Friday, June 5, 2020 02:23:53 PM

Women’s Participation at the Grassroots Level

By Daisy Perry - Mon Jun 11, 8:35 am

Featured image by Raisa Wickrematunge

Drawing on the idea that the personal is political and challenging the notion that political empowerment can be measured solely with a seat in a legislature, this article focuses on the forms in which women who are not involved in formal politics or civil society activism, participate politically. It will examine how the family and motherhood, often central to women’s lives, define part of their informal participation; how patriarchy is negotiated through economic empowerment and female solidarity; and will explore the connection between informal politics at a grassroots level and formal politics at a state level. The three women interviewed live in different areas of Colombo, come from differing age groups and a range of ethnic and religious backgrounds. Fathima Mohideen works as a domestic helper and carries out social work in her community by distributing clothes and food donated by the families she works for; Sriyani Wijenayake  has run her own gardening business since 1998; and Mangalika Rajasingha works as a domestic helper, as well as teaching children and advising women in her housing complex.

The family and community as a defining site of women’s participation

While ‘feminism’ may not be a word that is commonly used at a grassroots level in Sri Lanka, a form of maternal feminism exists, which sees women striving for greater economic empowerment, often as part of prioritising their role as a mother. The complexity of the nexus between self, family and women’s empowerment is captured in this extract by Vina Mazumdar, the well-known Indian feminist activist:

“My experience tells me that South Asian women would not accept an identity that focuses on the individual….

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