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Rural women and their access to the law: Gendering the promise of post-war justice

Neloufer de Mel, Danushka Medawatte | Published on January 5, 2024

Overview

This chapter takes data from a remote border village in the north central province of Sri Lanka to analyse how and why Sri Lanka’s formal justice system fails women – particularly women in rural areas. Providing a general context to the challenges in accessing the formal legal system in the country, the chapter examines the specific context and justice claims of women in the village which was the target of a horrific bomb attack during Sri Lanka’s civil war (1983-2009).  

Analysing the responses of women in the village to this trauma and its aftermath, the chapter builds an argument for the necessity of a transformative justice that would not only ensure full and equitable access for all women to the law, but also account for the limitations in both the substantive and procedural aspects of the current criminal justice system, and adjust/expand the emphasis on criminal accountability to also accommodate witnesses who refuse its adversariality and retribution.

Key Findings

  • The narratives of rural Sri Lankan women who experienced grave trauma in Sri Lanka’s civil war point to heterogenous memories and dissenting views on accessing the formal criminal justice system for war time harms.
  • The data points to the need for re-examining a common assumption that in contexts of grave harm, anger and resentment against perpetrators of the violence is the norm – a conjecture also informed by an adversarial legal system.
  • The data shows ambivalence towards the criminal justice system which point to rurality, low levels of legal literacy, the law’s delays and cultural/religious beliefs which shape the refusal to act as witnesses on the adversarial terms dictated by the law.