Kumari Jayawardena (born 1931) is a leading feminist figure and academic in Sri Lanka. Her work is part of the canon of third-world feminism which conceptualizes feminist philosophies that are indigenous and unique to non-Western societies and nations rather than mere off-shoots of Western feminism.
Jayawardena is the author of several books, including Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World, for which she was selected for the Feminist Fortnight award in Britain in 1986 and was cited by Ms. Magazine in 1992 as writing one of the “20 most important books of the feminist decades” (1970–1990). This text is widely used in Women’s Studies programs around the world.
In Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World, Jayawardena reconstructs the history of women’s rights movements in Asia and the Middle East from the 19th century to the 1980s, focusing on Egypt, Turkey, Iran, India, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Korea and the Philippines. Her research states that feminism was not a foreign ideology imposed on Third World countries, but instead, developed on its own in Asia and the Middle East as women struggled for equal rights and against the subordination of women in the home and in society in general.
Academic backgroundJayawardena was born and had her secondary education in Sri Lanka and later decided to enter the London School of Economics in 1952. She graduated with a degree in political science in 1955 and then qualified as a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn, London in 1958. She also obtained the Certificat d’Etudes Politiques from Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris in Paris (best known as Sciences Po) in 1956. In 1964 she received a Ph.D. for a thesis on the labour movement in Ceylon, from the London School of Economics.
Jayawardena taught Political Science at the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka from 1969 to 1985, when she retired as Associate Professor. She also taught in the Women and Development Masters Course at the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague, Netherlands from 1980 to 1982, and was an Affiliated Fellow of the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College from 1987 to 1988. She currently teaches in the Masters Programme in Women’s Studies at the Colombo University and is a Senior Fellow of the university’s Graduate Studies Institute.
Jayawardena’s books and articles have been translated into Sinhala and Tamil. She plays an active role in women’s research organizations and civil rights movements in Sri Lanka, and is presently the Secretary of the Social Scientists’ Association, a group of concerned scholars working on ethnic, gender, caste and other issues