Sri Lanka’s most recent Household and Income Expenditure Survey (2012/13) estimates that 1.2 million households (23 percent of households) are female-headed. Of this number, more than 50 percent are widows and 4 percent have never married. Other sources estimate that the war left approximately 90,000 women widowed in the North and East. Yet of major concern is the fact that this number does not capture those who do not have proof of death of their husbands, and those who disappeared or are missing and have not been accounted for. The marked increased in the number of FHHs has accordingly become significant feature of post-war Sri Lanka. (Source: Mapping of Socio-Economic Support Services to Female Headed Households in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka)
The following story by Sheri is her true and moving experience.
The rape and murder of a student makes headlines and sparks protests about violence against women. But there are other hazards for women particularly for single women – who are often unable to live a normal life.
In a society where a woman is traditionally considered to be complete when she marries – preferably to a groom of her parents’ choice – singledom can be cruel and oppressive.
Out of the 5.3 million households, 1.3 million or 24.3 per cent are headed by females. Most of these women are single, divorced, separated or unmarried.
Many of them are beginning to defy convention by remaining single by choice, and eking out a life for themselves without depending. Sri Lanka is also slowly beginning to accept single women for what they are. But the change is extremely slow and painful for many who are facing it every day.
If being single can sometimes relegate a woman to the background, divorce can be traumatic. Social stigma surrounding divorce still hangs heavy over women, usually housewives, who are dependent on their husbands.
That’s not all. If a married couple splits up, the woman generally struggles to receive her fair share of the couple’s property and even what she is entitled to.
Society thinks good women don’t end up as divorcees. Some of these women have been divorced because they are called ‘barren’. That’s another terrible ordeal for women in our society.
Living as a young, divorced woman from a very young age, I realised how, in the name of protection, women are sometimes excessively fenced off. You had to be back in your home by seven in the evening, you could not leave before six in the morning, you could not invite male friends, and you had a quota of nights out with the consent of a “local guardian”.
Those of my women friends who were single and lived alone faced similar problems. Getting a place to live in was tough, there was the unrelenting gaze of the landlord and neighbours to contend with, and male friends visiting them were a no-no.
If you are single, you could just fade away. If you are separated or divorced, you may struggle all your life – so many women stay in a bad marriage and suffer. And in some families the prospect of being widowed does not bear thinking about.
Our society does not want to see widows, divorcees, ‘barren’ and single women given prominence or seen at any kind of celebration.
It’s about time things changed in this country. In a country where western thinking and habits are being embraced, why not change the way women and particularly single women are being treated. Being a single woman I speak from experience, my child was referred to as the child without a father by the principle and the teachers of a leading Christian boys’ school in Colombo. I have shed buckets of tears over this statement how this school has made us feel. Years of torture I would call it. Finally I had to take him out of school to give him a better future. Oh how I would love to mention the name of this retired principle who has a law degree.
Single women should be given a chance for education, ie: grants, scholarships, night schools etc.
Women police officers must be deployed to deal with issues that women face. However decently a woman maybe dressed, the male police officers look at you as if you are standing there without clothes. Can you expect these scoundrels to protect single women? Something has to be done about the protection of women like us.
Landlords renting houses to single women – please don’t pry into their lives and make them feel they come from another planet. You only need to know if your house is going to be used for the purpose you intend for it to be used and if your rent and the bills are going to be paid. You don’t have to act like their body guard or peep from your windows each time you see them pass.
For those coming to a place of worship, you ought to come because you want to worship God not to prey on single women.
For the other women who are married and think single women are all out to get your husbands, think again. If you are not happy in your marriage, somebody else is not going to be happy with your man either. So ladies you can keep him, we don’t want him.
Media should take over and open the eyes of the people in this country to the way single women are being treated. They are human too.
Bring single women into a comfortable place, so that they can open up and honestly share what they are going through with this sick society of ours. During discussions, they might be able to come up with solutions and how best problems faced by them can be solved.
God has not put the rest of the world to judge single women. Some married women and men know that they are going through hell themselves and think they can trash single women. Most times we are definitely happier than you.
For those men out there who think single women are frustrated and need your help, I think you have not realized that it’s you who are frustrated and you need to deal with it yourself.
I urge those who can make a difference for us to move fast and do something about it. Some are in hopeless situations and might resort to harming themselves and their children. Give them hope and a better future!
Tell your story too.