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In Sri Lanka, climate change traps women farmers in ‘exploitative’ cycle of economic violence

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center .

Shiroma Sandamali, 36, used to run when she knew debt collectors were coming. Then she would hide, sometimes inside a house, sometimes in a woody patch of her village.

“Even when I was heavy with my daughter, I used to hide for so many hours. She was born underweight. After the child was born, I could not even peacefully breastfeed her. I was busy avoiding loan collectors or somehow trying to find the money [to pay them back],” she told This Week in Asia.

Loan collectors would resort to aggressive tactics, including refusing to leave the women’s homes until the instalments were paid.

Sandamali said her family kept the front door closed, but some loan officers would walk around the house and come to the back door. One used to peep through the windows to see whether she was at home. Some days, they would sit on a chair in front of her house from 8am to 5pm.

“There were so many times I wanted to take my own life,” Sandamali said.

Sandamali first took a loan of 50,000 Sri Lankan rupees (US$158) in 2010 to support paddy farming and a shop her family owned, but in 2011, heavy rains led to insects and crop damage, shrinking their harvest and income, she said.

So she took another microfinance loan from a different company to finance the next harvesting season. But a severe drought occurred and they could cultivate only half their land with the available reservoir water.

That left them with even less money, she said, and because she still had to pay the existing loans each week, she took yet another loan.

“After a few years, we were trapped in debt,” she said.

“They never explained to us the [terms of the] contract,” Sandamali said. She recalled one financial institution asking them to