“The environment is a fundamental requirement to enjoy the human rights”


It is a proud moment to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, which was passed by the United Nations General Assembly at its third session on 10 December 1948.

It will be appropriate to see the three main magnitudes of the interrelationship or the connection between human rights and environmental protection; the environment as a precondition  for the enjoyment of human rights,  certain human rights, especially access to information, participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters, as essential to good environmental decision-making and right to a safe, healthy and ecologically-balanced environment as a human right in itself.

The rights are being challenged, especially the rights of the women when it comes to safe and healthy environment.

Manmunai West Divisional Secretariat Division in Batticaloa of Sri Lanka, is ranked as the first Division under poverty in the Island of Sri Lanka. The estimated poverty head count index is 45.1 % (Source: Department of Census and Statistics – Sri Lanka Poverty Global Practice, World Bank Group) which is ranked first among the poorest Divisions in the country. The community identifies early marriages, seasonal migrations and women migration to Middle East countries as solutions to combat poverty. This situation has let them to be victims of abuses and sexual harassments. There are about 147 cases reported in terms of abuses such as sexual, emotional, physical, negligence and others. Accordingly, 3% of the young women are victimized by different sorts of abuses. This percentage may increase when counting the not reported cases.

Under an Eco System Based Disaster Risk Reduction program,  Women of Karayakkanthivu, Kottiyapula, Kannankudah and Eachenthivu villages in the Manmunai West Division have got together to assess the risks and hazards that can destroy the Eco System in their villages. They have conducted some events like sports meet and street drama to make aware the community on the importance of protecting the environment and on the harmful consequences of destroying the ecology. These initiatives of women have impacted on the attitudinal change of the community to a great extent.

The women have developed an action plan for the next two years with the community’s contribution, to renovate the minor tanks that were being abandoned for many years. Drought and flood are the most two major disasters these villages face every year. During disaster, women and children are likely to be abused easily due to their lack of education, less economic resources and increased vulnerability. These situations of abuse and harassments violate their Human Rights – and deprive them from a life of safety, respect and dignity.

Pooja, a young girl of 20 years from one of these villages said “I won’t have to walk a long way to fetch water in isolated unsafe places, if i can have water near my home throughout the year. I suffer due to this, and don’t wish my children to go through same.” Pooja wants her future generation to be safe. Hence, Pooja together with other young women has organized to plant trees around the tanks to reduce water evaporation, and in the long run, to increase the ground water level.

Also other village women from the villages of Karayakkanthivu, Kottiyapula, Kannankudah and Eachenthivu have planned to engage in fish farming in the tanks and earn a livelihood for better living, together with crop cultivation making use of the water available throughout the year, by which they would be able to increase their economy, for a better standard of living. Understanding that poverty or less economic resources create vulnerability for women, increasing the violence around them, women believe that engaging in small household cultivation, and fish farming would support them and reduce their insecurity.

We want to share our initiatives with the other villages and divisions in this district of East; the women and girls there could also engage in similar activities to protect the environment, and at the same time to become stable socially and economically” mentioned one middle-aged woman from one village. Having an enabling environment for living is a fundamental human Right.

Rajaluxmi, another woman from one of the villages said “World can’t survive without water, and morality can’t exist without rains”. These were the lines she had quoted from the classic Tamil religious texts ‘Thirukkural’. Water is the source for survival. Proper water management will in return enable a safe environment for living by increasing production throughout the year. A proper living condition in a secured and safe environment will ensure Human Rights.

A natural environment with access to clean water, with health and sanitation, with access to basic needs, enables a safe and healthy environment for women more than any other persons. When a woman is secure, with no risks, and healthy, she is able to protect her family, the society and the environment she lives in.

The women in these four villages say that they are trying to build their dream village considering the ecology and the biodiversity therein. The destruction or the environment, and environmental degradation are considered as causes for the deprivation of some basic rights. Most of these communities of Manmunai West division live under the poverty line; they depend on the environment for their livelihoods. And the negative effects on the environment, climate change, natural hazards, and environmental pollution are major causes for the sufferings of these people, which lead towards their fundamental rights being violated.

These women in the villages have been shared with the required knowledge in protecting their own environment, so to receive a positive impact in return from the ecological-system on which their livelihoods depend a lot. The women have come forward to voluntarily engage in initiatives that will protect their villages from natural hazards, especially drought and lack of water.

Preserving the ecological-system and maintaining the balance between environment and humans is in the hands of all human beings. Yet, these women of Manmunai West division have considered it as their responsibility. They have come forward to protect their villages so to create an enabling environment for their children and the future generations to come.

Nilakshy Thavarajah  |  Sri Lanka