Sri Lanka will need women like Shreen A. Saroor

At one time, the Tamil Tigers controlled upwards of 30% of the island nation of Sri Lanka. Now government forces have encircled their last stronghold, which is an 8 sq. km pocket in the northeast of the country, and it seems that a 25 year war is coming to an end.

The Tigers, comprised mostly of ethnic Tamils, are typically Hindu, making them religiously and linguistically different from the majority Sinhalese, who are typically Buddhist. Caught in the cross fire of this deadly conflict are small communities of Christians and Muslims. In 1990, the Tamil Tigers expelled 75,000 Muslims from territory under their control; one of whom was a woman named Shreen Abdul Saroor.

As both a Tamil and Muslim, Shreen Abdul Saroor began in the 1990s to seek ways to bring these communities back together to enjoy the peace they once knew. Through education and access to credit combined with cross-cultural cooperation, she economically and socially empowers internally displaced women. The initial success of the organization she founded, the Mannar Women’s Development Federation, gave her the confidence to expand her work to include denouncing human rights violations and promoting conflict resolution.

A root cause of the civil war was that ethnic Tamils felt discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese. As the government begins to administrate formerly Tiger controlled territory, it should take note of the work of Ms. Saroor. By working to bring communities back together, she exemplifies what is needed on a national scale. Only when Tamils believe that they have a stake in the national institutions will they stop fighting on behalf of their own. Ms. Saroor’s work, and that of others like her, is vital to any chance at sustainable peace.

Shreen Abdul Saroor was honored in 2004 by the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice’s Women PeaceMakers Program, which documents the stories of women around the world involved in human rights and peacemaking. The Institute is currently accepting applications for the 2009 Women PeaceMakers Program.