Sri Lanka is facing the worst economic crisis in its post-independence history. Widespread food and fuel
shortages are crippling the lives of people. Such a situation that has already lasted several weeks is now
resulting in widespread protests which are being repressed violently. We anticipate escalating violence in
the context of the spread of peaceful protests by average citizens to express democratic dissent against
this unjust situation. On the whole, we are witnessing the unfolding of a humanitarian crisis. These
conditions will contribute to more people falling into poverty and increasing inequalities, setting the
country back by several years. Women are at the forefront of dealing with this crisis in gas queues, queues
for essential food items and in protests.
There is now a monumental political crisis even as the economic crisis remains immediate and primary
for ordinary people. The urgent need in order to perform those duties is for a civil, democratic
governance system that can restore the confidence of the people. In spite of the imminent collapse of
the existing government, the state mechanisms should perform their fundamental duties of ensuring the
rights and welfare of the people. All measures demanded below is based on the premise that the
government must prioritize the basic needs of the people. We recognize that people feel a deep frustration
with the political class and emphasize the urgent need for the citizens of Sri Lanka to have governance
systems that can restore the confidence of the people. In this context, urgently launching a humanitarian
operation, with a focus on preventing national level starvation and chaos is imperative. The government
in all its negotiations within and outside the country, to emerge from this crisis, MUST address these
needs by allocating and reallocating resources accordingly.
While the impact of the economic crisis is felt across all corners of the island, it is daily-wage earners,
those dependent on micro, small and medium enterprises, the urban working poor and other
communities living in poverty along with communities already marginalised for their ethnic, religious,
caste, gender and sexual identities that are the worst affected by this deepening crisis. There are people
facing homelessness and destitution. For those who were living on subsistence wages, even before this
crisis, the rising prices of essential items have depleted monies in hand. Communities affected by repeated
tragedies – the long-drawn-out war, tsunami, Easter bombings and the Covid-19 pandemic- are yet again
facing a blow to their efforts to rebuild their lives. This while life consuming quests for truth and justice
are ongoing every day.
The burden of a flailing economy invariably falls on women as economic risks are pushed into the home
sphere. Women face the double burden of earning an income while performing unpaid care work at
home. Women struggle to ensure the wellbeing of their children due to obstacles to education, domestic
violence, and inefficient and unjust systems of maintenance payments to single mothers. Frustrations and
fears of uncertainty, hunger and the lack of basic comforts often translate into violence directed at women
and children at home. The limited existing services to address such violence are further stunted due to
the pandemic and now the economic crisis.
Deliberate choices made by consecutive governments in Sri Lanka has placed us in this calamity. This
country has been overwhelmingly dependent on women’s labour, including for the country’s foreign
exchange, through the plantation, garment and migrant labour sectors. Simultaneously, Sri Lanka’s
economic policy has impacted women’s labour and every sphere of women’s lives – their material
conditions, mobility, aspirations, and social status. It is the wealth gathered by exploiting women’s labour
that has been squandered. No one is held accountable for this loss. Instead, yet again, women are forced
to bear the brunt of an economic crisis.
The Government’s responses so far are limited to obtaining loans to address the debt situation and
approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance. We are concerned that actors such
as the IMF and others may enforce fiscal consolidation by way of austerity policies. They have often
assumed this to be a viable strategy to make debt sustainable. However, regressive tax policies such as
the increase of direct tax via VAT, and cuts in public expenditure will only undermine improvements in
productivity and deter inclusive economic growth along with a robust social infrastructure. Investment
in health, education and care services are imperative to improve human productivity and
wellbeing. Analyses of this economic crisis are dominated by neoliberal economists and mainstream
macroeconomic narratives. These have largely dehumanised the crisis thus yielding responses that do not
address the pressing concerns of women, working people and marginalised communities. We are
seriously concerned about the long-standing causes for the crisis, such as corruption in public enterprises
and failure to introduce progressive tax policies. While these remain unaddressed, we anticipate attempts
to privatise public services which will, again transfer economic burden on to the people.
In this context, urgently launching a humanitarian operation, with a focus on preventing national level
starvation and chaos, in partnership with the government and civil society is imperative. All measures
demanded below is based on the premise that the government must prioritize the basic needs of the
citizenry. The government in all its negotiations within and outside the country, to emerge from this
crisis, MUST address these needs by allocating and reallocating resources accordingly.
We urge the Government to take the following steps immediately to address the unfolding humanitarian

  1. Plan and implement an island-wide food distribution system: A food distribution system
    to reach all households with basic essential ration packs – this should include rice, oil, sugar,
    tea, dhal and triposha. Existing systems of Sathosa, Samurdhi and Cooperatives should be
    strengthened to reach everyone. As the number of people living in precarious situations and
    falling into poverty is increasing, the food distribution system should be
    universal. Implementing ‘targeted’ programmes to ‘reach only the selected poor’ as
    recommended by certain advisors fails to respond to the reality and targeted actions in the
    midst of spiraling poverty will only delay relief and further harm people. Targeting will also
    deepen social divisions and fire tensions further in a context of already existing frustrations.
  2. Prioritize nutrition and food sovereignty: Ensuring food security through controlling
    kerosene and gas prices; urgent support and subsidies to farmers; and relief for fisheries and
    other farming communities must be implemented immediately. The 2022 budget promises in
    relation to nutrition and food security, such as the nutrition basket for pregnant and lactating
    mothers, for 24 months must be implemented. Promises of a relief basket to alleviate the
    pressures of rising costs of living, ensuring school midday meals programme and household
    level relief for children must be activated.
  3. A people-centered Samurdhi support system that upholds its original vision must be
    strengthened: Samurdhi benefits are being cut in many districts and different excuses given
    at community level. The government must respond to the reality that more families are falling
    below the poverty-line and expand Samurdhi benefits and increase monthly Samurdhi
    payment to match the rising cost of living.
  4. Health sector must be supported by the State to secure and provide medicines, other
    essential medical equipment, health products and reproductive health services
  5. Assistance programmes (referral, support and services) to address starvation,
    homelessness, destitution and domestic violence: The government must set up urgent
    support schemes to address issues of starvation, homelessness, destitution, and domestic
    violence. State officials must be directed to provide these services without discrimination,
    prejudice, and judgment. As the increase in sexual and gender-based violence becomes
    inevitable, state and non-state services should ensure support services including women and
    child centered shelters. Responses must be timely and have a survivor centered approach
    (protect rights, privacy, recovery of victim to build victim confidence, without any blaming or
    shaming or tolerance of retaliation).
  6. Immediate measures to secure public revenues to implement above state programmes:
    We urge the government to implement progressive taxation to meet the country’s public
    revenue needs, including introducing appropriate wealth taxes. Such taxation must not add to
    the burden of the poor and working people of the country. The Government must ensure that
    public revenues are utilised to implement social security programmes that are responding to
    the crisis alongside measures to recover the economy.
  7. Prioritise labour and land policies that protect people’s financial security: Successive
    governments have failed to address the need for a land policy that addresses people’s needs,
    aspirations, the climate crisis and the need for a people-focused labour policy. During this
    crisis, given the strong tendency to move towards exploitative measures, existing labour
    protections and land rights should not be undone. Distribute land to women smallholder
    agricultural farmers who are producing essential grains.
  8. Consult women: Responding to this crisis requires consultation and participation of women.
    Given the dismal representation of women in decision making, it is crucial that advisory
    bodies, processes and responses have direct involvement of women, particularly
    representation of women workers’ and affected women.
    Finally, we invite Women’s Groups, Trade Unions, Farmers’, and Fisher’ collectives, Cooperatives,
    Religious institutions, NGOs and progressive political movements to join in solidarity for urgent action
    to respond to the unfolding humanitarian emergency that is threatening to destroy our collective futures
    for generations to come.
  9. Aalumai Women’s Group, Mullaithivu
  10. Affected Women’s Forum, Akkaraipattu
  11. Dabindu Collective, Kattunayake
  12. Centre for Women and Development, Jaffna
  13. Mannar Women’s Development Federation
  14. Muslim women’s Development Trust, Puttalam
  15. Nisha Development Group, Mulaitheevu
  16. Progressive Women’s Collective
  17. Revolutionary Existence for Human Development, Katunayake
  18. Sisterhood initiative, Colombo
  19. Stand Up Movement, Colombo
  20. Suriya Women’s Development Center, Batticaloa
  21. The Grassrooted Trust
  22. Uwa Wellassa Women Organization, Monaragala
  23. Vallamai-Movement for Social Change, Jaffna
  24. Women and Media Collective, Colombo
  25. Women’s Action Network
  26. Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management, Eastern Province
  27. Women’s Development Center Badulla
  28. Women’s Resource Centre, Kurunegala
  29. Women’s Education and Research Center, Colombo
  30. A Mathura
  31. Amali Wedagedara
  32. Anuratha Rajaretnam
  33. Arany Shanthiramohan
  34. Dinesha Samararatne
  35. Ermiza Tegal
  36. Hasanah Cegu Isadeen
  37. Hyshyama Hamin
  38. Iromi Perera
  39. Jansila Majeed
  40. J. Jana
  41. Jayanthi Kuru-Uthumpala
  42. K. Hemalatha
  43. K. Sathiyaseelan
  44. K.Mahaluxmy
  45. Kamala Vasuki
  46. M.Nirmaladevi
  47. Ms.Juwairiya Mohidee