How can the destabilising effect of conflict and disaster on gender relations be mitigated? This study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology explores the ways in which the tsunami in Sri Lanka changed people’s relations, for those who lost a spouse. The tsunami not only reorganised gender relations, but also changed the meaning of ‘widow’. War-widows and tsunami-widows are viewed differently within post-tsunami society. It argues that a ‘feminism and development’ approach coupled with a ‘feminism and disaster’ approach to understanding change should be adopted in the wake of the tsunami. Focusing on gender alone is insufficient.
The devastating Indian Ocean basin tsunami of 2004 killed well over 200,000 people and displaced more than a million in Sri Lanka and the Aceh province in Indonesia. However, the tsunami represented one layer of displacement on top of the pre-existing political landscapes of conflict and forced migration.
War destabilises gender and other social relations in ways that are often detrimental to women. Women become more susceptible to sexual assault or prostitution. But war and disasters can also be enabling. Nevertheless, the gender division of labor in Sri Lanka has not changed significantly.
As far as remarriage and domestic roles are concerned, in cases where women and men lost their spouses, the study found that:
The categories of ‘widow’ and ‘women’ often change in the context of war and tsunami. Both vary by ethnicity and by the kind of disaster. Academics and development practitioners must focus not only on the differences between women and men after the tsunami, but on the differences within the category ‘woman’ and ‘widow’.
Author: Jennifer Hyndman
Source: Hyndman J., 'Feminism, Conflict and Disasters in Post-tsunami Sri Lanka', Gender, Technology and Development, Vol.12, No. 1, pp. 101â121
Size: 22 pages