“Feminism, Conflict and Disasters in Post-Tsunami Sri Lanka”

Social relations, including gender, are destabilized by conflict and disaster. Approaches informed by feminist thought illustrate this by probing the ways in which different identities and locations produce inequality, violence and disparate power relations. In this article, a feminist approach to development and disasters is advocated. In Sri Lanka, a country at war on and off for more than two decades, the social impact of the 2004 tsunami cannot be divorced from the pre-existing landscape with its layers of conflict, nationalism and economic disparities. This article explores the ways in which the tsunami changed people’s relations of home, family and security for those who lost a spouse. Interviews with 40 widows and widowers along the east coast of Sri Lanka in February 2006 suggest that the tsunami not only reorganized gender relations among specific ethno-national groups, but also changed the meaning of ‘widow’ with war widows and tsunami widows positioned differently within post-tsunami society and across ethnic groups. The study shows that men with surviving young children who lost their wives view remarriage as highly desirable. The Sri Lankan government’s policy of no-build buffer zones along this coast has also increased insecurity with many people still living in temporary accommodation two years after the tsunami. The prospect of remarriage for widowed women is fraught, yet more appealing as a way to mitigate insecurity than it was pre-tsunami. The author argues that a ‘feminism and disaster’ lens should be coupled with a ‘feminism and development’ approach to understanding change in the wake of the tsunami. Focusing on gender alone is insufficient. en

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