Women-headed families: no husband, no home and no future for their children
by Melani Manel Perera
In the Eastern Province, some women head their household all alone without a job, sometimes without a home, or without doors and sanitary facilities, unable to send their children to school. Their husbands died in war or disappeared into the hands of police.

Trincomalee (AsiaNews) - The Women's Desk of the National Fisheries Solidarity Organisation (NAFSO) has released a report on women-headed households. Titled 'Empower women-headed families, ensure right to life', the report found that in some eastern villages, some families are without shelter. Among those who are housed, their homes lack doors and windows against the cold. In many cases, sanitary facilities are a luxury only a few can afford even when they are shared. When children can go to school because there is money to buy books, they have to walk on streets that lack lighting. Worse still, most of these families headed by women lost their fathers (and husbands) killed during the civil war or detained by the police as a Tamil Tiger terrorist suspect from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

In recent months, NAFSO representatives met 377 women from the villages of Pumphuhar, Kilikunjimale, Lovelane, Karamalaiuttu, Vilankulam, Muthunagar, Manayaweli, Salli, Weeranagar and Kappalthurai (Eastern province). The report it wrote is based on interviews with 171 of them.

In 102 cases, women lost their husbands in the war, accidents or illness. In another 40 cases, the men disappeared into the hands of the armed forces. In seven cases, women had to take over the family after their husbands became disabled because of wounds sustained during the war.

"In Manayaweli," said Devahi Sunil, "we have major economic problems. We do not have a job, and many of us do not have even a house. We would like to educate our children but sending them to school is a dream. There is no money. The older ones who graduated are at home because they cannot find a job."

"For years, we have not received any government aid," she explained. "What we would like to have is help for our children and job opportunities of us and them. We need housing and know what happened to our husbands."

Twelve widows live in Vilankulam. "All of them have serious economic problems," Sundaram Theresa said. "Our homes do not have doors or windows and without a job we cannot get the money to fix them or buy a meal for our families." And the "lack of sanitary facilities" has made matters worse. "Because of that, we have to go into the jungle."

Public transit also bypasses the village so children have to walk six kilometres every day to go to school. The main road in the village also lacks electrical lighting.

In the village of Kappalthurai, "we are 69 women head of households," said Chadrasekaram Kumarajee. "Twelve were abandoned by their husbands who left the village to remarry. Without a job, it is hard to raise our kids and send them to school."

According to Lavena Hasanthi, Women coordinator for NAFSO, "each Sri Lankan citizen has a responsibility towards these women and their children, to value them and guarantee them the security they deserve. Today, they are most vulnerable component of society. These families deserve a dignified existence."