Human Rights Briefs: Women in Sri Lanka



The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is composed of two major ethnic groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The Sinhalese, who form the majority of the country's population, are concentrated primarily in the central and southwestern parts of the country, and to a lesser degree in the eastern province, while most Tamils live in the northern and eastern provinces. The two groups are also separated by religion; the Sinhalese are predominantly Buddhists while the Tamils are generally Hindus, although there is a significant Tamil-speaking Muslim community in the eastern province and some Sinhalese are also Muslims. There are also a number of other ethnic and religious minorities, including Moors, Mdays and Christians (Country Reports 1992 1993, 1174; Canada 1990, 1; Chandrahasan 1979, 120).

For the past ten years, political conflict between the predominantly Sinhalese government forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists, who are fighting for full independence and a separate Tamil homeland, has plunged the northern and eastern parts of the country into civil war (The New York Times 2 May 1993, 1; Country Reports 1992 1993, 1174). Country Reports 1992 describes the human rights problems in Sri Lanka as "serious" (ibid.). Political violence is commonplace and estimates of the number of people who have died in the conflict, which continues despite efforts to resolve it, range from 17,000 to 25,000 (The New York Times 2 May 1993, 1). Significant as well are the recent assassinations of Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premedasa and his rival Lalith Athulathmudali, the leader of the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) (BBC Summary 26 Apr. 1993; La Presse 3 May 1993, 2). The condition of women in Sri Lanka should be viewed in this context of generalized violence and human rights violations.

This paper will examine issues of concern to women in Sri Lanka, including women's legal rights, the economic status of women, violence against women and legal recourse, internal flight alternatives and the activities of women's organizations. There is a lack of documentation on women in Sri Lanka, particularly on issues of sexual violence. Many incidents of rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace go unreported. This is in part attributable to cultural and social attitudes that blame the victim and not the perpetrator. According to some Sri Lankan feminists, the majority of women would rather suffer in silence than seek help from the authorities (Bandarage May 1988, 153; Diva 25-27 Mar. 1992, 31).


Subsection 12.(1) of the Sri Lankan constitution guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the law to all citizens. Subsection 12.(2) further states that "no citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion [or] place of birth ..." (Cooray Sept. 1989, 12). In 1981, Sri Lanka ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. However, despite these convention provisions and constitutional guarantees, inequalities remain (Coomaraswamy 1990, 119-51; Jayawardena 1986, 109-36; Law and Society Trust Review 16 June 1992, 7-9; United Nations 1987, 73-79).

Most laws and government programmes contain no special measures to ensure gender equality and women's equal access and participation (Coomaraswamy 1990, 127). In the Katunayake Investment Promotion Zone (free trade zone), where 86 per cent of workers are women, conditions for factory workers are not regulated, unionization is prohibited and workers are subject to long hours and inadequate remuneration (Bandarage 25-27 May 1988, 158-60). According to Kumari Jayawardena, a well-known Sri Lankan feminist, "wages between men and women are unequal [in agriculture], while in other fields women are given the less skilled jobs" (Jayawardena 1990, 1). Furthermore, the presence of women in political structures has been minimal (Jayawardena 1986, 135-36).

2.1          The Women's Charter

On 5 October 1981, Sri Lanka ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Law and Society Trust Review 16 June 1992, 7). The women's ministry, in collaboration with women representatives from a number of NGOs, held a three-day seminar culminating in a document known as the Women's Charter, which was submitted to cabinet for approval (ibid.; Inter Press Service 19 Feb. 1992). The charter drafters also proposed that an independent commission be set up to "enforce the standards set out in the Charter" and "ensure quasi-redress to women attempting to vindicate their rights," but this idea was not accepted (Law and Society Trust Review 16 June 1992, 7).

The Women's Charter purports to be broader and more detailed than the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and seeks to ensure justice, equity and gender equality in all spheres of life, including equal access to land and appropriate technology (Inter Press Service 19 Feb. 1992). The charter also aims to eliminate "all forms of exploitation, trafficking in and prostitution of women and children," acknowledges the work of NGOs and other community-based organizations in helping women who are victims of violence, and demands that the government support such organizations in their work (Law and Society Trust Review 16 June 1992, 14-15).

Women's reaction to the charter has been mixed. Some women's groups describe it as comprehensive, while others argue that it is biased in favour of urban women and that the section on the rights of rural women should be expanded (Inter Press Service 19 Feb. 1992; Law and Society Trust Review 16 June 1992, 8). Cabinet adopted the charter in March 1993 and ordered that a non-political national commission oversee its implementation (Xinhua 4 Mar. 1993; The Globe and Mail 17 July 1993, A4). According to Jayawardena, it is still too early to evaluate the impact of the charter on the lives of Sri Lankan women. She further observes that the future of the charter and its effectiveness are uncertain since it was an initiative of President Ranasinghe Premedasa, who was assassinated on 1 May 1993 (Jayawardena 10 June 1993).


Women in Sri Lanka are not a homogeneous group and their lives, status and decision-making ability differ according to class, ethnicity, culture, religion, caste and geographical location (Jayawardena 1982, 10; Jayawardena 1986, 109-36; Skjansberg 1982, 115-31; Hoole et al. 1990, 322-25; Chandrahasan 1979, 120-21; United Nations 1987, 73). Moreover, Sri Lanka is considered to be one of the most progressive of the south Asian countries in terms of the situation of women. Compared to other south Asian countries, Sri Lankan women have higher literacy rates, lower maternal and child mortality rates, and an average life expectancy of 67 years (Canada 1990, 11; Jayawardena 1986, 109). Despite these advantages, however, most Sri Lankan women occupy positions of limited influence in the social, political and economic sectors of society. This unequal status is evident in restrictive cultural and social practices and in women's under-representation in senior political, managerial and decision-making positions in all sectors of the economy (Bandarage 25-27 May 1988, 166-67; Law and Society Trust Review 16 Feb. 1991, 6-8; United Nations 1987, 73-79; Hoole et al. 1990, 322-23).

3.1 Economic Status

Women have always been active in the labour force and have made great contributions to Sri Lanka's economy (Bandarage 25-27 May 1988, 166). According to a recent report, women comprise 80 per cent of Sri Lanka's overseas labour force, working primarily as domestics, and, by 1990, were sending home US$400 million per year, three times more revenue than was generated by the country's tourism industry (The Globe and Mail 17 July 1993, A4). Women who work inside the country are similarly concentrated in menial, poorly-paid jobs in the agricultural, industrial and service sectors of the economy (Canada 1990, 6; United Nations 1987, 77).

Of particular concern to Sri Lankan women's rights activists is the condition of young women workers in the free trade zone (FTZ). The free trade zone was established in 1978 to encourage multinationals to invest in Sri Lanka (Bandarage 25-27 May 1988, 158; Coomaraswamy 1990, 133), but it has had a negative impact on the welfare and status of the women who work there. Reports indicate that women work in harsh conditions for wages substantially lower than what men receive for similar work, have few leave benefits, are harassed by supervisors, are not permitted to organize, are not compensated for on-the-job accidents and are lodged in unsanitary housing conditions (Hettiarachchy 1992, 14-19; The Thatched Patio May-June 1990, 28; Bandarage 25-27 May 1988, 158-59). As well, women night shift workers are expected to return home unaccompanied. The paths leading to their boarding houses are often unlit, with the result that "female workers are being robbed, molested and even raped or murdered by thieves, thugs and psychopaths as they return from work at night" (Hettiarachchy 1992, 28).

4.                VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

A number of sources indicate that Sri Lankan women are subject to oppression and subordination, and lack effective protection of basic rights. A generalized state of militarism and lawlessness is a contributing factor, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the country (Bush 19 June 1993; Diva Mar. 1992, 27-32; Law and Society Trust Review 16 Feb. 1991, 9-10). According to Jayawardena, the incidence of wife-battering in Sri Lanka is "phenomenal" (Jayawardena 1990, 1). Although violence against women is prohibited by law, it is commonplace, and the incidence of rape, especially of domestic servants, is high. As well, reports indicate that the sex trade is growing (Bandarage 25-27 May 1988, 162-63; Jayawardena 1990, 1; Country Reports 1992 1993, 1182; Hettiarachchy 1992, 41-42). State institutions such as the police, the courts and attorneys' offices are male-dominated, and their attitudes regarding issues of violence against women reportedly render the legal system ineffective in addressing the issue (Law and Society Trust Review 16 Jan. 1991, 7; Diva Mar. 1992, 31). According to one source,

most judicial officers and prosecutors ... look upon the victim as having invited the rape on herself by being out unchaperoned at night, being dressed in a manner which could be deemed to have been 'inviting', or having behaved in a manner which appeared to have encouraged the rapist.... Most lawyers consider actions for rape not to be worthy of special consideration towards women ... (Diva Mar. 1992, 31). The U.S. Department of State's Country Reports 1992 corroborates this view, noting that victims of rape "must face police and judicial officials whose sympathies often lie with the accused rather than the victim" (Country Reports 1992 1993, 1182)

4.1       Law and Rape

Rape is defined in the penal code as "sexual intercourse between a man and a woman without her consent or against her will." Even if the woman consents, the man is considered to have committed rape if consent is obtained by deception or blackmail, if the woman is intoxicated or of unsound mind, or if she is under 12 years of age (Coomaraswamy 1992, 51; Diva Mar. 1992, 27). Although rapists may be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years, few rape cases are filed before the high courts because the victim is required to provide medical evidence, usually in the form of physical injuries (Coomaraswamy 1992, 51). Any information the victim provides reportedly must be corroborated before a judge can convict the accused. According to one source, although there is no law "requiring corroborative evidence in such an action, the court always gives a warning or cautions the judge not to convict an accused solely on uncorroborated evidence" (Diva Mar. 1992, 29). That same source indicates that approximately 20 per cent of rape complaints never reach the courts because the police "for various reasons advise against prosecution." Moreover, among accused rapists who are prosecuted, few are ever convicted (ibid., 30-31). According to Coomaraswamy, caste is a determining factor in cases involving minors; a conviction is near certain when a virgin under the age of 18 is raped by a man of lower caste (Coomaraswamy 1992, 51). Social attitudes such as the stigma attached to rape tend to intimidate women and contribute to the under-reporting of incidents of rape (Coomaraswamy 1990, 150; Diva Mar. 1992, 31), and court proceedings, which are public and take place in an adversarial setting, further discourage women from pressing charges (Coomaraswamy 1990, 150). According to a UNICEF report, in practice rape laws have "tended ... to reinforce the disadvantaged status of women and their vulnerability to sexual violence" (United Nations 1987, 77).

4.2          Prostitution and the Sex Trade

Sri Lanka's tourism industry is linked to a well-established and thriving sex trade, a trade which exploits both young women and young men. The sources are not in agreement on the precise numbers involved, but all agree that prostitution, especially child prostitution, is widespread and pervasive. According to a 1991 Inter Press Service report there are over 2000 brothels in Colombo alone, with an estimated 50,000 prostitutes in and around the Sri Lankan capital (Inter Press Service 10 Dec. 1991). Of these, it estimated that some 10,000 were child prostitutes (ibid.). Other sources put the number of prostitutes at 50,000 for the whole country but estimate the number of child prostitutes at some 30,000 to 40,000 (Xinhua 18 July 1993; ibid. 29 Nov. 1991; AP 26 July 1993; Star Tribune 21 Nov. 1993). Another report estimates the number of child prostitutes at 50,000 to 70,000 (Xinhua 2 Nov. 1993). Sri Lankan authorities claim these figures are greatly exaggerated, but nevertheless have "decided to take stern action" to curb the problem (ibid.; ibid. 8 Nov. 1993).

Sources indicate that most child prostitution is connected to "sex tourism," an industry catering primarily to Europeans, North Americans and other westerners who travel to Sri Lanka specifically for purposes of sex. Sri Lanka, along with Thailand and the Philippines, is reportedly regarded as an "international center" for prostitution and pedophilia (Inter Press Service 10 Dec. 1991; Star Tribune 21 Nov. 1993). Many of these tourists are regular visitors who reportedly prefer Sri Lanka precisely because child prostitutes are so readily available (ibid.; Inter Press Service 10 Dec. 1991). According to Bandarage, Sri Lankan newspapers regularly publish "information on package sex tours and the range of prostitutes available in the country" (Bandarage 25-27 May 1988, 162). As well, sources indicate that Sri Lanka is popular with western "marriage bureaus," firms that specialize in supplying western men with Third World and eastern European wives. Reportedly there are 60 such agencies in Germany, with annual revenues totalling $25 million (Star Tribune 21 Nov. 1993). Bandarage states that women forced to marry Japanese farmers are often put to work in the fields, while women exported to western countries sometimes end up as "servants" or are "turned into the prostitution or pornography business" (Bandarage 25-27 May 1988, 162-63).

It is not clear what steps the government has taken to combat the sex trade. Government officials state that only 2000 children are involved in prostitution (Xinhua 8 Nov. 1993), but nonetheless were planning to introduce legislation in July 1993 (ibid. 18 July 1993). One source indicates that it will be early 1994 before programs are in place (ibid. 2 Nov. 1993).

4.3  Overseas Domestic Workers

Large numbers of Sri Lankan women of all ethnic and religious groups, most between the ages of 18 and 45, are employed as domestics in the Middle East. Many of these women are taken advantage of by Bangladeshi employment agents, some of whom charge as much as 40,000 rupees (US$4000)--almost 15 times what the law permits--for their services (Reuters 24 Apr. 1990). Furthermore, since good health and childlessness are prerequisites for employment in the Middle East, many women are subjected to humiliating and potentially dangerous medical procedures and drugs. According to one source,

women are medically examined and immunized against various diseases before their departure. Many women are also injected with the controversial hormonal contraceptive Depo Provera, often without their knowledge or consent. Some women think they are being given a routine vaccination; they do not know the side effects of Depo Provera or that it has been banned in the U.S. ... (Bandarage 25-27 May 1988, 160-61).

The abuse does not end when the women arrive in the Middle East. Many more are abused by their Middle Eastern employers, including being forced to work 12- to 15-hour days (Reuters 27 June 1990; Chicago Tribune 21 Mar. 1993) or refused the agreed upon wages (Bandarage 25-27 May 1988, 160-61), to outright physical, psychological and sexual abuse. For example, one Sri Lankan housemaid was "beaten and burned with a cigarette and had her hair cut off" by her Kuwaiti employer (USA Today 21 Feb. 1992), while in another case an angry Kuwaiti employer reportedly dragged a woman by her hair out of the Sri Lankan embassy compound as two Kuwaiti policemen "turned their backs" (ibid.). Many domestic workers are sexually assaulted by their employers (ibid.; Inter Press Service 10 Apr. 1990; Reuters 24 Apr. 1990; Chicago Tribune 21 Mar. 1993). In February 1992 as many as six cases of sexual assault were being reported to the Sri Lankan embassy in Kuwait each day (USA Today 21 Feb. 1992) and some 69 women were in "hiding" in the embassy, with up to eight more arriving each day. One source, quoting the Sri Lankan labour secretary, states that some domestics working in the Middle East end up in such desperate circumstances that they must "turn to prostitution to survive" (Reuters 27 June 1990).

Sri Lankan officials have taken tentative steps to address the problems of women contracted to overseas employers. In April 1990 the Sri Lankan government announced that it had "adopted safeguards" and would place "strict controls" on domestic servants working abroad. These measures included requiring a domestic working abroad to have a contract "spelling out wages and other terms and conditions of employment," and requiring employers to pay three months wages as a deposit (Reuters 24 Apr. 1990). As well, some of Sri Lanka's embassies were to have "female labour attachés" to whom women could take their complaints (ibid.). It is not clear to what extent these steps were implemented. In June 1990 the labour secretary, after visiting Kuwait to assess conditions for himself, announced that his department would no longer approve any employment contracts for Kuwait (ibid. 27 June 1990). The Bureau of Foreign Employment, which "monitors, inspects and investigates" complaints against Sri Lanka's approximately 250 licensed private employment agencies, reportedly withdrew the licences of 10 labour-recruiting firms in 1992 (Inter Press Service 10 Apr. 1993). In the case of one domestic servant who was reportedly "locked in a room and repeatedly raped" by her Kuwaiti employer, Sri Lankan diplomats took the "unusual step" of bringing the case to court while giving the woman asylum in the embassy (Chicago Tribune 21 Mar. 1993).

5.          LEGAL RECOURSE

Sri Lankan women seeking protection may have recourse to Roman Dutch law, which is the common or general law of Sri Lanka, but this law is not uniformly observed across the country. Since women are also subject to the traditional laws of their various ethnic and religious groups, general law is not as protective of women in practice as might be expected. Non-Muslim Sinhalese adhere to Kandyan law and non-Muslim Tamils follow Thesavalamai (national custom), while Sinhalese and Tamil Muslims are guided by Islamic law (Chandrahasan 1979, 120-21). These laws, which apply only to matters like marriage, divorce, intestate succession and property rights of the spouse, often discriminate against women (ibid., 121-25; Goonesekera 1990, 154-55).

A woman who marries into another ethnic group is governed by the same laws that govern her husband's ethnic group, regardless of whether these laws are disadvantageous to her.

A Kandyan woman marrying a man governed by the Thesawalamai would find herself unable to contract, or sue or be sued on her own, whereas under the Kandyan law as well as under the general law, she would not have ... any such disability (Chandrahasan 1979, 125).

The courts do not have the authority to review existing legislation, and so uphold it even when it violates the right to gender equality enshrined in the constitution (Goonesekera 1990, 156). According to Saviti Goonesekera, a law professor at the Open University in Sri Lanka, the situation is so complex that "new legislation aimed at introducing uniform legal principles on family matters based on gender equality may be challenged as violations of other constitutional guarantees of the right to adhere to and practice religion and culture" (ibid., 157). Common law gives unmarried women the same property rights as men and the Married Woman's Property Ordinance guarantees a similar equality to married women, but in Sri Lanka there is an incongruence between theory and practice. As Radhika Coomaraswamy, associate director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Colombo, observes,

the provisions of the modern criminal law are often meaningless in a social context where traditions and concepts of shame prevent recourse to legal action. In such a situation the non-legal arena of social action, social awareness, education, counselling and public opinion are far more important than the mere enactment of legislation. There is no really autonomous legal culture in a third world society (Coomaraswamy 1990, 152). To further evaluate the legal status of women in Sri Lanka, one must examine the legal provisions of the different systems of law.

5.1     Roman Dutch or Common Law

Under Roman Dutch law a legal family is defined as a nuclear family established through monogamous marriage. A family established contrary to these requirements is regarded with disapproval. The Sri Lankan law on family relations does not recognize a family established by an unmarried couple or a single parent as a legal family (Goonesekera 1990, 157). Although an abused woman can initiate court proceedings for separation under common law, she must make her way through an adversarial court setting before separation can be obtained. According to Goonesekera, however, court relief for domestic violence through injunction procedures is not available to unmarried women or to married women who have not taken the "final step" of beginning a legal action for divorce or separation (Goonesekera 1990, 175-76).

5.2                Kandyan Law

Kandyan law is the customary law of the Sinhalese. Marriage under Kandyan law is monogamous, although it had been polyandrous until 1859. Kandyan marriages are either Diga or Binna. Diga marriages follow a patriarchal system where the husband and wife live either in their own home or in the home of the husband's parents (Jayawardena 1986, 115; Chandrahasan 1979, 124). In Binna marriages, reportedly less common in present-day Sri Lanka, the husband and his wife live in the house of the woman or of her relatives. In this marriage arrangement the man occupies a position subordinate to that of his wife (ibid.).

Under Kandyan law, the grounds for divorce are broader than they are under the Marriage Registration Ordinance (ibid., 129). Divorce can be obtained after a two-year separation period or by mutual consent, and the procedure is non-adversarial. Child custody, maintenance and distribution of property are settled by private arrangement (Goonesekera 1990, 171-72), but the grounds for divorce for women are not the same as for men. A wife suing for divorce on grounds of adultery, for example, must prove incest or gross cruelty, but this is not a requirement for men (Chandrahasan 1979, 129). Custody of the children is awarded to the woman when a Binna marriage ends in divorce. If a Diga marriage ends in divorce, it is the spouse at fault who loses custodial rights.

5.3    Thesavalamai

Thesavalamai is the customary law of the Tamils. It does not define what constitutes a valid marriage and makes no provision for the custody of minor children in the event of divorce. If a man wishes to remarry, his mother-in-law or nearest relative takes custody of his young children (Chandrahasan 1979, 123, 127-28). Available literature does not indicate what happens to women who do not adhere to these laws.

5.4                Islamic Law

Islamic law guides all Muslims in Sri Lanka. Islamic law is the source of Muslim law, which permits polygamy and demonstrates a "strong commitment to patriarchal values" (Goonesekera 1990, 159). Although a man who has sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 12 (whether or not she is his wife), with or without her consent, is guilty of rape under the penal code, Muslim law provides that a marriage contracted by a girl under 12 years of age is valid provided a Quazi (a person who exercises judicial power under the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act) authorizes its registration (Chandrahasan 1979, 124). Furthermore, the girl's consent to marriage is not obtained directly from her but from a Wali, a guardian who is appointed for marriage purposes (ibid.). According to Goonesekera, child marriages are common in the Sri Lankan Muslim community (Goonesekera 1990, 161). In the event of a marriage break-up the husband is free to divorce his wife without cause or his wife's consent, but in order for the wife to obtain a divorce, she must either have her husband's consent or establish before a Quazi one of the grounds for divorce under Muslim law. Divorces are settled through Quazi courts while custody cases are resolved in ordinary courts (Goonesekera 1990, 172).

A married woman has the right to hold property and dispose of it at will, and can sue and be sued independently of her husband (Chandrahasan 1979, 129, 131). However, Muslim law discriminates against women in matters of inheritance. Husbands and wives as surviving spouses do not receive equal shares of inheritances (Goonesekera 1990, 167), and a wife is required to share her part of the inheritance with the other wives of a polygamous husband. Although the state has taken steps to remove the constraints Muslim law places on women in public life, some have charged that it perpetuates patriarchal values by not making an effort to reform customary laws and thereby ensure equality of status in the private sphere of the family (Goonesekera 1990, 154).


There are several women's organizations in Sri Lanka. Among the largest and most active is the Centre for Women's Research (CENWOR) in Colombo, which undertakes and promotes research on women's issues. Local NGOs tend to be service-oriented and reportedly have done much to promote women's rights and awareness of women's issues, but they operate in a climate of violence and intimidation that prevents them from taking political stands on issues affecting women (Goonesekera 1992, 121-22; Law and Society Trust Review 16 Jan. 1991, 5; The Thatched Patio May-June 1990, 31).

The Women Lawyers Association and other NGOs, through their legal-aid clinics, have attempted to raise awareness about legal matters related to marital and domestic violence (Goonesekera 1992, 123). There are two community shelters for abused women in Sri Lanka, both of which provide counselling on women's options. These shelters have been credited for increasing the number of successful convictions in cases involving violence against women (Coomaraswamy 1992, 55-56), but, as one source comments, without a change in legal and social structures, legal awareness alone will not result in equal treatment (Goonesekera 1992, 133). The government has established reception centres for children who are victims of family violence, but similar institutions for battered women do not exist (ibid. 1990, 176-77; Los Angeles Times 23 Feb. 1993).

Although the constitution of Sri Lanka grants every citizen the right to reside in and move freely anywhere in Sri Lanka (Country Reports 1992 1993, 1180), opinion on the internal flight alternatives available to people in the northern province remains divided; recent information indicates that internal flight alternatives are limited, especially for young women. An Anglican Church of Canada representative stated that travel to and from the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka is restricted, travellers to these areas must pass through several check points, and night travel is not permitted. He further stated that people travelling from the north require an LTTE travel permit and women under 25 years of age are not allowed to leave Jaffna (Anglican Church of Canada 18 June 1993). LTTE ranks reportedly include young women between 14 and 16 years of age, who, although not forcibly conscripted, joined under the influence of peer pressure and LTTE propaganda that a military struggle is the only solution to the problem of a separate Tamil homeland (ibid.). According to Malcolm Rodgers of the British Refugee Council's Sri Lanka Project in London,

it is extremely difficult for Jaffna women, especially young women, to be relocated in other parts of Sri Lanka and a flight alternative is virtually absent in the current circumstances. The Sri Lankan security forces are targeting women after LTTE women units carried out a number of military operations in the North-East. In the recent roundups in Colombo and the suburbs many women have been arrested, some of them at night. There have also been fundamental rights cases before the Court of Appeal by Tamil women alleging torture in custody (Rodgers 13 July 1993).

For more information on internal flight alternatives, consult the December 1992 DIRB Question and Answer paper entitled Sri Lanka: Internal Flight Alternatives .


Although women have made great contributions to the national economy and there have been changes in the human rights situation, women's lives are still conditioned by discriminatory state and religious laws that confer on them a subordinate social and economic status (Bandarage 25-27 May 1988; Coomaraswamy 1990; Goonesekera 1992; Jayawardena 1982; Jayawardena 1986). The majority of Sri Lankan working women are concentrated in menial, low-paying jobs in the agricultural, industrial and service sectors (Canada 1990; Hettiarachchy 1992; United Nations 1987). Country Reports 1992 noted an increasing public awareness of the problems faced by women, but stated that "to date [January 1993] the Government has undertaken no significant initiative to deal with the problem" (Country Reports 1992 1993, 1182). However the government has since initiated measures to address the situation of women, most notably the Women's Charter, which came into force in March 1993, but this was largely an initiative of President Ranasinghe Premedasa. Since Premedasa was assassinated in April 1993, the future of women's rights and the Women's Charter depends on whether his successor, President Dingiri Banda Wijetunge, agrees with and approves the charter provisions, and ensures their implementation.


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The New York Times. 2 May 1993. Final Edition. Edward A. Gargan. "Bomber Kills President of Sri Lanka." (NEXIS)

La Presse [Montréal]. 3 May 1993. "Deux assassinats successifs plongent le Sri Lanka dans un vide politique."

Reuters. 27 June 1990. BC Cycle. Minoli de Soysa. "Sri Lanka Bans Housemaids from Going to Kuwait." (NEXIS)

Reuters. 24 April 1990. BC Cycle. Minoli de Soysa. "Colombo Imposes Safeguards for Sri Lankan Women Working Abroad." (NEXIS)

Rodgers, Malcolm. Sri Lanka Project, British Refugee Council, London. 13 July 1993. Letter received by DIRB.

Skjansberg, Else. 1982. A Special Caste? Tamil Women of Sri Lanka. London: Zed Press.

Star Tribune. 21 November 1993. Metro Edition. Rudolf Grimm. "Despite Restrictions, Sex Tourism Continues to Attract Germans." (NEXIS)

The Thatched Patio [Colombo]. May-June 1990. Vol. 3, No. 3. Savithri Goonasekera. "Women, Equality Rights and the Constitution."

United Nations. 1987. "Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Sri Lanka." Colombo: UNICEF.

USA Today. 21 February 1992. Final Edition. Jack Kelley. "Kuwaitis are 'Treating Us Like Animals'." (NEXIS)

The Xinhua General Overseas News Service. 8 November 1993. "Child Prostitution Exaggerated, Officials Say." (NEXIS)

The Xinhua General Overseas News Service. 2 November 1993. "Sri Lanka to Combat Child Prostitution." (NEXIS)

The Xinhua General Overseas News Service. 18 July 1993. "New Legislation Against Child Prostitutes in Sri Lanka." (NEXIS)

The Xinhua General Overseas News Service. 4 March 1993. "Sri Lankan Cabinet Adopts Women's Charter." (NEXIS)

The Xinhua General Overseas News Service. 29 November 1991. "Survey Reveals 50,000 Prostitutes in Sri Lanka." (NEXIS)

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