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Sri Lanka: The impact of militarization on women

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Since the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka in 2009, the government has used national security concerns to legitimize ongoing human rights violations and an increasing militarized society. This chapter examines how this militarization impacts Sri Lankan women. It begins with an overview of the status of women during and after the conflict. It describes Sri Lankan militarization, including the physical presence of military members, military involvement in civil society and commercial activities, and military influence in the education system. The chapter explores the gendered impacts of such militarization, ranging from a fear of sexual violence to the weakening of community trust and political activity in light of extensive surveillance programs. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the various strategies used by women to survive and retain agency in this militarized context.
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Abstract and Keywords
Since the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka in 2009, the government has used
national security concerns to legitimize ongoing human rights violations and an
increasing militarized society. This chapter examines how this militarization impacts Sri
Lankan women. It begins with an overview of the status of women during and after the
conflict. It describes Sri Lankan militarization, including the physical presence of military
members, military involvement in civil society and commercial activities, and military
influence in the education system. The chapter explores the gendered impacts of such
militarization, ranging from a fear of sexual violence to the weakening of community trust
and political activity in light of extensive surveillance programs. The chapter concludes
with a discussion of the various strategies used by women to survive and retain agency in
this militarized context.
Keywords: Sri Lanka, women, militarization, gender, surveillance, national security, sexual violence
THIS chapter examines the impact of militarization on women in the north of Sri Lanka
after the end of the armed conflict, drawing on primary data collected in northern Sri
Lanka from December 2010 to January 2014. The chapter focuses on how militarization
was entrenched through a process of normalization, the different ways in which
militarization shapes daily life, and its specific impacts on women. It concludes with an
analysis of the complex strategies used by women to cope with and challenge this
militarization.
Background to the Conflict
Sri Lanka: The Impact of Militarization on Women
Ambika Satkunanathan
The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Conflict
Edited by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Naomi Cahn, Dina Francesca Haynes, and Nahla Valji
Print Publication Date: Feb 2018 Subject: Political Science, Comparative Politics
Online Publication Date: Dec 2017 DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199300983.013.46
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Following Sri Lanka’s independence from Britain in 1948, the country enacted laws that
discriminated against minority communities, including against the Tamils of Indian origin
whose ancestors had been brought to the island to work on the plantations in the 1800s.
In 1972, Sri Lanka severed all legal ties with Britain and became a republic with a new
constitution which enshrined a “Sinhala only” policy, gave primacy to Buddhism as a state
religion by making it a “duty of the state to protect and foster Buddhism,” and removed
provisions that prevented the enactment of legislation detrimental to minorities. Incidents
of collective violence, to which Tamils were repeatedly subjected in 1958, 1977, 1981,
and 1983, exacerbated existing ethnic tensions. This, along with several failed attempts
by moderate Tamil political parties to find a resolution through negotiation, led some
Tamil youth to take up arms. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which
emerged as the strongest armed group after internecine violence, perpetrated gross
violations of human rights over the next decades, including suicide bombings targeting
civilians, assassination of politicians, extrajudicial killings, and the use of child soldiers.
Simultaneously, the country experienced a youth insurrection in the Sinhala-
dominated southern part of the country during the late 1980s, which was crushed
through state-sponsored violence and violations such as extrajudicial killings and
disappearances. These insurgencies led to the imposition of states of emergency (SOE)
and the promulgation of Emergency Regulations (ERs), which conferred wide powers on
many officials—including the president, ministers (through delegation by the president),
and members of the armed forces and the police. Although these powers were used
against the youth of the majority community during uprisings in the South, for the large
part, the laws were targeted at the Tamil community of the North.
The armed conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE came to an end in
May 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE. Both parties to the conflict stand accused of gross
violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, particularly during the last
stages of the war. This has been affirmed by the 2011 Report of the Secretary-General’s
Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka and the 2015 Report of the “Investigation
on Sri Lanka” by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Until
January 2015, when Maithripala Sirisena won the presidential election and brought about
regime change, the government of the time continued to use national security concerns to
legitimize serious human rights violations, and failed to put in place a genuine
reconciliation or truth-seeking process or to address accountability issues, which, in turn,
facilitated ongoing violations, including sexual violence, as well as scaled-up
militarization in the North, leading to widespread insecurity. Following the presidential
election in January 2015 and parliamentary election in August 2015, the new government
announced that it would establish mechanisms to deal with issues of transitional justice.
As of July 2017, while the only legislation that has been enacted to establish an Office of
Missing Persons has not yet been operationalized, members of civil society have raised
concerns about what they perceive as attempts to backtrack on commitments made by
the government to the Human Rights Council and about lack of transparency and
inclusiveness in the transitional justice process.
(p. 580)
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Status of Women in Postwar Sri Lanka
In the past five decades, the progress of women in the socioeconomic and legal spheres
has been considerable. They enjoy 90 percent literacy and good health indicators and are
more visible in the public sphere, including in the commercial sector, bureaucracy, and
universities. Some progress also has been made in reforming discriminatory laws, and
there are efforts, particularly by NGOs, to increase awareness of women’s rights. Yet,
patriarchal values and discriminatory practices exist, and women continue to face
exclusion in politics, social marginalization, and gender-based violence. The gendered
division of labor remains unchanged, despite women’s increasing entry into the job
market, with women bearing the bulk of responsibility for housework and child care.
Women in conflict-affected areas and the plantation sector face challenges accessing
basic services such as education and health care, and are subject to economic
exploitation.
As a result of the conflict, nearly 80 percent of the displaced population was
female, and more than 23 percent of households in Sri Lanka are now female-headed. The
vast majority of these households are in the North, where female-headed households face
physical, economic, and social insecurity. The vulnerability of women to violence and
harassment restricts their freedom of movement; this, in turn, adversely impacts other
aspects of their lives, including their livelihood opportunities and the access of girls and
young women to education. The prevailing sense of insecurity and lack of income
generation opportunities, coupled with a perceived breakdown in moral standards, has
resulted in a high incidence of underage marriages in the hope of ensuring the physical
and economic security of young women.
A study of the gendered impact of militarization needs to take into account issues of
preexisting and structural gender inequality within the Tamil community. In the
conservative and traditional Tamil community, the Tamil nationalist struggle, like other
nationalist movements (see Yuval-Davis 1997), was instrumental in bringing women into
the public sphere. This sometimes blurred the boundaries between the public and private
spheres, and politicized the private sphere, through which women were mobilized to
support the nationalist struggle. In the 1980s, prior to the emergence of the LTTE as the
largest Tamil militant group, women members of various militant movements were able to
exercise limited and sometimes even transgressive agency. However, even this agency
depended on, and differed, according to the ideology of each movement. Generally, the
space given to women seems to have been determined by the strategic needs of the
organization, rather than a commitment to women’s empowerment. Women created
alternate spaces, which sometimes unwittingly or indirectly challenged gender
stereotypes and social restrictions on the behavior and rights of women. Despite this,
women were not always able to challenge systemic inequalities or exercise agency and
create space for their voices to be heard (Satkunanathan 2012). The failure to effect
fundamental change within the Tamil community on issues of gender equality, coupled
(p. 581)
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with fears about the decimation of Tamil culture due to rapid postwar social change, has
resulted in the re-emergence of patriarchal and discriminatory practices against women
in the North.
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Banal Militarization: Creating a Narrative of
Normalcy
Given the thirty-year armed conflict and youth insurrections in the South, militarization
has been a feature of daily life in Sri Lanka for decades. Yet, despite this, a distinction
should be made between the process and form of militarization that existed before May
2009 and the militarization that has become an entrenched and normalized part of life
after May 2009. Cynthia Enloe (2000) defines militarization as a “step-by-step process by
which something becomes controlled by, dependent on, or derives its value from
the military as an institution or militaristic criteria” (291). Her warning that
“militarization is such a pervasive process, and thus so hard to uproot, precisely because
in its everyday form it scarcely looks life threatening” provides a useful framework; it
enables us to identify and understand strategies used to entrench militarization by
looking beyond the visible and most obvious to understand the insidious and rapid
militarization that has taken place since the end of the armed conflict.
Prior to the end of the war, the impact of militarization was felt mainly in the North and
East, where military action and (unofficial) rules shaped and dictated daily civilian life.
Although following the end of the war, systematic militarization has occurred throughout
the country (Satkunanathan 2014), this chapter focuses on the North.
Militarization in the North took place in complex ways at multiple levels. The statement
by the Northern Security Forces Commander following the end of the war that “security
forces in the North will be engaged in a new role of developing the region” (Palakidner
2009) signaled that the military would play an active public role. The capture of civilian
space was supported by the ever-growing number of entities that became part of the
defense complex, such as the Civil Security Department (CSD) and the Civil Affairs Office
(CAO). This structure was bolstered by the more public and interventionist role played by
military officials in a manner unseen in the past, such as military commanders making
public statements on a number of issues ranging from the laws under which civilians will
be prosecuted for certain offenses to the behavior expected of university students
(Satkunanathan 2013). Following regime change in January 2015, although the military
no longer played an overt role in public affairs in the North, the military infrastructure
(i.e., the business ventures and multiple defense entities) is yet to be dismantled.
Beyond the noticeable physical presence of the military camp or Civil Affairs Office, it is
the military’s involvement in civil administration, development activities, and commercial
activities that have played a key role in normalizing militarization. Including the general
public in “the projects and imperatives of the state” blurs the lines between the military
and non-military sectors of society, whereby the public becomes an active participant in
the militarization process (Laswell, quoted in Bernazzoli and Flint 2010, 160). As early as
2009, the military began to play an active role in development activities; for instance,
authorization to NGOs to implement projects was given by the military, permission to
(p. 582)
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travel into the Vanni for official purposes was refused to certain individuals deemed to be
a threat to national security, and local development committee meetings have been held
at army camps and chaired by the commander of the area.
The army’s keen understanding of the effectiveness of using education to construct the
belief that adulation of the military is an integral part of being patriotic (Bernazzoli and
Flint 2010) led to its involvement in the education sector in the North. The military
provided scholarships and distributed books to students, cadet corps were established in
schools, and leadership training programs for students were held with the involvement of
the army, which also organized school tours. Youth were encouraged to join the CSD,
which began to pay the salaries of preschool teachers in the Vanni and to monitor the
administration of these schools in 2013. Engaging with youth and the educational
sector is one of the ways in which the military changes the “meanings and uses of
people, things and ideas” (Enloe 2000, 289). Even following regime change, some of
these activities, such as the CSD running preschools and the military’s charitable
educational activities, continue.
The armed forces in Sri Lanka also began to undertake commercial activities. Since the
army is subsidized by the state, it is able to offer goods and services for cheaper rates,
thereby forcing small farmers and retailers, particularly in the North, out of business.
This impacts women who, as unskilled workers, engage in day labor in the agricultural or
commercial sector.
The militarization occurs with no legal framework to address it. The law of armed conflict
does not regulate such rapid postwar militarization, since the presumption that ending
armed conflict ousts these norms also assumes the end of the application of the laws of
war. Equally, human rights law, which should apply in these contexts, remains
underdeveloped and is ill-equipped to address the de facto militarization of the ordinary.
Gendered Impact of Militarization
In the postwar context, militarization and patriarchy function in tandem, resulting in
women being faced with multilayered forms of oppression. As the rest of the chapter
illustrates, structural inequalities within the Tamil community exacerbate the impact of
militarization on women and, by extension, the community, and thereby facilitate the
entrenchment and normalization of militarization. At the same time, militarization
enables patriarchal practices to re-emerge in the guise of protecting Tamil women and
culture from the military.
Military engagement in the North that impacts the lives of women takes numerous forms.
In addition to the physical presence of the military, which causes women to fear, and
makes them vulnerable to, sexual violence and harassment, the military carries out
surveillance and monitoring, creating fear and suspicion among people, which leads to
(p. 583)
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self-censorship and a breakdown of intra-community trust and relations. This results in
the isolation of women-headed households and reduces their access to traditional
community support mechanisms such as extended family or neighbors. Further, military
involvement in everyday life through development and charitable activities, including
education and social events and engagement in commercial activities, impacts adversely
on women’s lives. The most insidious and harmful form of military action is the
enforcement of extralegal rules and practices that cause physical, economic, and social
insecurities for women.
Militarization has created the belief among both men and women that an extensive and
deep-seated surveillance mechanism exists in the North and would result in punitive
measures being taken against those who are perceived to contravene the dictates of the
military. This has enabled the military to control the behavior of the population, even
in the absence of a visible physical uniformed military presence. Women—
particularly those in the Vanni who have previously not been exposed to the Sri Lankan
armed forces and who view them as strangers and aggressors—appear to experience
more fear than men, due to apprehension that increased scrutiny could lead to sexual
violence or harassment. Since many communities in the Vanni tend to have women-
headed households due to the death, disappearance, or detention of male family
member(s), the lack of male presence in homes only serves to increase this sense.
Further, since many women are the sole providers for their families, they are afraid that
any disruption could prevent them from meeting the basic needs of their families.
Becoming the subject of military scrutiny and the resulting punitive measures to which
they could be subjected is foremost on the minds of women attending meetings and
workshops. Women therefore sometimes expressed reluctance to participate for fear that
military intelligence is monitoring their activities. This played out in the research for this
chapter, where arranging interviews with respondents often required considerable
discussion about a safe venue that would not place the interviewer or respondent in
danger. Often, in the course of such meetings and interviews, close attention had to be
paid to the movement of people in the surroundings. It could take something as
innocuous as a man on a motorcycle passing by and looking toward the building to create
anxiety that the meeting was being monitored. Further, many would not discuss issues
even remotely related to human rights violations and the actions of the military on the
phone since they believe all phone calls are being monitored. Feelings of insecurity and
fear are heightened due to the Sri Lankan armed forces being perceived as an occupying
army that is ethno-culturally and linguistically different and that is determined to
subjugate the population. Although after regime change in 2015 there are virtually no
fetters on freedom of expression and association, civil society organizations in the North
and East continue to report surveillance, and at times intimidation by state security
agencies.
In the North, “militarization operating through capillaries of power blurs the boundaries
between military and civilian activities and institutions, producing patterns of impunity
for state violence” (Duschinski 2009, 708). Militarism becomes natural and taken for
(p. 584)
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granted through activities of people in everyday settings. This can be better understood
by studying the process through which the population is convinced that the military is of
“critical importance to their own well-being” (Bernazzoli and Flint, 2009, 397).
In the narrative of the government of the time, the LTTE was positioned as the main
source of insecurity to the Tamil community, while the army was portrayed as the rescuer
that was ensuring security by preventing a resurrection of the armed group. Following
regime change, the need to prevent future insurrections is still used to justify the
continued existence of the military complex. Women appear very aware of the strategy
used by the government to control the population in the guise of providing security. For
instance, a woman referring to the presence of the army said, “We have no security but
they (the government) say this (the presence of the army) is security.” Statements of
Tamil women in the North that “security means a place without the army” and “there is
no security as long as the army is present” demonstrate that paternalistic
definitions of security constructed by the state increase the insecurity of those who
supposedly are being protected (Laliberte 2013, 2). The complicated reality for these
women is illustrated by narratives of women who, even while critiquing certain acts of the
LTTE such as forced recruitment, unequivocally stated that women felt more secure when
the LTTE was in control pre-2009. One increasingly heard that “a woman could walk
unaccompanied even at midnight” at that time, which points to women’s primary fear,
that of sexual violence, particularly by the military, which in turn restricted their freedom
of movement (Satkunanathan 2012).
Women spoke of many unofficial processes made possible through the sweeping powers
given to the military and law enforcement officials by national security laws, and the
resultant climate and culture of impunity as factors that increased their insecurity. These
processes, which came into being during the lifetime of the conflict, remained
unchallenged and continued after the end of the war. During 2006–2008, for instance,
residents of Jaffna in the North, which was under the control of government forces, had
to obtain a pass, much like a visa, from the army to travel to the South. The army would
often state the reason for refusing to give travel passes as suspicion of involvement in
anti-state activities and would ask the person to present himself at the camp, either
weekly or daily, and sign in. Hence, the refusal of a travel pass often led people to change
their residence or to surrender to the Human Rights Commission or the courts to be
placed in protective custody for fear of being disappeared or killed by the army. This
marked the individual as a person under threat. It also impacted adversely on women
who had been left behind at home with no livelihood options, and who then also had to
regularly cope with visits, interrogation, and harassment by the armed forces and
intelligence officers and to find means to protect their male children. These unofficial
forms of surveillance and monitoring that came into being during the period of
emergency exacerbated the insecurity experienced by women since it also rendered their
ability to seek remedies virtually nonexistent.
(p. 585)
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Militarization also creates forms of exclusion and inclusion (Stern 2006), whereby certain
populations such as former combatants (men and women), families of missing combatants
(mostly women), and families of the disappeared who are engaged in campaigning for
answers (mostly women) were viewed with suspicion by the state. Following regime
change, although key figures within the government do not appear to hold this position,
generally this continues to be the perception. At the same time, these populations were
encouraged to become part of the militarization project. Hence, they formulated
parameters for inclusion and exclusion within the communities to increase their security
(Stern 2006), and to resist and cope with violence and the impact of militarization and
unofficial norms and rules that came into being during the period of emergency. For
instance, former combatants and families of missing combatants who were often harassed
and interrogated became military informants, or used their links with the military to
intimidate or gain an advantage within the community. For instance, since they were in
the employ of the military, there were reports of such persons using their contacts in the
army to intimidate others in cases of disputes, most commonly property disputes. The
community, well aware of this possibility, distances itself from these persons.
Particularly during the war, the community did not engage with families of those who
were killed or disappeared by the state, mostly women-headed households, due to fear
that these families were under the surveillance of the army, and hence anyone who had
contact with them would likewise be subject to state scrutiny, and would be targeted by
the state as a family that supported the LTTE. Following the end of the war, people who
were displaced from the Vanni to Jaffna, once again mostly women-headed households,
experienced the same fate. Their suffering, which has been produced by deeply
entrenched patterns of militarization, was therefore rendered invisible by the fear
created by the national security rhetoric (Duschinski 2009). For example, during focus
group meetings and interviews, the author asked women whose male family members
were in rehabilitation centers for former combatants, were in detention, or had
disappeared whether they had the support of their families. Most women said that other
than immediate family members, others did not associate with them due to fear they
would be targeted by state actors. This forced women to seek the support of those who
had experienced the same kinds of loss, and hence themselves had limited social,
economic, and emotional resources, thereby placing great strain on these fragile social
networks.
Since even civil society activities were subject to military scrutiny, the space for women
activists to advocate their needs and rights was limited. In the North, women’s rights
activists were often labeled as anti-national or as terrorists. These women became doubly
deviant—a terrorist and a woman who has transgressed socially acceptable female
behavior (Pickering and Third 2003)—particularly due to their ability to reproduce
political dissidence through socialization and education in the domestic sphere (Pickering
and Third 2003). That is what happened to “S,” a woman from Mullaitivu in the North,
who was one of the first to file legal action in 2013 against military acquisition of her
land. S was not only subjected to harassment, surveillance, and death threats, but her
(p. 586)
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activism and activities to reclaim her land were equated by the military to engaging in
terrorist activity.
In addition to existing barriers to reporting sexual and gender-based violence, military
presence constitutes an additional obstacle that prevents women from seeking assistance
due to fear that the perpetrator could be a military officer. For example, women reported
an increase in sexual harassment, particularly in public transport, but said that since they
don’t know whether the person is an intelligence officer or affiliated or linked to the
military in some way, they do not report it for fear of reprisals.
Victimhood, Agency, or Victimcy?
The dominant narrative constructed by the government in postwar Sri Lanka posits Tamil
women as persons without agency, either as misguided and misled terrorists who had to
be rescued and shown the “correct” path, or impoverished and exploited women in need
of assistance. I borrow the term “victimcy” to describe the complex lived
realities, which defy efforts to neatly box women’s experiences and strategies. Yet
women find alternatives, options, and survival strategies, even within the restrictive
environment they inhabit. These strategies constitute “unlikely forms of resistance,
subversions rather than large scale collective insurrections, small or local resistances not
tied to the overthrow of systems or even to ideologies of emancipation” (Abu-Lughod
1990, 41).
Due to their experience of living in a militarized society, women in the Vanni in particular,
who are quite adept at navigating military controls, have become participants in
normalizing and entrenching militarization as a survival strategy due to lack of other
viable options. The complexity and fluidity of lived realities and the inherent danger of
increased militarization in the context of a weak civil administration are illustrated by
instances of women complaining to the army about various concerns, including domestic
violence, which only serve to increase their vulnerability. Further, due to a lack of other
economic opportunities, female-headed households were forced to find employment
mainly in different sections of the military machinery. For instance, in addition to the over
two hundred women who have been recruited to the army since November 2012,
thousands of women work in eight agricultural farms run by the military in the Vanni. As
a survival strategy, some women enter into sexual relationships with members of the
military in which they are often powerless, but which provide them security and
sometimes an elevated position within the social setting they occupy (Utas 2005).
Even under significant conditions of oppression, women have exercised more positive
forms of agency, for instance by forming collectives, such as savings groups and
community networks to provide mutual economic, social, and emotional support in cases
of sexual and gender-based violence, despite restrictions on freedom of association.
Though the women had no political motivation in doing so, in a context where the notion
(p. 587)
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of security is highly militarized and civic activism is forcefully discouraged and
immediately viewed as anti-state, their act becomes extremely and inadvertently political.
These collectives, which are neither perfect nor always fully functional, nevertheless
continue to serve as networks and a means of group negotiation with the state, the
military, and often even society. If an act of violence is perpetrated against a woman, the
member of the collective who lives in the village contacts others for advice and receives
support in lodging a complaint and accessing remedies and services. These collectives
have links with NGOs and rights activists, which enable them to be in a better position
than the average villager to access remedies. Although many of these collectives existed
in the Vanni during the LTTE era, at the time they functioned solely as savings groups,
whereas postwar they have become more engaged in rights issues and even in local
advocacy.
In a context in which they have very little access to information, women piece together
bits of information they gather through conversations with family, friends, acquaintances,
and neighbors in an effort to understand what is taking place within their environment
and, before January 2015, to predict potential danger. For instance, when the army
visited houses with registration lists, women tried to ascertain whose names were on the
list in order to share this information with others. During 2006–2008, the army
instituted a process that entailed confiscating the national identity cards (NIC) of
individuals, either at a checkpoint or during a search operation, and instructing these
persons to show up at the army office or checkpoint to collect the NIC. When persons
turned up at the designated office, they were instructed to report to the army office on a
weekly or fortnightly basis and sign in. Based on patterns they observed in this process,
women realized that when a person who was signing in regularly was asked not to return,
this meant the person would be abducted or killed soon thereafter. As a result of learning
this pattern, women were able to send men in their households to LTTE-controlled areas
and thereby ensure their safety.
In the context of continuing structural inequalities within the Tamil community, the
activism of women has, however, led to community backlash, with many women
complaining that they face questions, ridicule, and even animosity from family members
and the community by engaging in civic activism. For instance, women said they were
scolded by family members who grumbled that the women received little by way of
assistance toward livelihoods, despite contributing hours to the collective. When women
were single, their status, women said, caused people in their communities to remark that
they were constantly attending meetings and returning home with “things,” implying that
they were engaging in questionable activities in order to obtain said “things.” Implicit
here is the undermining of the status and integrity of women who engage in civic action
by casting aspersions on their “honor” and integrity. At the same time, the community
approaches these women for assistance and advice due to their links with NGOs, local
government officials, and their knowledge of administrative processes. These various
(p. 588)
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forms of reaction and interaction underscore the complexity of the space occupied by
women in conflict and post-conflict settings.
Conclusion
Since the end of the armed conflict in May 2009, the process of militarization in Sri Lanka
has accelerated and has become normalized and entrenched. Until January 2015,
unofficial rules and processes that were put in place in 2009 continued to be used to
control the northern population and to create insecurity among women. Although the
situation has vastly improved, as of late July 2017 the vast military complex remained
mostly in place, with the northern population continuing to complain of surveillance and
harassment of certain sections of the community, such as rights activists. While Tamil
women in the North are struggling to cope with the aftermath of the armed conflict,
militarization has added an extra layer of complexity and complications that restrict their
life choices. Despite attempts by various actors, including the state, to portray women
and their experiences in essentialized ways, women challenge these notions by using
creative and simple strategies, which rely on collective support and action for their
success. Most important, the experiences of women illustrate that in reality women are
not just victims or agents, but inhabit a space in which sometimes in the same instance
they lay claim to victimhood and also exercise agency. Sri Lanka is a useful case study of
postwar militarization that offers lessons in identifying the complex and insidious
strategies utilized by the state to entrench militarization. Additionally, it increases
understanding of the impact of militarization on the lives and life choices of women and
the ways in which they live with and counter it.
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Notes:
(1.) This chapter is based on primary data collected through individual interviews and
focus group meetings with women chosen through purposive sampling in Jaffna,
Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, and Mannar in the Northern Province. Thirty-four
individual interviews were conducted, with each interview lasting 60–90 minutes.
Fourteen focus groups were convened, with each discussion lasting 90–120 minutes.
Interviews were also conducted with thirty-one community activists and development
workers. All interviews and focus group meetings were conducted in the Tamil language
and the recordings translated into English by the author. The identities and specific
locations of the interviewees have been withheld on their request.
(2.) This is due to the opening of the North to rest of the country and the world from
which it was previously cut off, and the postwar breakdown of social norms and networks,
coupled with the re-emergence of conservative and patriarchal practices.
(3.) A June 2013 UNHCR report conducted a survey of 917 households, which found that
82 percent of respondents in Mullaitivu, 58 percent in Kilinochchi, and 57 percent in
Jaffna said that the nearest army/navy/air force camp was less than one mile from their
residence, while 63 percent in Trincomalee in the East said it was one to five miles from
their residence (UNHCR 2013).
(4.) According to the UNHCR, 36 percent of respondents in Jaffna, 30 percent in Mannar
and Mullaitivu, and 25 percent in Kilinochchi stated that the military was engaged in
activities such as building houses for returnees; 24 percent of respondents in Kilinochchi,
21 percent in Mullaitivu, and 19 percent in Jaffna stated that the military was involved in
development activities in their villages (UNHCR 2013).
(5.) “Victimcy” is the term constructed by Mats Utas to problematize the oppositional way
in which victimhood and agency are positioned. He argues that the new term describes
the agency of women who use victimhood as one of many survival strategies when
navigating the social landscape in war zones (Utas 2005).
(6.) Since 2012, the food security situation in the North worsened. A comprehensive
assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP) conducted in late March 2012 in the
Northern and Eastern Provinces found that 44 percent of the population could not get
adequate, nutritious food (WFP 2012). According to an August 2013 WFP study of 300
households interviewed over two days in Vavuniya and Mullaitivu districts, half reported
selling assets, such as jewelry, to cope with diminishing income and rising debt (WFP
2013).
Ambika Satkunanathan
Sri Lanka: The Impact of Militarization on Women
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Ambika Satkunanathan was appointed a Commissioner of the Human Rights
Commission of Sri Lanka in October 2015. From February 1998 to March 2014,
Ambika functioned as Legal Consultant to the Office of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights attached to the Office of the UN-Resident Coordinator in Colombo.
Her research has focused on transitional justice, militarization, and gender and Tamil
nationalism. Her forthcoming publications include contributions to the Routledge
Handbook on Human Rights in South Asia, and Contemporary South Asia. Ambika is
Chairperson of the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust, an indigenous grant-making
organization. She is also an Advisory Board Member of Suriya Women’s Development
Centre, Batticaloa in the Eastern Province. Ambika has a Master of Laws (Human
Rights) degree from the University of Nottingham, where she was Chevening
Scholar, and earned bachelor’s degrees (LL.B/BA) at Monash University, Australia.
... They are also victim-survivors of conflictrelated domestic and sexual violence, mothers, wives or sisters of family members who were forcibly disappeared, and caregivers to those disabled in the war if not disabled themselves. Women living in these areas as well as in the contiguous border villages also face multiple internal displacementsan estimated 80% of the displaced population were women (Satkunanathan 2018). The pervasive militarization of these areas has also meant restricted mobility and insecurity for women Satkunanathan 2018). ...
... Women living in these areas as well as in the contiguous border villages also face multiple internal displacementsan estimated 80% of the displaced population were women (Satkunanathan 2018). The pervasive militarization of these areas has also meant restricted mobility and insecurity for women Satkunanathan 2018). As a result of these experiences, women are also at the forefront of calls for transitional justice and accountability for war crimes, particularly in the north and east, through membership of associations such as Families of the Disappeared, Women's Action Network, Maatram, Affected Women's Forum, Suriya Women's Development Centre and the Trincomalee Women's Network, to name but a few. ...
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... Such perceptions have not only legitimised the surveillance and disciplining of women's bodies and minds in the name of communal/national 'morality' and 'honour' but they have also re-inscribed the expectation that whatever women may do, they are primarily mothers and wives (Hyndman and de Alwis 2004, 541-542) However, it is not only unconventional agency (conveyed through 'too independent', for instance) that alienates former female combatants in the post-war society. In the case of Sri Lanka, in particular, the alienation of former cadreboth women and menhave been also due to the oppressive militarisation of the north, which eroded the networks of trust within northern Tamil communities and created an urgent need within people to distance themselves from individuals framed in dominant statist discourse as 'security threats' in order to avoid inviting military scrutiny and surveillance through association (Satkunanathan 2016(Satkunanathan , 2018. In The Seasons of Trouble, this tense space of suspicion and threat within which former militants are placed by rampant militarisation and invasive surveillance is captured in the line ' … too dangerous for any family'. ...
... International CrisisGroup (2017;Paramanathan (2007);Hoole (1990);Darusman et al. (2011),Kodikara and Emmanuel (2012),Emmanuel and Kodikara (2016), andSatkunanathan (2018). ...
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This paper juxtaposes existing legal/policy frameworks, national and international, with narratives of women living with disabilities in the post-war context in Eastern Sri Lanka. These narratives highlight their lived experience and needs. The paper draws from a process of consultations among women living with disabilities and the authors, who are long standing allies of this struggle in their capacity as activists and researchers. It focuses on key aspects of myriad gendered norms that were articulated during the consultations and describes the structural discrimination that emerges from such norms, as experienced by women living with disabilities. The paper ends with some thoughts and key proposals of women living with disabilities for the future of this struggle for justice.
... Province has a larger Muslim population (see Tables 2 and 3 (Satkunanathan, 2017). Observers noted that the communities had a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness, and insecurity emphasized by the presence of the military. ...
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