The sources referenced here provide some basic familiarity with issues important to the condition of women in Sri Lanka historically and currently. The summaries are designed to be thorough enough to gain a preliminary understanding of the concepts and arguments of the selections with some omission of detailed data.
Bartholomeusz, Tessa. “Mothers of Buddhas, Mothers of Nations: Kumaranatunga and her Meteoric Rise to Power in Sri Lanka.”Feminist Studies vol 35, no. 1, 1999, pp.211-225.http://www.jstor.org/stable/3216684
The CIA World Factbook reports the following 2012 estimates for Sri Lanka’s population:
Ethnicities: Sinhalese 74.9%, Sri Lankan Tamil 11.2%, Sri Lankan Moors 9.2%, Indian Tamil 4.2%, other 0.5% (Indian Tamils are those imported for labor under British colonialism; Sri Lankan Tamils have been in the country since several centuries BCE.)
Religions: Buddhist 70.2%, Hindu 12.6%, Muslim 9.7%, Roman Catholic 6.1%, other Christian 1.3%, other 0.05%
(For absolute numbers and breakdown by province, see http://www.statistics.gov.lk/PopHouSat/CPH2012Visualization/htdocs/index.php?usecase=indicator&action=Data&indId=10).
Ethnicity and religion are closely relatedin Sri Lanka, as most of the dominant ethnicity, i.e. the Sinhala people, are Buddhist, and most of the Tamil people are Hindu. Conflict between these two ethnicities resulted in a civil war that lasted over 25 years, until 2009. Many Sinhala Buddhist monks have been actively involved in politics, mainly as promoters of nationalism and Sinhala-only policies; in 1959, the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Ven. TalduweSomaramaThero famously assassinated the prime minister of Sri Lanka, Solomon Bandaranaike.
This article concerns the interaction of religion, ethnicity, and politics in Sri Lanka, with regard to the election of Sri Lanka’s first female president in 1994.The world’s first female prime minister was Sri Lanka’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who was elected in 1960 and served three six-year terms. In 1994, her daughter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, in a landslide victory, was elected Sri Lanka’s first and so-far only female president and then re-elected for a second term. (It is not clear to me why Bartholomeuszpresents the president’s last name as “Kumaranatunga.”)
Bartholomeusz examines the significance of the election of Sri Lanka’s first female president in “a country with strong and persisting traditions of gender inequality in which the position of women is often conceptualized as less than men” (211).Drawing on her interviews with 29 male and 33 female Sri Lankan Buddhists in 1994, she argues that a crucial factor is the role of Buddhist precepts in the consciousness of Sinhala Sri Lankans. Particularly important is the Buddhist theory of dependent-arising, which is “concerned with relationships and centers moral development around the understanding of responsibility, cooperation, and compassion, all of which in Sri Lanka are considered motherly virtues” (212). Through this connection between dependent-arising and motherliness, the image of the mother and the concept of motherhood are crucial in Buddhist texts and rituals, she finds. “In the Sri Lankan imaginary, the Buddha is the mother of the world, while it is the mother – and not the father – who is the Buddha of the home (213). Bartholomeusz’s informants overtly linked the theory of dependent-arising, intertwined with motherhood, to Sri Lankan political and social issues.
The 1994 election represented a change in Sri Lankan politics. Since Sri Lanka’s independence from England in 1948, a Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalism linking ideas of a Buddhist homeland to Sri Lanka and the Sinhala people hadmarked the socio-political climate, periodically manifesting in violence. Chandrika Kumaratunga was the daughter of a prime minister in thisSinhala chauvinist tradition. However, in her campaign she constructed a public persona that emphasized that she was a mother, and she espoused a political philosophy that emphasized connections among the country’s ethnic groups. Thus, her “political ideology was represented and understood as the embodiment of dependent-arising while her motherhood further instantiated the Buddhist idea” (218), appealing toSri Lankans eager for reconciliation between the ethnic groups. Though coming from a prominent political family contributed to her popularity, her success was also due to this evocation of Buddhist motherhood by which she presented herself as “thoroughly Buddhist but yet not by any means chauvinist” (223).
De Alwis, Malathi. “The Changing Role of Women in Sri Lankan Society.”Social Research vol. 69 ,2002, pp. 675-691.
Sri Lanka was partly or wholly a colony of Portugal, the Netherlands, then Britain from the early 16th century until 1948. Since independence, the transition from colonialism to economic self-sufficiency and prosperity has been hugely hampered by ethnic conflict and further set back by the devastating tsunami of December, 2004.
In this article, published two years before the tsunami and seven years before the end of the civil war, de Alwis argues that the positioning of bourgeois women as the “repositories as well as the signifiers of Ceylonese ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ in the face of the onslaught of colonialism and modernity” (675) has continued into present times. She considers how discourses that construct women as the “reproducers, nurturers, and disseminators of ‘tradition,’ ‘culture,’ ‘community,’ and ‘nation’” (675-6) are instantiated and also resisted with particular reference to two economic phenomena based on women’s labor, then discusses the gendering of violence and the role of women in countering violence in the local context.
First, in the late 1970s the establishment of Free Trade Zones and garment factories within them, drew many women, mainly young, single, and Sinhala, to in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capitol and largest city, from poor families in rural areas, for employment. When the “exploitative terms of employment, hazardous working conditions, [and] sexual harassment these women faced” (676) were publicized by feminist groups, these groups were banned from the areas. A public discourse was initiated that moved the focus from the conduct of the exploiters to that of the women workers, constructing them as naïve village girls who, away from the supervision and stability of their families, turned to loose, wild behavior. Ironically, de Alwis comments, while the bourgeois women under colonialism were said to be endangering tradition by virtue of being educated, the garment factory women are put in danger by their lack of education, which causes them to stray from traditional feminine standards of conduct. While being the primary wage earners for their families and collectively constituting a significant element of the national economy, “they continue to be viewed and treated in a derogatory fashion by all strata of Sri Lankan society” (677).
A second group of women workers both crucial for the support of their families and a major source of foreign exchange in the economy is the very large pool of domestic aide labor exported from Sri Lanka to the Middle East, Singapore, and Hong Kong. While these women, many of them married, with children, and in their thirties or forties, are less often constructed as promiscuous than are the garment factory workers, de Alwis argues that they are perceived as not conforming to the “heterogeneous roles of docile daughter, chaste wife, nurturing mother, or sagacious grandmother” (679), Therefore, although their motivation for leaving home is to allow their family to obtain bourgeois goals such as building a house, they are held responsible for not only anything that happens to them (sexual abuse by employers in the foreign country is not rare) but also unhappy events in their family, such as their husbands’ being unfaithful, drunken, or spendthrift.
De Alwis goes on to consider four kinds of roles Sri Lankan women have assumed in the context of the violence pervasive in Sri Lanka in the two decades preceding the article, which saw anti-Tamil riots and a Sinhala youth uprising, in addition to the ongoing civil war. Two of them,war widows and women warriors, show different aspects of the gendering of violence, while the other two, mourning mothers and anti-war agitators, show aspects of resistance to violence.
The large number of war widows, resulting in a great increase in women-headed households, are subject to a traditional social stigma attached to widows that contributes to their sense of guilt and victimhood, as they also face economic instability and possible physical danger. Since “in a society that has convinced itself that men are the breadwinners and sustainers of their families and women ideally suited to the roles of housewife and mother, women-headed households are perceived as aberrations that must soon be rectified” (681), the status of these women and their families is not a prominent subject in public discourse, compared to garment factory workers and export maids.
The woman warrior role in this era mainly concerns the Tamil combat participants. Much feminist debate centers on the question of how much agency these women have in the context. Other analyses describe the role of the woman warrior in progressive phases. First, the ideal Tamil woman was said to combine the mother and warrior roles; then, women’s liberation was linked to national liberation, so the woman warrior was a resistor of patriarchy as well as Sinhala hegemony; and thirdly, the “martial feminist,” virginal while heroically masculine, was a creation of the LTTE, the Tamil faction that eventually subsumed other Tamil factions in the civil war.
The role that de Alwis calls “mourning mothers” is an instantiation of the “political mobilization of ‘motherhood’ as a counter to violence” (683). Both Sinhala and Tamil mothers formed groups whose names and stances formalized this role, despite complications concerning whose hegemony they were resisting and with what groups they were associating themselves, intentionally or less so. This resistance “received unprecedented popular sympathy and support and [these groups] were constantly valorized by the media” (687).
The role termed “anti-war agitators” entails the role of feminist, since de Alwis describes it as Sri Lankan feminists advocating peace based on the shared suffering of women on both sides of the conflict and promoting unity by practical means such as language classes and goodwill missions. Unlike the resistance of the mourning mothers, the feminist anti-war movement was rejected by the Sinhala press, which constructed these feminists as enemies funded by foreign and Christian organizations.
De Alwis concludes that discussions of the changing roles of women in Sri Lanka have to include consideration of ongoing societal pressures and heteronormative strictures, in the context of ethnonationalism and the civil war. While there is a “small but vibrant feminist movement in the country, it is frequently pushed into a reactive rather than a proactive role” (687). Developments in women’s liberation may have been put off until the end of the civil war.
For further analysis of Sri Lankan export maids and garment workers, see these two sources, see MicheleGamburd’s “Female Migration Labor from Sri Lanka to the Middle East” and Caitrin Lynch’s “Juki Girls” Gender, Globalization, and the Stigma of Garment Factory Work,” both in The Sri Lanka Reader by John Holt (2011).
Perera, Amantha. “War or Peace, Sri Lankan Women Struggle to Survive.”Inter Press Service 10 July 2103 <http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/war-or-peace-sri-lankan-women-struggle-to-survive/>.
The civil war that started in 1983 ended in the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, leaving many war widows on both sides of the conflict and devastation in extensive areas of the north and east, the area held by the LTTE until their defeat. Most, though not all, Tamils in Sri Lanka are Hindus, and the culture associated with Hinduism traditionally places strong expectations and restrictions on the conduct of widows.
Published four years after the end of the war, this brief article provides a concise description of major difficulties faced by women in the formerly LTTE area, focusing on the northern Vanni region. The area has seen general improvements since the war’s end, including significant economic development fueled by the investment of several billion dollars, mostly in infrastructure. However, the benefits are not going to some the neediest residents, i.e. war widows heading households, of whom there are over 40,000. The six fastest-growing sectors, banking, real estate, transport, construction, fisheries, and hotel/restaurants, are all male-dominant, and employers discriminate against women in hiring, particularly with regard to jobs traditionally held by men. Thus, the female unemployment rate was six times higher than the male rate in 2012. Women who attempt to circumvent this problem by starting cottage industries are hampered by a lack of capital, since women are also discriminated against with regard to credit. Women who are able to find work are subject to social criticism, because of the cultural prohibition against widows moving freely in society, related to the “deeply entrenched patriarchal structure” of the society. “Any hint of interacting with non-related males could lead to being ostracised by their communities” according to a researcher quoted in the article. Thus, women trying to support their families whose business causes them to interact with men in the capacity of employer, buyer, etc. are “hit by the double whammy of poverty and social exclusion.”
Samarasinghe, Vidyamali. “The Feminization of Foreign Currency Earnings: Women’s Labor in Sri Lanka.”Journal of Developing Areas vol. 32, 1998, pp.303-325.
See background information on ethnicities in Sri Lanka under Bartholomeusz, above. NandiniRathi provides this explanation of the “Indian Tamil” ethnicity:
“The ‘Indian Tamils’, also called Estate Tamils or Upcountry Tamils, are the descendants of the indentured workers brought by the British to Ceylon from the erstwhile Madras Presidency (present day state of Tamil Nadu) between 1820s and 1930s to work on the central hill plantations of tea, coffee and rubber, frequently under inhuman conditions. By contrast, the Sri Lankan Tamils, also referred to as Eelam Tamils, are said to be the descendants of Tamils of the old Jaffna Kingdom and east coast chieftaincies called Vannamials.” (http://indianexpress.com/article/research/indian-tamils-and-sri-lankan-tamils-here-is-the-difference-4654435/)
Her very brief and informative article also provides an account of the ethnic tensions involving Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka. The tea estates are still staffed by these Tamil people, and many children grow up on in the “line houses” on the estates; see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVT_hxA19WI for a good brief view of typical living conditions. Their pay is still very poor. A 2017 article on Tamil tea pickers by S. D. Menon describing a resistance movement among tea workers indicates that their base pay is530 rupees ($3.54) per day; for 75% attendance over a month, they can receive the “incentivized” rate of 730 rupees ($4.87) a day (https://globalpressjournal.com/asia/sri_lanka/fighting-poverty-sri-lankas-tea-estate-workers-demand-pay-increase/).
This article looks backward from 1998 over the preceding two decades, when, in an attempt to resolve economic problems resulting from the slowing of world trade in the 60s and the oil crisis of the 70s, the country implemented economic measures to enhance the export trade and bring in more foreign currency. While during and after the colonial period women had been crucial in the production of cash crops for export, the main source of foreign currency earnings, the country’s reliance on their labor was only strengthened when the policies of the late 70s caused a shift to industrial exports. Garment and textile exports and foreign remittances from wages earned overseas, particularly from female domestic labor in the Middle East, became the important sources of foreign currency, while among the traditional cash crops, tea remained a major source. Tea picking, a labor-intensive process, is a job exclusively done by women, and the garment and textile factories, along with some other industrial sites, are heavily staffed by women. Thus, women constitute the great majority of the workforce in the three major foreign currency generating activities. (See De Alwis (2004), summary above, for indication that this situation persisted beyond the time of the article.)
However, Samarashinghe finds,the importance of the women’s labor is not commensurated by high income or status. “Women in Sri Lanka labor in the three main economic activities – tea [production], garment manufacture, and foreign domestic service; occupy the bottom rung in the economic hierarchy; and have the lowest wage structure in each of the economic activities” (310). In the tea fields, women pickers work much longer days than men, who do jobs other than picking, for the same pay; their wages are collected by the male head of the household, as are their lump sum payments for maternity leave, and their unions are male-dominated. Women in the garment factories typically earn wages close to the poverty line, although working in the factories requires living in relatively expensive urban areas, and many of them have to pay back part of their wages for room and board, transportation, and clothing. Forming trade unions in the Free Trade Zones, where most of the factories are, is strongly discouraged, and unfair work practices are common, as indicated by the fact that in Chandrika Kumaratunga’s presidential campaign, the Free Trade Zone workers’ rights were a platform issue. Similarly, the Sri Lankan women working as maids in the Middle East are paid the least of all the domestic workers there. Their hours are unregulated, and they commonly work seven days a week for 15-16 hours. Moreover, the agents who recruit them and arrange their contracts often charge high fees, which the women typically have no means of paying in advance, so they leave the country in debt to the employers. If they are abused in service, which is common, they have little redress, since the agent’s interest is in keeping them in service until the debt is paid.
The workers across these categories, Samarasingheshows, exhibit diversity in ethnicity, education, and other characteristics. (See background information on ethnicities in Sri Lanka under Bartholomeusz, above.) The tea pickers are 90% Indian Tamils. They generally start picking tea at about 15 years old and continue until they are 55. The great majority of them are married. The literacy rate among Indian Tamil women was at 52.8% at the time of publication. (Education among Indian Tamils has seen drastic improvement since this article’s publication; Angela Little (2011) article cites a rise to 74.7%; see http://www.statistics.gov.lk/PopHouSat/PDF/Population/p9p10%20Literacy%20rates%20by%20district,%20sex%20and%20sector.pdf). On the other hand, 97% of the garment workers and other female industry workers are Sinhala, generally in their 20s, and 98% of them are single. Along with women in other female-dominated industrial production, they tend to have educational levels higher than their counterparts not employed in the factories. Among migrant domestic workers, 60% are Sinhala, 90% are Muslim (Muslim is both a religion and an ethnicity in Sri Lanka), and 8% are Sri Lankan Tamils. Their age limits are set by individual countries where they work; overall, they are between 18 and 40. The majority are married with two or three children, though at the time of writing there was a growing percentage of single, divorced, and widowed women. Most lack professional training and experience.
While research has suggested that economic revitalization in some developing countries has led to women replacing men in the workforce, Samarasinghe’s analysis suggests that in Sri Lanka what happened instead was that the creation of new industries that employed women caused an increase in the total number of workers. The changes have not led to the gender desegregation of the workforce. They did create new employment opportunities for women, but the unemployment rate for women continues to be much higher than for men. More current research indicates that this finding still holds– see https://www.news.lk/news/item/8696-sri-lanka-s-unemployment-problem-more-acute-in-educated-females.
Differences occur in the purposes to which the workers put their earnings. Tea pickers mainly spend their wages on household staples, while overseas domestic workers tend to use some of their money for house building, home improvement, consumption goods, and investment in income-generating projects. Female workers in the Free Trade Zones, where the garment factories are, make less than foreign domestic workers and are usually not the primary wage earners for their families. However, they are known to live frugally and do help support their families, while also spending money on clothes and saving for dowries, appliances, and other household items.
Samarasinghe concludes by emphasizing that while women workers are the “main actors in the foreign currency earning labor force” (322), they are not effectively represented at decision-making levels of these industries or protected by the government. Thus, “their status in the ‘hierarchy’ of these newly created jobs … is not much different from their status in the tea industry, which dates to an earlier period in history” (322).
Schrijvers, Joke. “Womanhood and the Tamil Refugee.”The Sri Lanka Reader.Edited by John Holt. Duke UP, 2011. 523-541.
The Sri Lankan civil war, from the perspective of theLiberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was a war for independence of the Sri Lankan Tamils; until 2009, the Tigers fought to establish a separate country in the northeast part of Sri Lanka. As Holt points outs in his introduction to this essay from the late 1990s, at the close of the civil war, as the Tamil territory was taken by the government army, several hundred thousand Tamils were displaced, living as refugees in camps under very hard conditions.
Schrijvers examines the way the war can exaggerate the perception of differences between men and women in the context of the Sri Lankan civil war had “created two extreme images of Tamil Women: aggressive women soldiers and suicide bombers in the LTTE [and] pathetic poverty-stricken, dependent war victims in refugee camps” (523). While the refugees were subject to strict cultural and political control, those whom she studied exhibited marked resilience and will to rebuild their lives. The practices and discourses on Tamil women and families enabled by the war included the LTTE propaganda that represented young Tamil women as militant fighters, which was sometimes instantiated in actual practice, and a very conservative discourse about the collapse of family values in a context where the diaspora and other changes lessened the traditional supervision of women by multiple family members.
Schrijvers insists that the Tamil women are active agents even in restrictive circumstances and should not be seen merely as passive, controlled victims. To illustrate their will in exercising initiative, she discusses the range of attitudes among them toward wearing the pottu, the dot worn in the middle of the forehead. Some women chose to wear this visible symbol of their ethnicity as an act of defiance, while others stopped wearing it for security reasons, and various women took complex positions at some point between these two extremes. Such nuanced behaviors instantiate a range of concepts of Tamil womanhood, which Shrijvers classifieds into four gendered discourses : the “traditional” Tamil discourse, in which women are ethnic markers of the community, with the pottu an essential symbol; the nationalist discourse, in which the pottu is the symbol of the Tamil nation the tis in danger of disappearing; the leftist Tamil critique, which argues that women, wearing the pottu or not, must follow the leftist agenda to break down the caste system and create a new kind of Tamilness; and the feminist critique, in which women must make their own choices about the pottu and other matters, defending women’s rights in the new political sphere.
The women easily and flexibly combine and mix the discourses, she finds, and Tamilness and Tamil womanhood are dynamic and evolving. However, the discourses are shaped by urban, middle-class women and have not taken sufficient account of the refugee points of view. Shrijvers identifies five gendered aspects of life in the camps: coping mechanisms, identification with ethnic politics, expression of the need for human dignity, feelings of dependence, and discourse on the collapse of family values. The refugees, while still oppressed by patriarchal views and control and terror from the Sri Lankan army, actively work for their survival and the interests of their families, moving among the Tamil,Woman, and Refugee identities in the spaces opened by the chaotic,changing situation to take control to the extent possible.
Shastri, Amita. “Women in Development and Politics: The Changing Situation in Sri Lanka.”Journal of Developing Societiesvol. 8, 1992, pp. 194-211.
In many aspects, Sri Lanka is recognized as a country where women enjoy a more favorable situation than their counterparts in other South Asian countries. Shastri examines the extent to which and ways in which this perception is valid.
Shastri places her research in the context of previous interpretations of the advantages Sri Lankan women enjoy in comparison to other South Asian and some other developing countries, such as early (1931) amd widely exercised enfranchisement, the world’s first democratically elected female head of state, gender parity in education, late age of marriage, and low fertility rates. Characterizing the nationalist arguments that credit Buddhism and Sinhala culture as insufficient and the liberal social scientist arguments that credit modernization and predict steady future advances as too optimistic, she looks to historical factors and socioeconomic structure to explain the current situation and predict future changes.
Before independence, she argues, Buddhism and local marriage customs did provide relatively more freedom and possibilities for Sri Lankan women, but “at no historic period did they enjoy a truly equal position and status with men” (195), and the lower status of women among the non-Buddhist cultures on the island persisted. (This has remained true since the publication of this article, though the gap has almost certainly narrowed.) Moreover, political power was restricted to upper-class women in very particular circumstances.
Colonialist practices further limited even this minimal exercise of political power. Their effect on the economic welfare of women interacted with living conditions and social class. In the 19th and 20th centuries, some urban middle-class women were able to take advantage of new educational opportunities and become skilled labor, while decreasing economic security among the rural working class necessitated many women’s and girls’ becoming unskilled labor in agriculture and factories. At the same time, women began to get more involved in politics, at first informally and then eventually by forming and joining organizations. Again, class was a relevant factor; in contrast to movements such as that of the British suffragettes, which were allied with the middle and lower class working women, the early organizations of politically-minded women in Sri Lanka were from the emerging professional and middle-class women. In fact, Shastri argues, female enfranchisement nor the other key action with regard to women in the pre-independence period, i.e. the establishment of extensive social welfare programs, resulted from women’s political agitation. Rather, universal suffrage was urged on by the colonial authorities, who argued it to be necessary for balanced government, and the welfare programs were the projects of “a paternalistic upper-class leadership” (198) in the booming economy between and after the world wars.
These welfare measures brought drastic gains in the health and education levels of women and ultimately to a rise in the marriage age and a drop in the number of children per woman. However, somewhat gender-specific education practices and cultural yielded a persistent gender-segregation in the workplace, with higher-paying areas such as technical studies dominated by males, while most working women were in labor-intensive, low-income jobs, many in gray areas where labor laws did not apply. When economic growth slowed and unemployment grew in the second half of the century, women experienced more loss of employment and less benefit from relief schemes than men did. Shastri attributes these practices to the traditional patriarchal view that women are not important in the workforce but rather are responsible for maintaining smooth and stable home, more accommodating and docile than men, less capable and aggressive; therefore the women were undervalued in the workplace and restricted in political and public life.
After independence, women’s political activity also continued to be limited. Ethnicity was important in this regard, as Indian Tamils, including women, were disenfranchised for several decades in the mid-20th century. While the large number of women who were able to vote and did so caused the political parties to attend to their interests, government and trade union positions were heavily dominated by men. The prominence of a few upper-class women in positions of political leadership created an international impression of women’s activity level in politics not substantiated by proportions of women in political positions. Moreover, the highly-placed women in government attained the position as “male equivalences,” e.g. Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first woman prime minister as the successor to her husband when he was assassinated, and they are expected to continue the policies of their male family members.
The economic policies of the late 1970s, emphasizing foreign capital and trade, Shastri sees as dangerous to women’s progress, with the civil war of the time worsening the situation. As discussed by De Alwis and Samarasinghe (summarized above), women have increasingly become a source of cheap labor, particularly in manufacturing and as domestics overseas, both situations in which labor rights are curtailed de jure and de facto. At the same time, unemployment remains much higher among women than men, which Shastri believes is discouraging young women from seeking education. Further, married women who do find employment in the worsening economic situation tend to still bear all the responsibility for maintaining the household, since constructions of male privilege have not evolved to yield a more equitable division of labor. Meanwhile, the prevalent violence in the warring nation has led women to organize not as political units but mostly in civil action, as feminists and human rights activists, often in issue-specific groups. Shastri at this time was not hopeful for imminent improvement in women’s situation in Sri Lanka.
Watkins, Alexandra. Problematic Identities in Women’s Fiction of the Sri Lankan Diaspora.Brill/Rodopi, 2015.
The Sri Lankan diaspora refers to the phenomenon of several million Sri Lankans’ living overseas. The vast majority of them are Sri Lankan Tamils who emigrated to escape the dire conditions brought on by the war; Michael Oondatje is probably the most famous writer of the Tamil diaspora. However, the number also includes some Sinhala in search of economic opportunities.
Watkins examines nine novels written by women diaspora authors, published between 1991 and 2008, that present varied aspects of women’s identity involving the diaspora experience and other facets of Sri Lankan culture and experience, such as colonialization and the colonial legacy, the violent ethnic conflict, nationalism, and cultural conceptions of marriage and family. Of particular interest is the chapter called “In Fear of Monsters: Women’s Identities and the Cult of Domesticity in British Ceylon,” which explains the construct of colonial domesticity by comparing a work of Michelle de Kretser with one of Yasmine Gooneratne. Her insightful and readable analysis can enhance the reading of any of the books she analyzes but is also highly accessible to readers who have not read the novels.