Sri Lanka: UNIFEM report: Gender Profile of the Conflict in Sri Lanka

Since 1983, Sri Lanka has experienced a civil ethnic conflict in the Northern and Eastern provinces that has resulted in life-threatening and traumatic experiences for women; loss of life, rape and being searched by armed groups are daily occurrences.
Large numbers of women have participated as combatants in the conflict, and many civilian women are now household heads due to the estimated 60,000 people that have been killed and the 800,000 families displaced.
In 1931 Sri Lanka became one of the first countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to permit women to vote. In 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first female prime minister of a modern nation. Chandrika Kumaratunga was elected Sri Lanka's first female president in 1994, and won a second term in office in elections in December 1999. Sri Lanka has a vibrant women’s movement.

The first round of formal peace talks between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were exclusively attended by men, and held in Sattahip, Thailand, between 16 and 18 September 2002. The Royal Norwegian Government facilitated the negotiations. One woman, a representative of the LTTE, was present at each of the 5 subsequent rounds of discussions.

The establishment of the Subcommittee on Gender Issues (SGI) was agreed upon by the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during the third session of negotiations in Oslo 2-5 December 2002. The committee comprises of ten members, five appointed by the GOSL and five from the LTTE. LTTE: Ms. Sivahimi Subramaniyam, Ms. Renuga Sanmugaraja, Ms. Mathimalar Balasingam, Ms. Sridevy Sinnathampi, Ms. Vasanthapireminy Samasundaram. GOSL: Dr. Kumari Jayawardena, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Ms. Kumuduni Samuel, Ms. Faizoon Zakariya, Dr. Fazeela Riyas.

The SGI will report directly to the plenary session of the peace talks and work closely with the other Sub-Committees and other mechanisms associated with the peace process. It will identify issues of concern to women that need to be addressed and bring those concerns into the agenda of the peace process. The Committee members acknowledged the widespread and profound suffering of women as a consequence of war, especially in the most affected areas. It was decided to focus their efforts on: the equal representation of women in politics, educational structures and gender bias, violence against women and allegations of sexual harassment, sustaining the peace process, resettlement, personal security and safety, infrastructure and service, livelihood and employment, political representation and decision-making and reconciliation. At the request of the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Norway has appointed Dr. Astrid N. Heiberg as an advisor to this committee.

The 6th session of the Peace Talks were held in March 2003, but despite numerous visits from Norwegian facilitators, there has been no agreement on the agenda for resumed talks. In June 2004, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala was appointed as the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCPP), which comes under the direct purview of the President of Sri Lanka. The mandate of the SCPP includes: coordinating the implementation of decisions of the GOSL on the Peace Process; monitoring the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) between the GOSL and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE); providing research and logistical support for the GOSL delegation during the political negotiations between the GOSL and the LTTE; liaising with government ministries, departments, institutions, the armed forces and the Police, UN agencies, international humanitarian organizations and national and international NGOs in matters pertaining to the Peace Process; monitoring the free movement of people and goods to and from the uncleared areas; communicating issues relating to the Peace Process to the national / international media and the public through its Communications Unit.

In August 2004, the Women’s Network for Peace and Freedom called on women’s groups around the world to campaign for an end to the human rights abuses ongoing in Sri Lanka’s war, “which has been forgotten by the international community.” The group requested that pressure be placed on the Sri Lankan government to resume negotiations immediately with the LTTE including other minority political groups and that the LTTE stop all extra judicial killings, violence against civilians and rival group members and observe the current peace agreement and that opposition political parties to support the peace process more proactively.

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19 August 2009

Source: UNIFEM via WUNRN