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In South Asia, Sri Lanka is a country which demonstrated early success in social indicators such as women’s health and education. But social development indicators do not always tell the true story of social realities when people suffer due to political conflict and inequities in the benefits gained from development. In recent decades the ongoing civil and ethnic strife has undermined social development characterized by equity. The country’s progress is under constant threat due to conflict on ethnic lines that is concentrated in a few regions but which has an adverse impact across the population.

The peace process brought a lull in the conflict and the development community made some headway in providing assistance to rebuild the war torn regions in the North and East. The fragile peace is again under serious threat and in recent times renewed concerns for people and social progress have emerged. During the post-conflict phase considerable resources were invested in rebuilding the region. But concerns persisted that gender dimensions may not have been well recognized by development agencies, both national and international, which were seeking funds and implementing projects to promote agricultural livelihood and rural economic opportunities. Both donors’ preconceived assumptions as well as national indifference to gender issues led to a situation where the position of rural women with regard to their conditions and circumstances was not systematically understood prior to the launching of rebuilding interventions. Among others, the information chasm on rural women was an impediment to the transition from post-conflict relief to peace building development.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), as an agency involved in rebuilding efforts, needs objective information on rural women to direct inventions to achieve both efficiency and sustainable outcomes for the people in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Such field research elicited information is also an important input for development agencies involved in designing post-conflict development assistance in the agriculture and rural development sectors.

This publication presents the findings of a study supported by FAO and designed and implemented by the Centre for Women’s Research, Sri Lanka. The publication reviews and analyses, using a gender approach, the challenges to rural livelihood in a society torn by conflict and where the productive assets have been destroyed. The publication also analyses the various efforts of development agencies, both international and national, to address gender differentiated needs of local communities trying to rebuild their lives.

We hope that this publication, developed with the national research group, will guide development stakeholders to appreciate the importance of integrating women’s concerns in a social context stratified by gender, class and ethnicity and confronted by civil conflict.

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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