03/31/2021, 13.07
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Improving women’s conditions to breathe new life in Sri Lanka’s development

by Melani Manel Perera

The Women's Federation of NAFSO released a paper highlighting the need to boost the social, economic and political presence of women. Self-reliance and micro-credits are major issues. More than 200 women committed suicide amid society’s indifference. Some nuns stand in support of those in difficulty.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The goal of the Women's Federation of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement  (NAFSO) is so to strengthen “socially, economically and politically” the role of women in Sri Lanka with a view to “equality and justice”.

To this end, the Federation prepared a policy paper titled “Policies to empower women in food-producing communities”, which it recently handed over to the government.

NAFSO marked International Women’s Day on 25 March in Colombo, sponsoring an event in cooperation with the Civil Society Collective. MP Harini Amarasuriya, Sunethra Gunawardene, secretary of the Ministry for COVID Prevention and Primary Care, and Champa Upadsena, director of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, were present at the event. Each received a copy of the paper.

Women “in the north and east already affected by the war” have “have suffered economically, socially and politically,” said Laveena Hasandhi, head of the NAFSO women's desk. Now the “COVID-19 plague has plunged women farmers, fishermen and working women into great crisis.”

The main problem, however, remains economic independence, particularly loans. “We have three main areas related to food producing women: capital investment, appropriate technology to improve production and the market,” Hasandhi explained.

Women often struggle to “receive money from public and private banks”, which demand safeguards or guarantees the women cannot provide. In the recent past, more than 200 women have committed suicide because they could not pay their debts to various sri Lankan lenders.

For Hasandhi, “every death is in the police records, but the news is most often kept secret and is not disclosed. It's a tragedy,” she said.

Currently a group of rural women facing a severe financial crisis due to micro-credit loans are engaged in a peaceful protest (Sathaygraha) in Hingurakgoda, north central province.

They are calling on the government to cancel the debt, as President Gotabaya Rajapakse had promised in the 2019 election campaign.

To help the women become empowered, they must be freed “from debt, promoting traditional methods and help the women use new technologies,” Hasandhi noted.

Three women religious from the Holy Family Association – Sister Lalani, Sister Anusha and Sister Madhushani – attended the event on 25 March.

“As religious, we greatly appreciate the great contribution made by Sri Lankan women to the national economy.” Sister Anusha Perera told AsiaNews. This is why “we would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to them”.

In this context, nuns can also play an important role, acting as “mediators between women and other parties, especially when women face difficulties and need support to stand on their own.”

“We must contribute to the healing of the minds of women who feel isolated, facing various problems, persecutions and crises,” Sister Anusha explained. This way  “they can focus their mind on the process of earning” a living.

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