Kumari Jayawardena

Kumari Jayawardena is a leading feminist scholar, active in the women’s and men’s civil rights movements in Sri Lanka. A graduate of the London School of Economics and Sciences Po in Paris, she taught in the Political Science and Women’s Studies programs at Colombo University.


  • A History of Struggle: Feminism and Nationalism in the 21st Century

    Dalia Gebrial responds to a history of women's movements to ask how a transnational feminist politics of solidarity can change and embolden our vision of the world. 

    The question of transnational solidarity has progressively faded away from the realm of feminist conversation. The idea of intersectionality – a powerful descriptor of how seemingly circumscribed systems of oppression operate through and alongside one other – has been reduced to representative diversity politics: a coalition of limited but energy-consuming practices of privilege-checking and callouts; a seemingly immovable emphasis on bodies and checklists as the prime marker of Good Praxis. Solidarity has been supplanted in favour of ‘allyship’ and ‘standing aside’. Creating spaces of self-determination has been neutralised into creating spaces of safety. Only the personal can be political.

    Rani of Jhansi Women's Regiment of the Indian National Army, training, early–mid 1940s. via End of Empire

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  • Feminist Rebels in the Global South

    Kumari Jayawardena's Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World is a comprehensive introduction to waves of feminist protest and revolt, and how they fell in line with the rise of nationalism in the nineteenth and through into the twentieth century, across the Middle East and Asia.

    Below we have selected some of the significant women Jayawardena tells us about; women who carved out their own place during tumultuous times of change and reaction, fighting for the opportunity to express themselves through action and writing.

    The world's first female leader of a country, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, appointed in 1960

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  • Saving Solidarity: Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World

    Kumari Jayawardena's Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World, out this week in a new edition in Verso's Feminist Classics series, is a landmark survey of nineteenth and twentieth century anti-colonial women's movements in Asia and the Middle East. 

    Below, we present the Foreword to the new edition by Rafia Zakaria, attorney, a political philosopher and the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan.”

    All the books in our Feminist Classics series are 40% off until October 2nd. Click here to activate your discount.

    Rani of Jhansi Women's Regiment of the Indian National Army, training, early–mid 1940s. via End of Empire.   

    The present de-colonial moment is not a hopeful one for feminist solidarity; the coming together of women from distant parts and portions of the world to claim in some unison the centrality of feminist identity seems an unlikely if not discarded project. The vagaries of power and privilege borne of colonialism have imposed disparate fates on the female; and as the dissection of these varied fortunes proceeds, the inequities unearthed, the injustices revealed have pushed dialogue into a realm rife with complication and recrimination. The replication of old colonial patterns in neo-imperial ventures such as the American foray into Afghanistan and Iraq, the former explicitly predicated on the ‘liberation’ of Afghan women, have further muddied the waters. US feminist groups such Feminist Majority have championed these allocations, ignoring their inherent attachment to bombings and raids. All of it recalls colonial patterns; and all of it has led to misgivings and an ever-expanding chasm between female activists, and questions about the possibility of solidarity.

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