Abandoned women and finance

Posted Thursday March 19, 2015 by Hazel Durbridge


My mind-set is all in planning mode. I have just written to the children talking through my options and rationale for making decisions about my remaining time out here. Ideas float around, then they harden and rationalise. I have been reflecting on where I was at before I came away. Distance and a totally new environment is wonderful for drawing a line under things – not that they were all bad experiences. They served their purpose at that time. The great thing is that I left having put an infrastructure (the buzz planning word!) in place that hopefully will help me move forward.

One of the issues that I don’t think I have spelt out to you before, although I talk about economies all the time is that I actually can’t afford to live out here. There is rampant inflation here in Sri Lanka and I am struggling to live off my allowance. All the other English volunteers tell me it lasts about a month and then they live off their own money, which is fine if you are happy to do that and have the reserves. A) I don’t want to do that. Volunteering with VSO is categorically not only just for rich people so there should be no expectation that I have reserves, which I haven’t. B) I may have been able to get to the end of the 3 month period if I had not gone away at all, but this is the only time I get English speaking social company (or at least the opportunity if I was capable of taking it!). There is supposed to be some opportunity to socialise. So, financially I can’t afford to stay here. VSO are not going to review the allowance now, because this is a lengthy process, I am the last volunteer and they are closing the office.

Obviously without a job I can’t live in England either, but I am working on that!

I also have been reviewing whether I have achieved what I would hope from this experience. I think initially it was a good, relatively expense-free escape. I had just finished with FP. VSO is not something I can do in a relationship. If I can finish and publish the plan, which is not a dead cert yet, I will have achieved far more professionally than I did in Cameroon where the working conditions were so dire. Socially it is worse than Cameroon. I have no friends. I have had a holiday which I would not have had the money to do in England. Sri Lanka was on my country to visit wish list. I have a list of 6 towns I still want to see and 2 places, the elephant sanctuary and possibly a game park, although this is not essential as Namibia is probably the most amazing game park experience I will see in my lifetime. I want to do these things as I will not come back.

Last night I started and nearly finished a really interesting book written by a journalist called ‘voices from a war zone’ and it is a compilation of articles about war linked situations in Sri Lanka, child soldiers, parents of the ‘missing’, maid ‘bondage’ in the middle east, displacement etc. As I virtually packed the VSO library to bring up here I have a huge amount of non-fiction. The fiction is proving hard going. The VSO mob out here seem to have been drawn to books with sad endings so it’s useless to me. I get attached to my female ‘heroine’ and then she gets killed off at the end of the first few chapters. That’s it. I can’t read to the end of the book. Fiction for me is like going to see a film. I want to be uplifted and full of hope not tangled in too much worldly misery. Interestingly I am fine with misery in non-fiction which is the real stuff!

Anyway, it’s not like anyone is going to be remotely interested in my rapidly expanding knowledge of the political/economic/social history and current situation in Sri Lanka, but when I am in country it totally absorbs and enthrals me. I have always been like this. Travel anywhere and I want to get to grips with the place geographically, historically and in present time. The book last night was so interesting because they were talking about places in the Batticaloa district I have been to and many of the things people here and now have lived through and still talk about. It’s just the best sort of educational experience I guess.


Women & Child protection

The number of families which were women headed in Batticaloa was 25,727 (CARE 2008), that is 16.8% for the whole district in 2008.

Batticaloa (and Sri Lankan) society is in transition after a long brutal war with many unresolved political and social processes, leading to considerable collective anxiety. There is often a gendered-continuum of violence (Moser 2001) that extends beyond the end of civil wars. A glimpse of the extent of loss and human rights issues that people experienced during the conflict can be found in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation commission report where 950 people made presentations and more than 5,000 people gave written submissions. Most of those who came for the LLRC hearings were women.

There are many ‘abandoned’ women in Batticaloa district. In the Vaharai area there are 500 ex female fighters aged between 25-35, only 50 of whom are eligible for government support. That leaves 450 without an income. Whereas in the past they would have worked alongside their men in the field or fishing, this is now seen as of less value by the young. Village communities are debt ridden with people voluntarily migrating to escape from debt collectors. There is a lack of trust and migrant labourers become vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Economic Migration

Another important issue has been women’s migration for low level work to the Middle East. Batticaloa had the highest number of migrant workers in the Eastern province. Batticaloa sent 11,744 in 2009 (3,559 women and 8,185 men). 2,315 women went as housemaids. However, there are only 6 valid agencies in Batticaloa (SLBFE). It was only in 2011 that SLBFE opened an office in Batticaloa town.

When mothers leave for extended periods this can cause a dislocation of family ties. Grandparents become parents and fathers may remarry in the absence of their wives. Either way children are growing up with reduced control because of vulnerable family unity and the schools are bearing the brunt of this. Although the women hope to save enough money to have a nicer house built, some men do not respect these women and along with the loss of family life is a loss of status.

There is also an issue of men sailing from Sri Lanka to Australia in search of work.

Batticaloa District Development Plan DRAFT 2013

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