“The development and the rise of the women’s military wing of the LTTE is one of the greatest accomplishments of our movement…It marks a revolutionary turning point in the history of the liberation struggle of the women of Tamil Eelam.” – V.Prabhakaran
While remembering the contributions and achievements of Women, take a moment to celebrate Tamil women and their prominent role with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE had strict provisions against domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape. Punishing and imprisoning offenders while providing victims with refuge, counselling and legal protection.
In 1983, the LTTE Women’s Front of the Liberation Tigers was formed, making the women’s liberation movement an integral part of the greater Tamil Struggle. The Women’s Front recognized the needs of Tamil Women in the North-East. They worked to abolish oppressive caste discriminations and customs like dowry while eliminating all forms of oppression and discrimination against Tamil women. The LTTE women’s political wing ran the Centre for Women’s Development and Rehabilitation (CWDR) which organized campaigns against gender discrimination and encouraged women to be independent. The CWDR also conducted skill-based training programs for women.
LTTE institutions had 50 percent female representation. Such as the police force, judicial system, healthcare system, welfare, banking developments and media. Some of these institutions were solely run by women. Having female representation and female run services encouraged agency and independence among the women living in the North East of the island. It allowed Tamil women to break taboos and challenge traditional gender stereotypes by carrying out political and military operations on an equal footing with men while addressing social issues and advocating for gender equality. The LTTE run De Facto state gave women the opportunity to discuss domestic violence and gender-based discrimination in public, something that was considered prohibited and not a common occurrence on the rest of the island.
“I arrived in Vanni hoping for a more liberated enlightened womenfolk, both members and civilians but failed to find it. Gradually I realized that my disappointment was the result of looking for signs of women’s liberation through the glasses of Western feminist ideologies.” (N. Malathy, Fleeting Moment in my Country, pg. 106)
The LTTE was extremely successful by ensuring that liberation was not just a conversation about gender but about their class and status in society. National Liberation, caste discrimination, oppression and gender issues were intertwined with liberation and LTTE policies. The LTTE’s policies and de facto state embodied anti-imperialism. To marry liberation with true emancipation is something no nation has been able to achieve.
Celebrations and recognition are now co-opted by corporations and identity politics that dilute true emancipation. Practises around caste and patriarchy have been ingrained in our society spanning over hundreds of years. Eradication of these practices will take time, constant revolutionary changes and collective action.