Sri Lanka

This publication documents the unique customary land holding patterns in the East of Sri Lanka which became invisible from national policy discussions on resettlement following the tsunami disaster of 2004 as well as advocacy efforts by the Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management (WCDM) based in Batticaloa which raised awareness about women’s right to land both at the community and at the policy implementation levels.
This report presents the findings of a study supported by UNIFEM and coordinated by the Center for Women’s Research in the period March – September 2005. The research for the study was done by seven women’s organizations who linked with their partner community based organizations in six districts affected the tsunami. The report addresses in particular household transformation through loss of lives and displacement, shelter and relocation, livelihood loss, land and house ownership and occupation issues, and delivery of basic services.

The Tsunami Housing Policy states that cash grants are supposed to go to the owner of the previous land/house. In practice the cash allocations have been deposited into existing bank accounts which were used earlier to deposit tsunami assistance grants of Rupees 5000 (about $49). In most cases these bank accounts are in the name of the male head of the household. Although the banks were instructed to make these accounts joint accounts, often this did not happen.

The study examines Tsunami Housing Policy of April 2006 which provided guidelines to allocate a house for a house, which in practice meant that male heads of household received the certificate of ownership even when the property was originally owned by the women members of the family.

The study sought to understand the origins and the use of the Head of the Household concept in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the tsunami as it was used to disentitle women of post tsunami state allocated lands.

This publication identified discriminatory laws and policies in relation to state land and housing allocation and makes recommendations for reform.

The report looks at various issues pertaining to women’s ownership and control of land and property in specific areas in the North and East of Sri Lanka affected by the conflict. The report discusses practical difficulties women face in accessing and owning land, legal provisions that affect women’s access and ownership, the implications of ethnicity, caste, and religion on land and property rights as well as perceptions related women’s access to and ownership of land. Traditionally there has been a strong trend towards separate property ownership of women.

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