22 May, 2024


Northern Women; Empowerment Through Employment

By S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

Those without means are scoffed at by everybody. The wealthy are honoured by all.” – Kural

Women of the North

When Auvvaiyar the famed Tamil poetess was asked about the cruelest thing on earth, she replied “The cruelest is poverty and yet more cruel is poverty in early years”. Women headed families in the North are a pitiable 90,000. They experience the cruelest condition and witness yet more cruel travails of their children. Hence this note about them. How to change their discomfiture? A helping hand can lift them as it has done elsewhere.

Why should women be empowered? To make them also a respected segment of society. Can thirty percent representation in the legislature do it? Never. Money put into their hands will. Such action confers dignity. It is a position that comes with financial independence. Wealth can make them equal. Greater wealth can elevate them still higher. Making them so should be the target of honest endeavor. There are institutions to help.

International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

It is a specialized agency of the UN dedicated to eradicating poverty in developing countries. The goal was to empower poor, rural women and men to secure higher incomes and achieve food security. Increased production for greater availability and the purchasing power to enjoy that.

JaffnaIFAD was established as an international financial institution in August 1977. Its first project loan was approved in April 1978. In a quarter century since then, it has financed 617 projects in 115 countries. Commitments by 2002 were $ 7.7 billion in loans and $ 31.9 billion in grants. These have assisted 47 million rural households benefitting 257 million people. By 2015 IFAD has 176 UN member states in its embrace of assistance.

IFAD and Tamil Nadu

The largest borrower from IFAD is India. She is also among its main contributors. The Fund has approved 25 agricultural and rural development projects for a total of $ 656 million in India. Together with counterpart funds, bank loans and beneficiary contribution, the value of the projects is $ 1.9 billion. What is noteworthy is that assistance to self-help ratio is 1:2. Dependency culture is not bred.

Of the states of India, Tamil Nadu has recorded outstanding performance. In November 1989, the DMK administration took the ‘Mahalir Thittam’ (Women’s Empowerment Programme-WEP) into the IFAD stream. The project with a duration of 10 years had a total cost of $ 30.6 million. IFAD provided $17 million and TN contributed the balance $ 13.6 million.

In 1996 the Agricultural Plan was integrated with the WEP. What started as a rural development programme in 17 districts spread to 28 districts in three years. After urban districts were included, the geographical spread had total coverage of TN.

In a recent report, former CM Karunanidhi gave some impressive details. By end 2010, there were 7,666,497 women who were members in 488,970 groups. Between 2006 and 2009, urban groups numbering 246,700 were added. From 1989 to 2010 they received as bank loans a total of Rs 95.210 billion. A still more striking performance was savings in a total of Rs. 26.580 billion. Rectitude in loan repayment and a growing culture of savings, show the success of social engineering as real.

A good 7 million and more, indigent once are now in the money. What transfigured them? Initial seed money at Rs 100,000 per group was given to women’s groups as grants. This was followed by grants of 150,000 per group as bank loans for the revolving fund. Money alone does not make for success. Many more as additional support are needed. Marketing infrastructure, loan facilities and saving schemes were among those created.

The state government made bold to provide them. Next in time was proactive approach of Banks to give loans for a revolving fund. Third was surveillance by officials of both government and banks. Final and most profound was the character of the people. A project that started small and might have been even with reservations has met with resounding success.

IFAD and Sri Lanka

In obtaining assistance Sri Lanka was ahead of Tamil Nadu by 11 years. In 1978 the very first year IFAD programmes commenced, Sri Lanka had secured funding for the Kirindi Oya Irrigation and Settlement Project. Since 1978, IFAD has financed a total of 16 projects with loan commitments of $ 239 and having a total value of $ 400 million. In the North an ongoing major project is Iranamadu Irrigation Development Project with a duration of 5 years; 2011 – 2016. Total cost is $ 29.3 and IFAD funding is $ 22.2 million. Direct beneficiaries are 7,000.

The most recent ’Country Strategic Opportunities Programme (COSOP) covering the period 2015 – 2020. IFAD states “Rural people in economically lagging and post-conflict areas of Eastern and Northern Provinces will be target groups.” There is further elaboration when IFAD takes a leaf from Budget Speech 2015 – “Focus on regional development, with particular emphasis on Northern and Eastern Provinces, to restore people’s livelihoods, reactivate services and facilities, rehabilitate infrastructure and develop human capabilities.” Quite a broad spectrum for Northern Provincial Council to engage with IFAD and to make its presentation.

NPC and Women in Development

The same genetic traits run through the women of Tamil Nadu and the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Seeking to triumph over circumstances however adverse and the grit to succeed are among them. It is in their character. TN compatriots had peace and government’s proactive programmes to give them a fillip. SL Tamil women have got the occasion for such an advantage in the present moment.

The mechanism to formulate relevant projects, mobilise resources, organize the participants and set about translating into reality is in the Province itself. Channeling finances from the Provincial Council and supplementing with bank loans are all within the ambit of the NPC and the capacity of the Chief Minister. IFAD assistance may be treated as only additional bonus and not as conditional to starting projects.

TN experience has a particular relevance. What started with a limited purview, expanded its scope rapidly to spread from agriculture to agro-industry, production to marketing, livestock rearing to milk production and small scale industries to value addition. With governmental support from the centre and state, expansion is seen in infrastructure development as well. The most recent is ‘Green Houses’ for residence with solar power generation for domestic use.

Image of Solar Powered ‘Green Houses’ in Housing Cluster in Tamil Nadu

Image of Solar Powered ‘Green Houses’ in Housing Cluster in Tamil Nadu

NPC Savings

Right or wrong I am uncertain, reports are that savings will be there by December end. If that be true and correct, it is possible for registered (1) Women’s Rural Development Societies (WRDS) (2) Community Centres (CC) already registered with Department of Local Government; to be drawn into a huge Women’s Empowerment Programme in the Northern Province. Seed money of Rs 2 lakhs as a grant paid into the account of the above organisations before end December 2015. Money to become utilizable next year after proper project study and evaluation. Savings if available can make this possible.

CEB is a statutory organization which can receive funds before the end of the financial year for utilization in the following year for Solar Lights Programme. One condition; supplementary labor to be arranged for by Women’s organisations and payment for this management to benefit them.

Plight of Widows

Year after year statistics of widows and orphans is rattled off, our work is done and conscience salved. IFAD, ADB and other institutions can be convinced to assist while NPC should take the initiative and provide the leadership.

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Latest comments

  • 6


    The war-affected women in the north and likely in the east, are carrying their families and thus the society on their over burdened shoulders. Home hearths burn and children go to school in most homes, because of them. They do what they can, with what they have- including selling their flesh- to keep the bodies and souls of their families together. Most men are louts, drunkard, drug addicts and vagabonds. They live off their wives and subject them to much physical abuse.
    Their exploit the women in every way imaginable.

    Will generating employment for women, empower them? Until the males in our society are reformed and divested of their vice, women will never be empowered in the manner I am sure you desire. They may be employed and have cash to spend, but yet they will continue to be exploited by their fathers, brothers, husband and sons. They are also being sexually exploited by males in the family, including fathers, uncles and even grand fathers, in increasing numbers.

    Please address realities as they exist now in our society.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 1

    I think this problem needs a composite solution. So not just one but many other channels needs to be explored.

    There is a scheme called “micro-financing”. It was invented by Bangladeshi social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus. He even received the Nobel price for inventing the scheme.

    The scheme was successful especially with rural women. (read below)

    Yunus and others have found that lending to women generates considerable secondary effects, including empowerment of a marginalized segment of society (Yunus and Jolis 1998), who share betterment of income with their children, unlike many men. Yunus claims that in 2004, women still have difficulty getting loans; they comprise less than 1 percent of borrowers from commercial banks (Yunus 2004). The interest rates charged by microfinance institutes including Grameen Bank is high compared to that of traditional banks; Grameen’s interest (reducing balance basis) on its main credit product is about 20%.


    • 5

      Micro finance as operated in other parts of Sri Lanka is not helpful for women. Banks and these institutions go to the houses and encourage women to take loans. These loans had to be repaid from the following week and there is no gestation period for any productive loan. These financial institutions operate as the Bangladesh models, with 5 women guaranteeing the loan. Interest is more than 24 %. I think it is more but the women take it as it is easy to get this loan. In fact they are tempted by the financial institution to get the loan.

      I know some NGOs in the East had been giving loans for poultry/ cattle / home gardening from the mid 90s and the loan has revolved so many times. If the people had taken to these tasks, these women would be rich and they can export eggs. NGOs had become rich as they take grants and lend it to the poor women.

      Dr Rajasingam gives an accurate description of the patriarchal norms in the family and how women suffer. Men in these families like most families in other areas allow them to work and bring income but they suffer from triple burdens like running the house and they work for more than Often these loans are taken by women and men grab it and it has to be paid by women.

      Women had to be given employment opportunities but they have to be empowered. Men in the family has to be educated in how to treat women and their earnings.

      • 0

        Well, if you want to start a small business the main problem is capital – not the interest.

        If there is a possibility a business can generate 50% profit then 20% interest is not a problem.

        The reason for the high interest is because there is no collateral involved. So if the person cannot afford to pay it back they do not lose anything other than their reputation.

  • 3

    How to empower women? Sivathasan says, “Money put into their hands will and Wealth makes them equal”.

    It looks very simplistic.

    Poverty is a complex problem, so is empowerment.

    Lack of money is only one dimensional symptom.

    Empowerment depends on management skills as well.

    Managing money is not that simple Money in the hands of a poor man vanishes in no time.

    Money management relates to capitalist development from feudalism.

    I will call education empowers women.Education with skill development leads in the long run to empowerment,not only women,but any marginal group as well

    Micro finance with poor targeting will perpetuate poverty. Micro finance is not simply revolving fund management and the success of microfinance is usually measured in the rate of recovery of micro loans

    The micro finance concept needs redesigning to incorporate not recovery, but sustainability as the goal

    • 4

      The ideas in the article are put across for a situation which looks dire in the North. If news in the public domain are correct and criticism in the Provincial Council is accurate, a fair volume of allocated funds remain unutilized.

      Much of what is unspent in 11 months is unspendable in 1 month.

      All what is allocable at this point of time can be transferred to statutory institutions with due authorisation, to be kept in deposit and spent next year.WRDS and CEB are two of the best to handle receipt of funds at this time. Spending to be adequately bottle necked with checks and balances.

      In TN I have been following Mahalir Tittam and their success for over 10 years. What impressed me most were 1) commendable record in repayment & 2)huge savings. These two bespoke self-discipline and success. So repeat in the North.

      As for CEB, as an officer working amidst constraints of turmoil at Jaffna Kachcheri I had estimates ready for year end transfer. Rationale was nothing so good as rural electrification and CEB had capacity for swift execution.

  • 1

    Money can do lot but not alone. IT is a complex problem and you cannot blame on any single factor. It is easy to put the blame on men but it is deeper than that. If Men is the problem we need to address that problem rather than blaming them. Male dominance was a greater problem thorough out the world but it has improved a lot in many parts of the world. Male dominance among the migrated Tamils to the developed world has inmproved a lot compared to home. Even within Srilanka it is not a significant problem within educated families and those families where both husband and wife working. It is worse within the poor uneducated families. The poverty that leads to no education, no schooling, no food, unhealthy and frustration, drinking, stealing, raping etc. The state, particularly NPC has to play a greater role in addressing reducing the poverty. The laws should be strengthened against those who violate the rights of the vulnerable groups like women. Education should become compulsory for every one. You can achieve success if there is commitment rather than blaming.

  • 2

    I believe the diaspora should be able to provide the seed money for some of these projects, if they make up their mind to do same, plan things and act with a sense of dedication.
    Sengodan. M

    • 0

      Diaspora will naturally depart their money seeing their mother’s, sister’s, aunt’s & daughter’s dire pain to hold the soul and the body together if they get confidence that their “Kooppai Addichcha” money will do what they think. If they think that their money is only going to come back to swiss banks get deposited in an unknown account by the Lankawe’s beggars known as ministers, they would prefer they deposit that money in the swiss bank themselves.

      Why Chandrikathasan is not giving the money to the widows that he is getting from the governments for his contracts? Why only diaspora? Remember, diaspora are people who were lucky enough to manage to get out of the Lankawe’s oppressive robberies. Once they see they had escaped from their nets, now they are being rounded up this techniques. A wild elephants can be caught and enslaved using an elephant like Chanrikathasan who are already caught to work for Sinhala empires.

      They splited diaspora by wedging between PM Rudra and Father Emanuel. Ranil is still fully against to investigate Vidiya’s case. They keep creating dire families. Why this new family added to a situation the rebels’ families are going through? Is Vidya too LTTE. Is that why, with all other rebel girls, she too have to be raped and murdered by Lankawe’ natural verdict? . Suresh Premachandran who brought out the Trinco torture chambers now talking about Varini torture chambers. Chandrikathasan is eying on diaspora’s bank accounts and drawing big developments stories. Is diaspora going to give the money after seeing this daytime robbery techniques?

      Fix the government first who created Lankawe’s richest society, the North, into this conditions by the political maneuvering like SWRD’s bloodless revolution.

      • 4

        Why do want Northern Sri Lankans to suffer forever? Mallaiyuran is a Sori Nai.

  • 1

    Sivathasan says.
    “A fair volume of allocated funds remain unutilized in the Northern Provincial Council”, may be correct, In fact it is correct.
    The government authorities not familiar with government accounting practices are often confused about the terms usually used generally by the Government Accountants- “allocation and imprests” These terms refers to different financial concepts.

    Allocation is “financial provision made in the budget or estimates in monetary terms for a particular year and not cash whereas “Imprest is cash ie liquid money”.

    The treasury will periodically, usually, monthly, releases cash in the form of Imprests to the spending institutions when the spending institutions had spent the imprests already received and be in a position to spend more.

    If the Northern Provincial Council has a fair volume of allocated funds remaining unutilized. This means that progress of work is lagging behind and has not reached to the payment stage.

    The NPC has unutilized allocation and not unutilized cash.
    Even if the NPC has unutilized cash.

    The government financial management does not encourage funds allocated for a year to be carried forward to another year.

    It is illegal and if allowed entire financial management collapses. This procedure is understandable because If an institution is incapable of spending funds allocated this year, how could it spends the funds year marked next year as well as the unspent portion of funds that belongs to this year.

    In rare occasions if a government institution has unutilized cash received for a particular item of work then it could keep in the deposit account with proper authority only for the remainder of the particular work item to be completed early next year.

    It is against all budgetary practices to deposit with WRDS or CEB if originally WRDS or CEB were not the intended original recipients.
    The inefficiency of a government institution could not be covered by this illegal practices.

    Parliament has full control over Public Finance is the Constitutional Provision on which the entire Public Financial Management rests

  • 5

    A meaningful intervention with the task of uplifting and empowering the women headed householders is the only way by which the dignity and status of these unfortunate womenfolk could be improved. Any financial and other immediate help and support will in no way bring back their lost dignity and power.
    A pertinent task for all who have been endowed with the responsibility including the peoples’ representatives to view this as a priority measure and to address it decisively.
    Mr.Sivathasan’s articles are always projected after careful study and research based on relevant facts and figures.The proposals that are being suggested in all his writings are pragmatic, meaningful and rewarding only if the stakeholders do take a decisive and genuine action.
    I have a special liking for Sivathasan’s writings and read at least two times, first for the well founded language with correct dignified English at the correct slot. Second, for the well crafted points supported all by clear figures and statistics so that no one can dispute over them. Dr.R.Narendran’s comments in this column, I feel is irrelevant and distasteful in this context.

    • 5


      Truth when stated in all its ugliness is unfortunately distasteful. Whether it is irrelevant, depends on where one is in terms of time and place. It is time, we as a people, start locking horns with what is staring us in the face.

      Thanks for your comment.


  • 3

    What a tragedy.
    Usha Sriskandarajah in an article elsewhere on CT writes about Abbeyrames Bharathanatya Arangetram in London.

    I googled AVVAIYAR.It goes like this.

    If you ask what is the most awful thing in the world,my Lord with the long Spear[VEL]-Poverty is awful,even more awful is Poverty during youth.
    What a contrast.
    Diaspora children dancing away.Children of War-Widows?
    Mr.Sivathasan,you have a Heart.

    VIBHUSHANAs suggestion needs a try-out.

  • 4

    Thanks for the sentiments you have expressed. Your pseudonym perhaps conveys your values. Some may even choose Marcus Aurelius.

    Writing on Gandhi, Nehru said “It was the Mahatma’s ambition to wipe the tear off the eye of every Indian”. Nothing can be greater and yet how much can be accomplished within a brief spell?

    Sarojini Naidu’s quip was “India does not know how much it costs to keep the Mahatma in poverty”. One may recall Gandhi taking a milch goat to UK when he went by ship for the Round Table Conference.

    Since the young among the Tamils have lost so much in two generations, Usha’s sentiments and my thoughts have to move together.

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