Hidden Challenges: Addressing Sexual Bribery in Sri Lanka


With funding from the Multi-Partner Trust fund, the programme “Hidden Challenges: Addressing Sexual Bribery Experienced by Military Widows and War Widows in Sri Lanka to Enable Resilience and Sustained Peace” looked at empowering Female Heads of Households, including military widows and war widows in the districts of Anuradhapura, Kurunegala and Kilinochchi by addressing the high incidence of sexual bribery and exploitation against them, which also acts as a significant barrier to their socio-economic advancement and perpetuates vulnerability and intergenerational conflict.

UN Women believes that by equipping these women with socio-economic skills, they will develop their awareness, knowledge, and the strength to come forward and report or respond to incidences of sexual bribery and sexual exploitation. UN Women’s research has proven that women’s economic empowerment is a direct path to gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. It also supports their leadership capacities and their community engagement.  Driven by this research, the project supported female heads of households through a two-tiered approach of economic empowerment and leadership skills development, with the ultimate objective of promoting these women as agents of peace, while also enabling them to stand up against sexual exploitation, including sexual bribery.

Economic Empowerment of Female Heads of Households including Military and War Widows

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The economic empowerment model focused on a sequence of trainings – including product development, financial literacy, business management, business planning, marketing techniques and use of technology to further develop or upscale their businesses. The trained women entrepreneurs were then supported to develop business plans. The best 180 business plans from all 03 districts were selected through a competitive process and they were provided with in-kind support to set up sustainable and resilient businesses.

Empowering Female Heads of Households including Military and War Widows through Leadership and Peacebuilding

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Similarly, the leadership training model provided these women with the opportunity to speak about their circumstances as single women heading households, through which they were able to come together as a strong collective. The leadership sessions paved way for a conversation regarding another pressing issue on the lack of female representation, not only in decision making, but also in contributing to or engaging in initiatives surrounding peacebuilding and social cohesion.

“UN Women has been encouraged by the resilience shown by these women, and the gradual increase in capacities that they have displayed over the months that we worked with them. We are proud to be a part of this important peacebuilding initiative, which has brought together female heads of households from different regions. Although their lived experiences have been different, this project has provided them with the opportunity to learn from each other and understand that while they have had unique and individual experiences, they have also had similar experiences and that there is much solidarity to be shared”

– Ramaaya Salgado, Country Focal Point and Programme Analyst - UN Women, Sri Lanka.