A darkhaired woman in a blue blouse stands in a field.
Sri Lanka

How One Woman Changed Her World

Have you ever wondered what it takes to change your life's direction against all odds? Lucia, a 46-year-old female farmer from Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, has an inspiring answer. In a region healing from the scars of civil war, Lucia's journey from a struggling woman headed household to a community leader shows the power of knowledge, solidarity, and advocacy. Supporting her in this transformation are Diakonia and the Law and Society Trust (LST), working hand in hand to facilitate change.

Finding Ground in Vavuniya

Arriving in Vavuniya in 2011, Lucia faced immediate challenges as an outsider. She confronted the harsh realities faced by many women headed household in post-war Sri Lanka: limited access to land, legal ignorance, and societal resistance.

"When I first came to Vavuniya, it felt like the world was against me. I had a baby, and everything was very difficult," Lucia recalled. Initially met with hostility and a lack of support due to her status as an outsider, Lucia faced further complications due to her lack of knowledge about land laws, and the fact that, although her husband had left her, the land remained in his name.

The back of a woman wearing a blue dress walking towards a house.

At that time, the Land Development Ordinance (LDO) of Sri Lanka favored male inheritance, continuing gender inequality and restricting women's access to land. This bias particularly affected women leading households, hindering their economic stability, food security, and access to credit. As land is crucial for agriculture, housing, and securing loans, limited ownership rights restricted women's economic empowerment and increased their vulnerability to poverty and social marginalization.

However, Lucia's spirit remained unbroken. Lucia's strength and determination soon became evident as she began to seek out opportunities for learning and advocacy, refusing to accept her difficult circumstances.

The Power of Knowledge and Partnership

Lucia's turning point came when she connected with Diakonia's partner, the Law and Society Trust (LST).

"Initially, I was alone and had no clue about the law. I fought without knowledge," Lucia shared, reflecting on her early challenges. LST, with support from Diakonia, provided her with the education and tools needed to understand and advocate for her rights, particularly concerning land ownership and gender discrimination/gaps in the laws.

A woman in a blue dress working with a tool in a field.

She actively benefited from the awareness and mobilized her community to contribute to the People Land Commission report. This document outlines the findings and recommendations of a commission comprised of farmers and lawyers from across the country, established to address land issues. Based on the People’s recommendations, LST lobbied for the amending of the Land Development Ordinance and succeeded in 2022. The amendment now allows the land to be inherited by the elder child, irrespective of gender, or any child actively using the land, thereby strengthening and adding value to a woman’s claim.

“I have a right to land, my land is my life," said Lucia, looking at her land which had just been tilled for the new plants.

Her intrinsic leadership skills —inspired by her mother's influence, shone through her face. Since the law was amended, and she has been cultivating the land, she is in the process of applying to claim the land in her name.

A darkhaired woman in a blue blouse stands in front of a house, smiling.

“Through LST, I learned about my rights and now fight with knowledge. Being linked to a broader platform by LST, my impact is greater.”

Lucia Micheal

Advocating for Change

Lucia's impact extends far beyond her own victory. She has supported other women-led households sharing the same challenges. This includes Puwaneswari, a woman who returned to Sri Lanka after decades in India, only to find herself without land or resources.

A woman in a pink dress feeding chickens.
Nadesau Puwaneswari taking care of her chickens.

Guided by Lucia, Puwaneswari learned to navigate the complexities of land ownership and government bureaucracy, eventually securing a piece of land where she could start anew.

"Lucia showed me the way. With her help, I've found not just land, but a community," Puwaneswari reflected gratefully. She no longer feels powerless to talk to the government and is fearless in dreaming of her own garden and poultry farm.

Two women in colorful dresses stand in a green field with trees, smiling.
Nadesau Puwaneswari and her mother, Marasomi Soroja.

Today, Lucia is not only a landowner but a leader, a mentor, and an advocate for the rights of women in her community.

"Through LST, I learned about my rights and now fight with knowledge. Being linked to a broader platform by LST, my impact is greater,” Lucia said, emphasizing the strength found in unity. Her journey from isolation to empowerment showcases the transformative power of knowledge, advocacy, and community solidarity. It serves as a powerful reminder that meaningful change is possible when people unite with knowledge and purpose.

About Law and Society Trust

The Law and Society Trust (LST), established in 1982, is committed to promoting legal reform and contributing to the advancement of human rights in Sri Lanka. Focusing on justice, equity, and the rule of law, LST engages in research, advocacy, and education to support policy changes and strengthen civil society. Some of their main activities include legal education and rights awareness; publications; dissemination of information, and is linked with networks at nation, and international level. Diakonia has been collaborating with LST since 2013, working together to enhance access to justice and uphold human rights.

A portrait of Wanweena Tangsathianraphap

Wanweena Tangsathianraphap

Regional Communication Officer Asia

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