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Female-Headed or Single-Mother Households


The Global Persecution of Women

Sri Lanka

Nadira Gunatilleka, “The dilemma of female-headed households” Daily News, Coloimbo, 25 March 2003.

Twenty percent of the households in Sri Lanka are headed by females. Sectoral distribution of percentages of female-headed households shows that 23.3 percent are located in urban areas, 20 percent in the rural and 17.3 percent in the estate sector. One in every five households in Sri Lanka is headed by a female. In most other countries, female headed households have been increasing in the recent past, Social Welfare Ministry Secretary Vijayalakshmi Jegarasasingam told the 'Daily News'.

According to her, sixty five percent of female heads of households are widows. One of the most distressing findings was that the average age of schooling among female-headed households was significantly lower that of male headed households. This has implications for immediate future prospects in terms of access to better employment as well as high probability of perpetuating poverty in the longer term for these families.

The study (Demographic and Health Survey 2000) results show that the main issues faced by the female headed households are financial instability and poverty, irregular and low waged employment.

The average wage difference between male and female-headed households is highlighted where the former income is higher than the latter. According to the survey data, the total amount of households below poverty level is over 50 percent. The absence of a husband immediately results in a loss of household income and income earning capacity.

In traditional Sri Lankan society the role of the males and females were demarcated. Based on the demarcation of activity patterns a power structure among males and females was created which resulted in a more male dominant society than one with equal opportunities and rights for men and women. At the national level, although poverty does not appear to vary with gender, certain other qualitative measures indicate discriminatory behaviour towards female-headed households. For instance, in areas such a land inheritance and land rights on state land; rural women abandoned by their husbands tended to be treated as outcasts by villagers.

The social stigma is another burning problem that affects female-headed households. In Sri Lankan society still female-headed households are being considered inauspicious and always overlooked whenever there is a special occasion such as a wedding ceremony, new year festival etc. Traditional society considers widows as inauspicious.

Fatherless children are being often ill-treated by society. Female-headed households are always under the threat of rapists, womanizers and often become easy targets of criminals.

Further, females were previously home-makers (and were married young). They have very little education and skills and as such find limited employment opportunities leading to acceptance of low paid, informal sector employment that are often considered `socially inferior'. Access to assistance from the State is limited due to problems related to targeting.

The need for special attention for this group of citizens, the woman-headed households in developing country, is largely due to low or non-availability of support to cater to their needs. As a result additional effort is required by the State and public to ensure these women-headed households have equal access to opportunity and equitable distribution of resources to ensure that they are well integrated into the society.

Support from the State for female-headed households is limited with the Samurdhi Poverty Alleviation program providing an income transfer to poor households and other specific assistance from the Ministry of Social Welfare accounting for less than four percent.

Considering the economic hardships of these families, the State should intervene to provide employment opportunities for these women. Support of the State for children of this group to ensure their education is required through provision of additional support to reduce costs of education in terms of books, uniforms and other needs. Similarly targeting of Samurdhi and other State benefits to the poor female-heads needs to be strengthened. For this a divisional level information base is required to assess the magnitude of the problems. Protection also needs strengthening to reduce harassment.

The Social Welfare Ministry has already implemented a special program named `Social integration of female-headed households' for the welfare of those families which is to be further expanded and strengthened shortly.

Amnesty International, Honduras: Zero Tolerance ... for Impunity. Extrajudicial Executions of Children and Youths since 1998. 25 Feb. 2003.

Many of the victims of extrajudicial executions belong to single parent families, usually female-headed households. Women’s loss of autonomy is closely linked to children’s marginalisation.


The Global Persecution of Women