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Stories of Resilience

In the post-conflict narrative, there are stories that are glossed over, or never told. When thinking of the aftermath of Sri Lanka's war, most eyes, particularly those of the English mainstream media, turn to Jaffna. Recognising this, Groundviews travelled to Mullaitivu and Mannar, areas that remain underreported, and found many women who received almost no help from the state. The women interviewed have faced first, the horrors of war, and then numerous other issues – from bureaucracy to stigma, to outright violence and abandonment. Yet they also displayed immense courage in the face of these difficulties. These narratives of extraordinary resilience and resourcefulness rarely make the news. The names of the women interviewed and their locations have been withheld to respect their privacy and safety. These are their stories.  

Published with thanks to Groundviews.

Text by Raisa Wickrematunge and Amalini de Sayrah

All photos by Amalini de Sayrah

Married to a violent alcoholic
After being resettled, I lived alone with my sister, who was unmarried. The residents of the area were worried about my fate.
In remand for six months
The CID came for me in October 2009. My daughter and I were arrested and taken to the 4th Floor in Colombo.
On my own
After he burned me, I couldn’t stand for long. After around 2 years of struggling, I found work at a hotel, but my husband found me again.
Prepared to defend myself
I make palmyrah products to earn a living. I’m well-known in the area, for all the social work I’m involved in.
Nervous to stay alone
Many families like us face similar issues in receiving aid from the Government.
One person for one person
It was counselling that saved me. I feel free now, thanks to that.
My husband left me to marry again
I can’t afford tuition classes for her and to send her in a three-wheeler so I teach her at home, and she goes by bus for class.
I survive by working as a seamstress
I lost my mother in the war.
Everyone should receive aid equally
I built this shop with no help from the Government, with my own two hands.
I live in deep sadness
He started saying he had to work until late. After the war, when we were resettling, he moved in with the other woman.
As these stories illustrate, the issues facing female-headed households in Mannar and Mullaitivu are complex and varied. Alleviating these issues requires not just consistent state support in the form of funding for development, but also consistent funding for psychosocial services, and a shift in culture and mindset. Many of those interviewed did not feel the state would ever help them out of their plight. Yet, the resilience they displayed in the face of violence is inspiring. One in four households are female-headed, according to census data - and, still as these interviews illustrate, many single parent households receive only the most sparing support.

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