ICES: Sex Ratio and Vulnerability in Northern and Eastern Provinces in Sri Lanka

sex ratioby Kalinga Tudor Silva, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, 2018

ICES Sex-Ratio-and-Vulnerability-Book-No-2

Comparing the results of 1981 and 2012 population censuses in Sri Lanka, thecurrent study examined the impact of the war on the population dynamics in theNorthern and Eastern provinces with a focus on changes in the sex ratio. The sexratio in the population varied by district and also by ethnic group within eachdistrict. On the whole Tamils have a tendency for a female surplus in thepopulation while there is a tendency for male surplus in Sinhala communities and,to a varied extent in Muslim communities in districts with a notable presence ofthese two ethnic groups such as Vavuniya, Mannar and Ampara. This variation insex ratio profiles in different ethnic communities can be attributed to differentlevels of mortality and different rates of out-migration among men and women in the Tamil community during the war and selective in-migration of Sinhala andMuslim men when their respective communities are reestablished in the aftermathof the war particularly in the border areas. The study also examined the impact ofthe unbalanced sex ratio on development challenges, postwar recovery and perceptions of vulnerability in different communities.

Sex Ratio and Vulnerability (PDF)

Executive Summary
Using results of the 1981 and 2012 population censuses in Sri Lanka, the current
study examined the impact of the war on the population dynamics in the Northern
and Eastern provinces with a focus on changes in the sex ratio. In the next phase of
the analysis the results of Focus Group Discussions and Key Informant Interviews
conducted as part of the Strategic Social Assessment were used to assess the
connection between the imbalances in the sex ratio in the population and perceptions
and experiences of vulnerability among women and communities in general.

The imbalances in the sex ratio were not uniform across all ethnic groups in the
population. As a combined outcome of war-related mortality, selective outmigration
of males and higher life expectancy among women, the Tamil communities
consistently reported an excess of females over males, particularly in working ages
and in elderly populations. In contrast, the Muslim and Sinhala communities,
particularly in border areas, reported an excess of males over females and elderly
over youth. This may be seen as an outcome of a strategic decision by the relevant
families to split the family between relocated sites and resettlements in ways that
enabled them to access better resources in relocated sites as well as access assistance
for housing and resettlement in the resettlement areas. The female surplus in Tamil
communities and elderly male surplus in Sinhala and Muslim communities generated
specific challenges for post-war recovery and development as well as perceived and
actual vulnerabilities at the community level.

The second part of this report explores these perceived and actual vulnerabilities
on the basis of FGDs and KIIs. Given the female surplus in Tamil communities and
their concerns about security, marriageability, unequal gender relations, and viable
livelihoods, economic and social development policies must recognize and respond
to their specific concerns and needs. While female surplus in the population may be
strategically important from the angle of empowerment of women and addressing
unequal gender relations, that potential is yet to be recognized and realized. The
gender and generation imbalances in Sinhala and Muslims communities pose
a different set of problems in terms of post-war recovery and policies relating to
resettlement of war-displaced people. Perhaps it would be desirable to revisit some
of the policies relating to resettlement of people in the light of the findings of the
current study. While the declared objective of encouraging displaced people to
return to their original places is understandable from the perspective of community
interests and the need to reconnect with ancestral lands and heritages, the tendency
in the affected families to split for the purpose of accessing resources in two widely
separated areas is neither desirable nor effective for post-war recovery, social
harmony within the families, and building social capital…

Summary and Conclusions

… It is likely that the prevailing imbalances in the sex ratio among the war survivors will
take a number of generations to naturally re-stabilize. Policy makers, development
workers, civil society organizations, and even the private sector must take this as a
“frame condition,” within which economic initiatives, development interventions,
psychosocial programs, and security regimes must be introduced. At the same time,
under the current circumstances, there may be an unprecedented opportunity to
alter unequal gender relations that have evolved though cultural processes over a
long period of time. As evident from this detailed analysis of gender composition in
8 districts in North and East, women now constitute a majority of the population
and voters in Tamil communities. They have the demographic capacity to influence
governance and (by implication) state policies in their favor. Despite the potential
strategic leverage this situation holds for women’s empowerment (as identified in
some of emerging feminist literature), this outcome has not yet materialized (Samuel
and Kodikara 2010, Ruwanpura and Humphries 2004, Tambiah 2004, Kottegoda
1996). It is no coincidence that in the Northern Province and parts of the Eastern
province, women have risen to important positions in civil administration,8 as well
as in local government and campaigns for civil rights. Yet, the development of this
apparently healthy trend has been inhibited by male-dominant political processes
across the entire spectrum of governance, as well as rising trends in indebtedness,
domestic violence, alcoholism, family breakdown, desertions of wives by their
wayward husbands, and a marked leadership deficit in community activities.
While this is by no means the only strategic social issue that requires policy and
program attention, it is certainly an important one that has a bearing on overall
underdevelopment of the region.
The unacceptably large wage gap for male and female workers in casual employment,
particularly in the agricultural sector, calls for suitable interventions in vocational
training and self-employment promotion, particularly for women-friendly
development initiatives, such as micro-enterprises, home gardening, and livestock
development. There must also be support and funding for the expansion of the
garment and other processing industries as a source of stable employment for women
in particular. Support must be given for the establishment of appropriate day care
facilities for small children, so that more women can enter the labor market. The
development of rural roads and transport facilities and the establishment of market
linkages for the output of small producers—specifically including women—should
also be a priority. Further, there are some prospects for reviving the cooperative
sector in the Northern and Eastern provinces, specifically with regard to facilitating
various producer groups, including milk producers, poultry farmers, home
gardeners, cottage industries, and food processing. The development of Ammachchi
food outlets under the initiative of the Department of Agriculture and local women’s
groups can be seen as a progressive step from this angle. In order to respond to the
breakdown of families, early marriage, problems in the marriage market, trauma
and related issues, as well as alcoholism and various forms of psychosocial stress in
the communities, counseling services must be strengthened, along with the timely
interventions by mediators such as religious leaders, village-level government
officials (e.g. Grama Niladhari, school teachers and health workers). There must
be an open discussion about the ways and means of addressing these issues
among the social sector personnel (e.g. counselors, probation officers, Child Right
Promotion Officers, Women Development Officers and Social Service Officers), civil
society leaders, religious leaders, school authorities, and elected representatives in
each area. We also found that many of the social sector positions in government
institutions in the Northern and Eastern provinces have remained vacant, and this
has contributed in some ways toward advancing the social problems identified in this
assessment. The relevant agencies, such as the Ministries of Women’s Affairs, Social
Services and Social Empowerment and Probation and Child Care, must be advised
and adequately funded to fill the remaining vacancies—particularly in the Northern
and Eastern Provinces—bearing in mind the emerging needs in these newly-settled
or recently-resettled communities.
Skill development and leadership training, with a focus on women, would make a
useful contribution toward enhancing their participation at higher levels of decision
making in Sri Lankan society. Legal interventions—such as a quota system for
women in local government, the Pradeshiya Saba and Provincial Councils—may be
particularly appropriate for the Northern and Eastern provinces, given the current
sex ratios. Finally, in order to deal with the problem of alcoholism among men,
efforts must be made to curtail the manufacture and supply of illicit liquor, raise
public awareness about the addictive nature of alcohol, and promote alternative
forms of entertainment—such as sports, theatre, and popular movies with social
themes specifically relevant to the Northern and Eastern provinces.

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