The Cabinet paper presented by the Women's Empowerment and Social Welfare Minister in connection with the tsunami rehabilitation mechanism which received Cabinet approval recently, marks a significant development in the protection of Sri Lankan women's human rights.
This Cabinet decision is also very significant because it has given due recognition to women's participation in decision-making. This is a rare occasion where Sri Lankan women enjoy equal rights as men.
The proposal made by Women's Empowerment and Social Welfare Minister Sumedha G. Jayasena ensures gender equality and adequate female representation in all relief and rehabilitation mechanisms and institutions related to the tsunami disaster.
The decision allows tsunami affected women to decide what they want and what they do not want to happen. This is a very important step in rehabilitation because it is those women who are going to live their lives in the newly built environment after the rehabilitation process.
In Sri Lanka women lead the family's day to day life and handle everything with or without assistance of a male partner. The percentage of women headed households was significant even before the tsunami hit the coastal belt of the country.
According to Ministry sources, the majority of tsunami affected persons are women and they have lost not only their livelihood but also their husbands and children.
Some of those women victims have been subjected to severe mental suffering and also subjected to sexual harassment. At the moment they stay in open welfare centres without any privacy and protection.
It is women who know best how to protect themselves from various threats including sexual harassment which is often executed by men known to them. Therefore those women should be consulted before taking any further steps towards ensuring their safety.
Presenting the proposal Minister Jayasena had stated that women's needs are entirely different from men's needs and therefore all ministries and departments should intervene to meet those needs.
Those authorities should look from a women's point of view and ensure gender equality when formatting policies and plans for the rebuilding process. All relevant authorities should understand the difference of women's and men's biological and emotional needs.
Minister Jayasena had pointed out eight main facts in her proposal and they are: introducing a permanent security plan to ensure the protection of women and also ensure female children stay in welfare camps, when planing economic programs, paying special attention to the tsunami widows and giving priority to them when implementing re-settlement programs, ensuring privacy to sustain personal hygiene and special physical needs of women and female children in welfare camps, implementing psycho-socio programs to ensure the welfare of women and female children in welfare camps.
It is very important to make sure that no man takes advantage of tsunami widows and the benefits they get from the State and other institutions. Proper security plans and a monitoring system is needed to ensure the safety and independence of tsunami widows and the orphaned female children.
It is natural that some men try their best to take advantage of helpless women and children. They always pray for a loophole. The best example for this is how some men acted during the tsunami disaster and took advantage of women (robbed and raped them) who ran for their lives.
Investigations are still on in connection with one case where a young Sri Lankan girl who returned from a foreign country was abducted by an unknown group of people (including women) while she was staying in a welfare camp alone.
It is better to encourage tsunami widows to re-build their lives with minimum help obtained from men. Such women should be educated and encouraged to seek the assistance of recognised institutions and organisations instead of individuals.
This will prevent some men taking advantage of helpless women and their children. The time has come to take every possible action to protect tsunami affected women and children from thousands of two legged hungry leopards.