace. Finding a meaningful livelihood is even harder for women – who typically face the dual challenge of family care – and even more so for the disabled. Through the USAID-funded VEGA/BIZ+ program, Land O’Lakes is supporting the growth of enterprises with the potential for substantial job creation, particularly for vulnerable residents. One Sri Lankan woman who has benefited from a new job through VEGA/BIZ+ recently spoke about the challenges.

“Myths and superstitious beliefs, upbringing, along with bigger issues, like low numbers of female political leaders and inadequate initiatives to rebuild lives of conflict-affected and disabled women, aggravate male dominancy in our society. To someone living in such a society, economic empowerment can mean a lot of things: it can mean freedom, independence, recognition and most importantly it can mean a chance to sustain themselves and their families,” says Dakshani*, a 25-year old disabled woman who lives in Kilinochchi - one of the districts in Sri Lanka that was worst-affected by  the conflict.  Having lost a limb during the war, Dakshani faced many hardships in life.  However, things changed when she found work at the Sivanarul Vocational Training and Production Center, located close to her home. The Center is a socio-economic enterprise producing and marketing rice flour and spices. Land O’Lakes, through the USAID-funded VEGA/BIZ+ program, is supporting the Center to provide jobs and skills to vulnerable women like Dakshani – including war widows, and those who were abandoned by or separated from their spouses.

“The profit of the business belongs to the women who work so diligently in the Center. USAID’s assistance and support – in the way of building new hostel and storage facilities and providing new equipment and transportation – have helped us to overcome many challenges we have faced either as disabled or single women and be successful businesswomen.” says Dakshani.

“My job at the Center gives me an opportunity to learn, work, earn and also find time to spend with my family even after losing a limb. It has given me a lot of courage to look forward to the future with hope and enthusiasm. My colleagues – all vulnerable women like me - at the Center feel the same way."

“I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur.  Now I am earning and saving money to make this dream a reality. I will start to make food items at home, while keeping my full-time factory job.”

“We are all aware of how women benefit from economic empowerment. Therefore, I hope all government and international stakeholders will together with good governance and rule of law will also actively focus on women’s economic empowerment through effective and sustainable programs and welfare activities."

Dakshani has the confidence to socialize with others thanks to being economically independent and her prosthetic leg.  "She is now enjoying life without worrying about the leg she lost. She is happy to work and earn for her family and for herself. As a mother, I am very proud of it," says Dakshani’s mother.

Like most places that have experienced conflict throughout the world, women were deeply affected by Sri Lanka’s 26-year conflict.  For most women who lived in the Indian Ocean island’s conflict zones, displacement, destruction, violence, and loss were part of their everyday life.  The conflict ended in 2009, leaving women traumatized, in need of psychosocial care and without male family members, livelihoods or belongings.  Several USAID initiatives continue to support these women by integrating them into society and bring normalcy back into their lives.     

*Name changed to protect identity.

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