Empowering Jaffna women ‘Thesawalami’ law lacks teeth – WB

The Jaffna Peninsula’s Thesawalami law, which governs the inheritance of property along matrilineal lines, and grants women the right to own property; nonetheless has certain contradictions which prevents women from optimizing the exercise of such rights, a recent World Bank (WB) report said.


Elaborating on the contradictory features of the ‘Thesawalami,’ it said that the control of property however is in the hands of a male guardian which translates to the fact that a woman cannot invest in the property which she owns, nor mortgage, lease, or sell it without the prior permission of her husband or guardian.


Gender inequities in customary land laws have increased vulnerabilities in the Northern and Eastern Provinces where women have the sole or primary responsibility for income generation through the cultivation of land or work as agricultural labour as a result of the outcome of the conflict, it said.


Additionally, women are made vulnerable by their lack of documentation, a possible outcome of the war, inability to prove ownership, inability to dispose of land in the absence of their husband’s death certification, and the non-recognition by officials of women’s altered status due to the war, it said.

 While during the war, women’s economic roles expanded, the post war realities have reinforced restrictive gender norms, with women facing increased exposure to gender-based violence, the WB said. 

Several thousand war widows are still without access to resources, infrastructure and housing, basic facilities and vocational skills and livelihoods to support their families, the WB said. Nonetheless, the report stopped short of recommending changes to the Thesawalami law to address this ambiguity.

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