‘We are tackling the worst’

By Arthur Wamanan

Deputy Minister, Women’s and Child Affairs, Vijayakala Maheswaran outlined the importance of the implementation of a National Policy for women-headed households. Speaking to the Nation, she emphasized the importance of a holistic approach to help women by understanding their financial and psychological situation.

Following are excerpts:
Q. Can you explain the process that has been adopted to formulate the proposed National Policy for households headed by women?
We are currently conducting meetings and discussions with various stakeholders with regard to the prevalent issues, the needs, the societal and family circumstances in which they are compelled to provide for their families. Their issues and their needs would not be the same. There would be a lot in common, but they would not need the same kind of assistance. That is what we are trying to look at. We are trying to formulate a policy which would accommodate every family in the island.

We have not finalized on anything yet. But we will continue to have discussions with women’s organizations and government officials island-wide for their input.

Q. From what has been discussed so far, what are the issues that need to be addressed immediately?
As I said before, there are many reasons why women head a family. It could be by choice, or it could be due to family or societal issues. We have to look into all those aspects.
Even though the policy is for the entire country, I personally feel that there is a burning need to address this issue in the North and East. There are thousands of women-headed households in both these provinces.

Currently we have identified around 5000 families in these provinces and have given them Rs. 100,000 each. However, we need to increase the amount if we are to fully address their needs.

Why I say this is because these women have to build everything from scratch. Their husbands did not leave them anything. Everything was destroyed. They lost their husbands. Some are dead and others are missing. If you take Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu, every single household was affected. Therefore, a National Policy is a must in order to look after and nurture these women. They not only need monetary assistance, but also in terms of psychological counselling.

Q. What about issues pertaining to their livelihood? Will these aspects be looked into as well?
Even now the government is providing assistance to women through various programmes. We continue to provide equipment and raw material for these women to do something on their own. We have also provided women with vocational training.

We are doing that with the coordination of other government institutions and ministries. However, these are inadequate in order for them to provide for their children in the long run.

There are many women who are involved in domestic productions including handricraft and animal husbandry. However, their main issue is the lack of proper marketing facilities. They are unable to take them to the market due to transportation issues. Some women cannot leave their homes because they have no one to look after their children.

Q. You mentioned the plight of women in the North and East. You said that they would need psycho-social assistance as well. Will this policy also incorporate the issues you mentioned?
Yes of course. It is very important for the policy to have a holistic approach. You cannot ignore the mental agony that these women go through when you are providing assistance.

If you look at the estate sector, the women in there also face several hardships when running a family. They have so many restrictions. There are cases where the husbands do not look after the family and leave them to fend for themselves. These families should be supported by the government.

These women should be empowered mentally and financially. Apart from their losses, they are also affected mentally and psychologically. We are also looking at how we could formulate this policy to include the psycho-social needs of these women.

There are many women who are unable to indulge in day-to-day activities because they do not know the fate of their loved ones. Many of them do not want to move to the next step without knowing whether her loved one or spouse is dead or alive.

They should be given counselling because they are not only neglecting themselves, but their children. In addition, the society they live in also affects them. They are unable to move out of their shell due to societal pressure. This aspect also needs to be looked into.

Q. But there are reports that the number of counsellers is inadequate considering the number of people who need counselling. Do you agree?

I agree to an extent. But, we have a very effective network. Our officers are on call and will immediately rush to a place when informed. We are doing our best and we have been successful. But we have a long way to go.

Published in the Nation on October 30, 2016


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