Women in Politics in Sri Lanka: the Left Movement – Pulsara Liyanage

Pulsara Liyanage

Dr. Pulsara Liyanage

The lack of female representation in the Sri Lankan legislature has been of great concern for over a decade. This concern has lead to some theorizing and attempts at practical solutions to the problem. Among these has been the suggestion of a reservation for a quota for women in the electoral process in every political party. Women have also been encouraged to apply for candidacy on the electoral lists of political parties they support. These attempts have not met with success. It has been the experience of activists that leaders of political parties at all levels are reluctant to include women in their electoral lists. Unsurprisingly, all leaders at all levels of all the political parties in Sri Lanka today are male. On the other hand, only a very few women have come forward seeking nomination. It is also a fact that very few of the women who gained nomination were elected by the people. In the 21st century Sri Lanka, women’s involvement in politics is in inverse proportion to the awareness and discourse on the need for the inclusion of women and gender-related issues in the political agenda. The present study attempts to explain this paradox.


The several analyses of women in politics have failed to make a critical assessment of women’s involvement in politics in Sri Lanka both in the distant and in the recent past. Such a critical evaluation is necessary and will also be helpful in understanding the issues involved in formulating strategies to solve the problem. It is within the Left Movement that women made their mark in the Sri Lankan political scene. While we admire the pioneering women, it is also necessary to inquire into the factors that curtailed their political activity.


This paper will also discuss the applicability of two widely accepted views: one is about women’s involvement in politics while the other, their reluctance to enter the political field. These views are as follows:

– 1.The women who have come into political prominence are considered to have merely ‘inherited the male mantle of power’.

– 2. The level of violence in present electoral politics is a reason for women opting out of politics.


In an important and path-breaking study on Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World, Kumari Jayawardena says,


Although women in Sri Lanka, particularly the Westernized elite, fought and won the franchise much earlier than women in many other countries, their presence in the political structures has been marginal: representation in the national legislature has never been more than 4% or so, and participation at Local Government levels has also been insignificant. The few women who have successfully contested and made a name for themselves in the political process have generally entered politics as a result of a death of a father or a husband, inheriting, as it were the male’s mantle of power…   (Jayawardena, 1986: 129)


Kumari Jayawardena’s conclusions are correct for the most part and applicable especially to women in electoral politcs. An examination of women’s participation in politics in the early period of the left movement shows a different pattern. Except for Daisy Maria Florence Senanayake who was nominated by the LSSP to contest Kirielle on the early demise of her husband, Reggie, most women engaged in left politics were confident in their own convictions. Even Kusuma Gunawardena, though she came to the legislature when her husband was unseated, her early activism and later political stances show a committed political personality in her own right.


The active participation of Sri Lankan women in the Left Movement can be categorised into five areas of political activity. At the birth of the Sri Lankan Left Movement, in the mid ‘30’s, there were several women at the head of the initial struggles against colonial domination. Since independence they have been involved in mainstream politics, both at the level of the Parliament and Local Government. Women have also been active in radical left organizations some of which developed into armed insurrections. The liberalization of economic policy and the opening of free-trade zones, from the late ‘70’s witnessed greater numbers of women rapidly joining the labour force and their involvement in trade unions and struggles on rights based issues. Finally, presently there are those women who continue to influence the Left Movement and whose left-of-centre views influence liberal organizations including  major political parties through their intellectual and literary writings, their lobbying on ‘women’s issues’ and their activism in social organizations. Most leading personalities of these organizations are from left parties, organizations and  trade unions, where the issues championed and views expressed are progressive.


In the struggle for Independence and in Parliament


The struggle for independence, in the then Ceylon, attracted both local as well as European women. The European women who joined the struggle against colonial rule in the early 1900s were convinced leftists in their own right in their countries of origin. Radicalized in the contemporary political events sweeping Europe, most of these young women had completed university education and were from affluent social backgrounds. Historical records provide the five names of: Doreen Young (Doreen Wickremasinghe), Edith Gyomroi (Edith Ludowyk), Hedi Simon (Hedi Keuneman), Maud Rogerson (Maud Keuneman) and Jeanne Hoban (Jeanne Moonasinghe). They were even briefly as in the marriage of Hedi Simon, married to men from Sri Lanka. Thus their personal relationships for the large part explain their presence in the island. Of these European women only Doreen Wickremasinghe became a Member of Parliament from the Communist Party.


The defiance of convention these women exhibited  is seen in their marriage to Sri Lankan men, and coming to live here. As Kumari Jayawardena observes,


These women had to face the general opposition of both the local and British community and the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie because they were not only transgressing the accepted rules of race, class and gender, but also confronting local social and political structures. They were not merely “political wives” but contributed in their own right to political, social, educational and women’s projects of their time, thereby, raising important issues of nationalism, leftist politics and incipient socialist feminism. (Jayawardena, 1995:245)


This however does not take into account the personal sacrifices which some of them made. For instance Edith Ludowyk was a trained psychoanalyst and was a member of the Hungarian branch of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA). While maintaining her membership in the professional body she was reduced to giving classes in psychology and psychoanalysis to a few young men of the LSSP. Her political work consisted of the women’s section of the LSSP, writing to the Times of Ceylon on behalf of the Eksath Kantha Peramuna in 1947/48 and contributing frequently to the English edition of the LSSP publications where the articles did not even appear in her name. Once the couple settled in England upon her husband’s retirement from the University of Peradeniya, she is reported to have got back in touch with her, long abandoned, profession at the headquarters of the IPA (Jayaratne 2004).


Hedi Keuneman who had been a member of the British Communist Party was in Sri Lanka for only five years. Personal reasons saw her return to Austria (Shanthakumar 2006). Maud Keuneman edited the Communist Party’s weekly English language journal Forward for close upon two decades. Her husband Peter was the General Secretary of the Communist Party at this time. Jeanne Moonasinghe abandoned her studies in International Law at the London School of Economics and gave up her position in the Labour Party to follow her husband to Sri Lanka. She too did not pursue a career in politics. However, while running their own tea estate at Watawala both Jean and Anil were ‘involved in the Lanka Estate Workers’ Union (LEWU) which was quite strong at the time.’ At this time she was a regular speaker at the meetings of the union. She briefly engaged in trade union activity when she worked as a journalist on the Observer and the Jana   magazine. While being a member of the LSSP she preferred to support her husband’s political career within the party. For herself, she had worked variously as a school teacher and a journalist, (Vinod Moonasinghe 2006). Doreen Wickremasinghe seems to have been the sole exception among these ‘white women’ as she started on a political path in electoral politics. Her term in Parliament however was limited to a single stint, from 1952-’56 when she was elected from the Southern town of Akuressa, from the Communist Party, which was in the Opposition, but her voice was effective. She took part in the Budget Debates every year and raised important national issues on education, health and the high rate of infant mortality (75 per 1000 births, Hansard, 1954.1300-4) at the time. Contrary to Kumari Jayawardena’s passage quoted above, Doreen Wickremasinghe seems to have relinquished her ‘mantle of power’ upon the shoulders of her husband, S.A.Wickremasinghe who represented the Akuressa seat thereafter. She ‘retired’ to engage in other activities in the Afro-Asian Solidarity Movement and the peace Council and also assumed the more traditional role of wife and mother. Writing of Doreen Wickremasinghe, Kumari Jayawardene had this to say,


In the 1960’s and the 1970’s she became more involved in numerous activities connected with political work of Dr. S.A.Wickremasinghe as Party Leader and Member of Parliament; she also spent time helping to run the dispensary and small hospital that he had in Matara, where he had a successful practice covering many parts of Southern Sri Lanka. In all those years, Doreen had also devoted time to her children. (Jayawardena, 2006:29)


Much like the European women who were present at the inception of the Left Movement, the more prominent of the Sri Lankan women too were well-educated, from affluent families and mostly westernized. Much like their western sisters, Selina Perera, Vivienne Goonewardena, Florence Senanayaka and Kusuma Gunawardena also transgressed the boundaries of their social class and their cloistered nurturing to venture into the milieu of left politics. These young women were radical and militant in their own right, even though, it were their marriages to the young men who were leaders of the burgeoning left movement that propelled them into mainstream parliamentary politics of the day. The case of Vivienne Goonewardena is a good example (Liyanage 1999).


It is not surprising that many of these young women married like-minded young men of the movement. Selina married N.M.Perera, Vivienne, Leslie Goonewardena and Kusuma, Philip Gunawardena.  These young people thus came together to form the Socialist Movement in Sri Lanka from the Youth Leagues through the Suriyamal Movement and went to form the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. Subsequently many broke-away to the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna and the Communist Party.  It is interesting to note that these political dissensions did not result in rifts in these political couples. One assumes that they went together with political and ideological conviction.


It is that Selina was ideologically the most advanced of this group of women. Her correspondence with Trotsky is proof. One of her main concerns at the time was the possible threat of the spread of Stalinism in Asia. Hector Abhayawardena records that,


Trotsky replied in December 1939, pointing out that there was a danger in raising hypothetical issues. The main task in India was to overthrow British imperialism.(Abhayawardena, 2006:86)


She later divorced  N.M. Perera and continued to live in India. During her long stay in India she taught English to school children to earn a living and engaged in political work. It is interesting to note that in her final years she was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which was ideologically known to be Stalinist (Ajith Samaranayake, The Observer, 22 June, 1989). The political reasons that lead Selina Perera to change her views on Trotskyism have not been recorded.


By 1947 the Sri Lankan left was already split three ways. Irrespective of the differences, the left parties agreed to work together on common issues. Making use of this agreement, the women of the LSSP, the BLP and the CP together with some who were not directly identified with any of the left parties came together to form the Eksath Kantha Peramuna (EKP). This remarkable women’s front heralded a possible autonomous Socialist Feminist Movement. The leading women of this group were Doreen Wickremasinghe, Vivienne Goonewardena, Edith Ludowyk, Vimala Wijewardena, Parameswari Kandiah, Mrs. M.V.P.Peiris, Mrs. Vaikunthavasam, Shirani Jayawardene, Jeanne Pinto, Irangani Meedeniya, Cora Abraham and Helen Gunasekara who served as a secretary of the EKP. The group’s main interests were in working women, their conditions of work and the rights of women workers and in issues related to women such as maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition, conditions of life in the slums, housing for the poor, and conditions of women’s wards in hospitals and such like issues. The group even conducted a campaign for recognition for the employment of women in all branches of public service. Starting with these general issues related to gender, the EKP went on to debate theoretical issues concerning gender. One was the defence of their political stance in contrast with the other women’s organizations in existence at the time, like the Lanka Mahila Samithi. They defined themselves as a socialist organization and went on to assert that they stood for changes in the fundamental structure of society. In 1948 the EKP was debating “What is Socialism?” in the English language press (Times of Ceylon, 21 Feb 1946). The same year also saw the dissolution of the EKP. The reasons for this dissolution are explained as,


In spite of the successful year of activity and expansion of work in 1948, the EKP had to face the problem of deteriorating relations between the left parties themselves and the resulting hostility to the idea of a united women’s organization separate from the parties. By the end of ’48, the dissolution of the EKP was decides upon by the CP and the LSSP, and to the great regret and disappointment of the women of the EKP, its activities ceased. It is remembered however, as an important moment in the history of Sri Lankan feminism. (Jayawardene 2006. 26-27)


According to Kumari Jayawardene the deterioration of relations between the parties of the left was the reason for the dissolution of the EKP. The fact that most of the women were affiliated to or identified with one or the other of the parties which were in conflict seems to have been the reason that they were deemed unable to work on common issues. However, Jayawardena goes on to speak of the ‘resulting hostility’ by the members of the left parties to the idea of a united women’s organization which functioned autonomous of the parties. The leading women of the EKP were also members of the Left parties and the wives of the leaders of those parties. Therefore the dissolution of the EKP seems to have been even easier from the outside since Jayawardena asserts that the decision to do so was that of the CP and the LSSP. She further states that it was ‘an act that caused both regret and disappointment to the members of the EKP.’ However this also points to the fact that at that precise juncture in the evolution of the left movement, the women who were present from its very inception were of the opinion that the dictates of their political parties were more important than the furtherance of an autonomous women’s movement.


The importance of the EKP, its value and its effect was experienced in debates on public policy long after the organization was dissolved and  after its members had gone their divergent ways. The best example is Kusuma Gunawardena who was a Member of Parliament in 1956 from the MEP (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna) in the government of S W R D Bandaranaike. Kusuma Gunawardena had questioned the Minister of Education in Parliament in1948 about that ministry’s refusal to appoint women as headmistresses of government schools (Official Report, Parliament Debates, House of Representatives, vol.4.col.989-10.8.48). In 1956 she urged the state to remove all regulations that prevented women from reaching the position of seniority within the departments they served. The special case she espoused was that of Mrs. Evelyn Fernando which involved the Department of Education. The department had failed to appoint the senior most, Mrs. Evelyn Fernando, to the post of Director of Education on grounds of gender. With Kusuma Gunawardena’s intervention Mrs. Fernando was able to become Sri Lanka’s first woman Director of Education. This was made possible not on the basis of an intervention on behalf of an individual, but by removing all discriminatory regulations in the Public Services Ordinance (Official Report, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives vol.26col.1511-23.8.56). The removal of gender based discriminatory regulations in the public and foreign services was a cause she relentlessly pursued in Parliament and achieved, for the most part. Thus the earlier demands of the EKP were finally fulfilled (See de Mel and Muttetuwegama in Pravada vol.4 no.s. 10 and 11).


Of these women in the early days of the Left Movement, the circumstances illustrated by Kusala Abhayawardana are interesting. She was heir to great wealth as well as to philanthropy, had studied at the London School of Economics and had a nightmare of a marriage behind her. Kusala Abhayawardana’s initial entry into politics was from the United National Party which is identified as a right-of-centre- political party. She contested Bernard Soysa of the LSSP in the Colombo Municipal Council election in 1956. She lost by just 33 votes. In 1965 she was nominated by the same party for the Parliamentary elections for the Moratuwa seat. That too was a narrow defeat. It is not known if these defeats or meeting Hector Abhayawardana of the LSSP and marring him that changed her political convictions: but in 1970 she contested the Borella seat from the LSSP. Her victory at this General Election saw her into Parliament. Kusala Abhayawardana was unique in many ways and remained a philanthropist to the last days of her life.


Theja Gunawardena on the other hand never entered the political fray though she remained a Leftist and a Maoist of conviction and actions throughout her life. Theja Gunawardena was an editor/publisher, a writer and a poetess. Apart from her own writing she also distinguished herself as a friend to all socialists and a true internationalist. She was best known for the left oriented magazine she edited and published, Trine. Trine earned its reputation for the exposes it published. One of the most famous was the expose of corruption in connection with the highest political office at the time. On that occasion Theja Gunwardena as editor and publisher was charged for defamation of the person of the Governor-General, Sir Oliver Gunatillaka. Trine had reported that in 1952 when Oliver Gunatilleka was Minister of Finance he had received a commission while negotiating a loan. Her fearlessness and courage in standing by what she published instead of presenting a legalistic defence by denying responsibility won the admiration of many.


In Trade Unions, Local Bodies and Provincial Councils 


The second tier of women who joined the mainstream Left Movement came from different social and educational backgrounds. Not surprisingly, none of the women of this second tier made it to Parliament. They were active in Trade Unions, and at the level of the Local Bodies and the Provincial Councils.


May Wickremasuriya is a good example of this second tier. May was an educated woman from the middle class who was compelled to seek employment at the age of 18 years to support her family upon the demise of her father. Her journey to the socialist movement was through the Left Book Club and then to the Ceylon Mercantile Union. She went on to work full-time for the trade union as its assistant secretary as early as in 1956. Her experience as a woman in the Trade Union Movement is best explained in her own words;


I was sometimes the only woman in our May-Day demonstrations in the early days… I was the first woman in the general council and Executive Committee…They generally accepted me.. I think I was the first woman to directly negotiate with the Employees’ Federation of Ceylon. [1] (Cat’s Eye, The Island, 23.12.1998)


Her experience of, May-Day demonstrations in the ‘50’s is not an unfair reflection of the proportion of women in the labour force and of the numbers of women who were politically committed. In 1966 she married Bala Tampoe who was the General Secretary of the CMU and a member of the LSSP. The history of the CMU is well documented in the meticulous records kept by May Wickremasuriya: but not of her own contribution therein. She was committed to the CMU. Her greatest strength had been in the negotiation of labour disputes (E.F.G.Amarasinghe 2006.178-9).


Lassie de Silva from the south was, on the other hand, more the proto-type of the second tier of women who were politically active within the Left Movement. As the daughter of a harbour-worker in Galle, she came from a poor village background. Lassie de Silva’s father was a sympathiser of the LSSP and she was active in that party’s political work from the age of 14 years. She was also a member of the All Ceylon Motor Worker’s Union which was affiliated to the LSSP. She was in the first batch of five women recruited by the Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) when Leslie Goonewardena was Minister of Transport. In her career in the Transport Board she suffered much harassment with the change of governments due to her political affiliations and her trade union activism. Within the LSSP she remained an active member of the Party’s trade union in the transport sector and as a member of the party’s Women’s Front.


Sirinawa thi de Silva of Ambalangoda of the LSSP was more politically active at the national level and came from a rural background. Her father, S.A.de Silva, who was a strong supporter of the LSSP in the ‘40’s introduced her to socialism. During the Hartal of 1953 Sirinawathi led the women’s march from Ambalangoda-Balapitiya to the demonstration in Colombo. However her political career was mostly within the Urban Council of Ambalangoda where she was able to become Sri Lanka’s first woman chairperson. She was also a Member of the Southern Provincial Council in 1997. She became a member of the Central Committee of the LSSP and she was also elected the chairperson of the Party’s Women’s Front following the demise of Vivienne Goonewardena. The example of Sirinawathi serves as an excellent lesson to women in politics. For, undoubtedly, it was her interest, involvement, activism and leadership at national level politics that paved for her the way to the Central Committee of the LSSP. Sirinawathi reversed the “male mantle of power” syndrome by paving the political path for her son to succeed her to the seat in the Southern Provincial Council (Kurukularatne, The Island. 25.07.2004).


In Radical/Revolutionary Politics


However the decades of the ‘60’s and the ‘70’s and the ‘80’s saw a different kind of a more radical political mobilization of women in the island. What was remarkable was that the radical politics attracted very young women, in their mid to late teens and twenty’s.  These were the decades that witnessed the emergence of radical ‘left’ groups in the South as well as in the North. While these radical groups, both Sinhala and Tamil, were critical of many of the policies of the Old Left Movement they never made a critique of its policies on the question of gender. The Janatha Vimikthi Peramuna (JVP) of the South was responsible for two armed insurrections. The political organization was lead, on both occasions by a young man who had broken away from the Communist Party (Maoist) of  N.Shanmugathasan. The young women who joined the JVP were mainly from rural areas, like the young male members of the movement. Quite a number of these women were also undergraduates. Several of these women died in the insurrection and others were taken into custody and released later. With so many intelligent young women in its cadre, still, “The Leader, the second in command and the 12 members of the politburo of the JVP were male” (Ales, 1990.33-34). One woman was appointed to the Central Committee in the period between the two uprisings. When she had a baby she was demoted (Liyanage, 1999.127).


The first uprising took place in 1971. All of those in custody were released in 1976. The period from ’83 came the preparations for the second uprising. For the leadership of this otherwise ‘radical and revolutionary’ party, there wasn’t a single woman at the decision-making level while it did not lack female members. This passage records a “demotion” meted out to one woman member of the Central Committee. This indicates that the woman concerned did not request for a period of absence from political work to take care of an infant. This shows that her’s was not a voluntary withdrawal from political activity, but a fall in status which is almost a punitive measure taken by the leadership of this ‘radical’ party. The JVP seems discriminative towards women in politics. Research has revealed that the party in its general organizational structure accepted women only at the district level. Such an organizational structure is maintained though at the local level, especially in the rural areas a number of women are politically active. Meanwhile the party boasts of a separate Women’s Fronts, but the leader of the Women’s Front is reported to be a male (Liyanage1999.127-8). This discriminatory structure of the party shows its fundamentalist character visible in other areas of its political activity as well.


Of the radical groups in Tamil politics, two identified themselves as being Marxist. They were the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front. (EPRLF)  Both had many women cadres and Women’s Fronts but they were not autonomous. Their political educational programmes contained sessions on gender issues for both women and male cadres. There weren’t any women at the highest decision-making levels of these groups. These groups, and their splinter groups (EPDP is a break-away from the EPRLF) are now in the mainstream of politics and remain male domains.


The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was a Tamil nationalist political organization which evolved into an armed organization whose cadres consisted of young persons who joined voluntarily and those abducted, some of whom were children. Among those abducted were also young women. Apart from the abductees, many young women joined the ranks of this armed group. Several of the LTTE’s suicide bombers who were deployed on important targets, like the assassination of Rajive Gandhi and in the attempted assassinations of President Chandrika Kumaranatunge and the former army commander within the premises of the Army Headquarters in Colombo, were women.




All recorded activities of the handful of pioneering women show that they were women of great courage and integrity. However, many, like Doreen Wickremasinghe, withdrew from the political arena because of conventions or burdens of domesticity. Those who took to mainstream electoral politics served their constituencies with care and efficiency and without corruption. However the parties themselves remained enclaves of male dominance. Therefore these women have not been able to generate a voice within their male dominated parties to create a political agenda or a work programme of awareness on ‘women’s issues.’ They have also not been able to lobby for greater female representation at the level of their Central Committees and Politburos. In short, these women have not been able to halt the “ghettoization” of women into ‘women’s fronts’ of their parties. The extent of male dominance within the Left parties can best be seen in the dissolution of the EKP. The docility of the women to their male counterparts is illustrated in the dissolution of the EKP.


While several women of the left did enter Parliament none of them were appointed to the position of Minister. Only Vivienne Goonawardena held the portfolio of a Deputy Minister. From 1964-’65 she was the Deputy Minister for Local Government and Administration. One reason for this situation is that the Left on its own never governed the island. They were always in a coalition with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party which they saw as left-of-centre. Even, their trust in each other did not hold for long when in governanments. Therefore the women who made it to the legislature were visible for only a very brief period. The younger generations of women would hardly see an example of successes in politics. It is not surprising that these great and courageous women have not been a source of inspiration and role models for women of later generations.


The second tier of women in left politics was involved more in activism at the level of local bodies and Provincial Councils. Therefore it also shows a sharp dip in women’s representation in the islands’ highest legislature, especially from the Left. However, the case of Sirinawathi is interesting. This is a good indicator that the Feminist Movement which swept over Europe and the USA in the ‘60’s did not touch the mainstream political movements in Sri Lanka.


The decades of the ‘70’s, ‘80’s and the ‘90’s saw women joining political organizations with radical/revolutionary and even terroristic profiles but not the electoral exercise within mainstream political parties. All  radical uprisings both in the south and the north were armed. The activities of the movements involved much violence too. This fact makes one question the generalization that electoral violence is a reason for women to shun political activity. Furthermore, this feature in the political involvement of young women in recent years is possibly a result of the weakened Left Movement of the country. These women joined armed movements, as late as in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, which were controlled by men and where this male dominance was never questioned. Among these groups, the LTTE stands out as having used women as suicide bombers on their most sensitive and important targets! However, once the radical movements transform into mainstream political parties, women ‘fighters’ are not visible any more. The lack of documented evidence about these women is a profound weakness in our scholarship on women in politics in Sri Lanka.


A notable feature of the last two decades is the establishment of NGO’s concerned with women’s rights and gender issues. But some of these newly formed NGO’s aspire to political roles. They often spotlight ethnic and gender issues. These NGO’s have increased the visibility of women in the public scene. In spite of their efforts to highlight women’s issues, they do not appear to have increased the political involvement of women or drawn more women into the political arena. (de Silva 1999.60-61)


Chandra de Silva’s observation points to where the other half of Sri Lanka’s progressive minded women have gathered in the context of a weakened Left. It was only the Left movement, the LSSP and the CP that paid any attention to gender issues prior to the mid ‘70’s (Liyanage 1999, 105.) The decades which followed have witnessed the progressive weakening of the Left in Sri Lanka. Yet, political and social issues concerning women remain. In fact more has been added in with the thirty years of war. The best witness of these is the NGOs such as Widow’s Society Pandirippu, the Women’s Coalition for Peace, the Association of War Affected Women and  Mothers and Daughters of Lanka. These are more recent organizations directly in line with armed conflict within the country. There also exist other women’s organizations based on research, lobbying and action, such as the Voice of Women, Women and Media Collective, Women’s Education and Research Centre, to name but a few. Thus the progressive minded women of Sri Lanka have formed an alternative forum to the role played by the women of the early socialist movement. As Chandra de Silva observes, this alternative forum too has not succeeded in developing and drawing out women with a progressive outlook into the political arena and from there on to the legislature where issues have to be taken to, to make real changes possible.




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Ales, A.C.- 1977 Insurgency, Colombo Apothecaries Ltd, Colombo, Sri Lanka

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Samaranayake, Ajith –  The Observer, 22nd June 1989




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Pulsara Liyanage is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Western Classical Culture at the University of Kelaniya.


Publoshed with permission from (c) Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue, 2014

Marshal Fernando and B. Skanthakuma (eds.), Pathways of the Left in Sri Lanka, Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue. pp.135-158.