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Memorandum to the Batticaloa District Disaster Operational Committee

Concerns of Displaced Women's Welfare and Rights

From the 'Women's Coalition for Disaster Management-Batticaloa'
12th January 2005

We acknowledge that government officials and other agencies are under pressure and over worked in addressing the enormity of issues that have arisen since the disaster. Therefore we the Women's Coalition for Disaster Management would like to offer our expertise and resources to enhance long term plans with regard to the welfare of displaced people. We recognise that this is a moment in time where all groups in the Batticaloa district should work together.

We wish to draw your attention to our serious concerns about the current arrangements for the welfare of persons displaced in the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Batticaloa on 26th December 2004. We are alarmed that decisions are being made about temporary re-location of displaced people with neither sufficient consultation nor adequate regard for their wishes. Decision-making must take into account the opinions and concerns they will have about the types of shelter, livelihood opportunities, social support and physical security and psychological attachments to their home area and community.

This consultation process must recognise the diversity of displaced populations, where a single camp will often contain many groups with different needs and special requirements. These differences would include gender, age, cultural background, socio-economic status and means of income. Different groups will require different solutions. We, the Women's Coalition for Disaster Management, call for the consultation of displaced women in decision-making about temporary and long-term arrangements for their welfare.

We request that you take into consideration the following:

" Decisions about relocation must recognise women's livelihoods, which are often different to those of men and which may be linked to the physical environment and social context of their original community.

" The physical security of women and their children will be far greater in areas that are well-known to them and where they have strong social resources. Relocating women to unfamiliar areas will also have negative implications for their psychosocial and emotional status in the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster. For example, women who are able to access familiar religious sites, markets, hospitals or dispensaries, relatives, friends and other resources will be far less vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and psychological distress.

" Women who have become heads of households due to the loss of family members must be especially consulted about their relocation needs and wishes.

" Women in camps have expressed to us their discomfort and fears due to living in a camp situation in close proximity to unknown men. There is a lack of measures to ensure privacy, such as separate women's areas where they may change, bathe, sleep or feed babies. We recommend that every location for housing displaced persons be provided with designated (and monitored) spaces for 'Women Only'.

" Women are particularly concerned about the alcohol consumption by men in camps, as this increases the risk of sexual harassment, abuse and violence. We recognise that increased alcohol use is linked to the loss of men's opportunities for productive work and usual social roles. Measures must be taken to both protect women through security arrangements as well as preventative mechanisms to engage men within useful and fulfilling activities in and outside the camps.

" Women's committees must be set up in each location for displaced persons and all committees in the camps must include women representatives. Women have different needs from men and these views must be taken into account when making decisions about camp life.

" Women and girls' reproductive health needs require special measures. We recommend that regular clinics for women (only) be held at each location, preferably with an all-female medical team. Special attention must be given to the needs of pregnant and feeding mothers.

" Timely and clear information must be made available to women directly to avoid confusion, fear and a dependency on rumours and dominant figures in the camp. This is particularly important with regards to registering people, upcoming medical clinics, provision of rations, legal status, compensation prospects and future administrative plans for the camps and displaced persons.

" We wish to reiterate that all the above measures will have profound benefits for the psychosocial wellbeing of women who have suffered terrible losses due to the tsunami. Placing women's concerns at the centre of decision-making processes will enhance their ability to cope and will prevent secondary psychosocial damage.

The above recommendations and concerns are all supported by the Sphere Guidelines for Humanitarian Assistance, UNHCR standards and emerging accounts from other affected parts of the island.

We call for the inclusion of women representatives from the different resettlement locations, and women representatives from local women's organisations in all local and district level decision-making bodies.

Contact address:
Women's Coalition for Disaster Management-Batticaloa, e mail: wcdmbatti@yahoo.com
C/O Suriya Women's Development Centre, 20 Dias Lane, Batticaloa, Tel: +94-65-2223297, e mail: suriaw@slt.lk And
Prevention of Gender based Violence Project, CARE International No: 221, Bar Road, Batticaloa
List of Signatories

1. Suriya Women's Development Centre
2. Women's Development Forum
3. Prevention on Gender Based Violence Project - Care International
4. Nertra - Kirankulam
5. OXFAM Community Aid Abroad
6. OXFAM GB
7. Thirupperunthurai Community Development Organisation
8. Koralaipattu North Development Union
9. Peoples' Welfare Association - Kiran
10. Campaign for Ending Violence Against Women Network
11. Working Women's Development Foundation
12. Women's Coexistence Committee- Foundation for Coexistence



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