A Continuum of Participation: Rethinking Tamil Women’s Political Participation and Agency in Post-War Sri Lanka

Citation:

Koens, Celeste, and Samanthi J. Gunawardana. 2021. “A Continuum of Participation: Rethinking Tamil Women’s Political Participation and Agency in Post-War Sri Lanka.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 23 (3): 463–84.

Authors: Celeste Koens, Samanthi J. Gunawardana

Abstract:

In post-war contexts, attention is given to women’s participation and barriers to their participation in formal processes (for example, peace talks, economic initiatives, and elections). Yet, women have engaged in various activities to exercise collective and individual agency to impact political participation. This article examines how Tamil women’s political participation in post-war Sri Lanka exists along a continuum, from formal participation within state structures and party politics to informal community participation. Scholarship about Tamil women’s political participation is framed within discourses of “militants,” “ex-combatants,” “political mothers,” or “victims.” Using narrative interviews, we argue that – based on their awareness of unequal gendered power relations, structures, and norms impacting their lives in post-war Sri Lanka – Tamil women in Mannar exercise agency to challenge these constraints and promote a broader transformative political arena. Some women attempt to expand the agency of others and to promote a collective voice through which women can be better represented in politics. Drawing on feminist international relations and gender and development knowledge, this study demonstrates how political agency is constituted within informal arenas, disrupting masculinist assumptions about who is considered a political actor and what counts as political agency by examining the spectrum of political participation in post-war contexts.

Keywords: political participation, Sri Lanka, post-war, gender, Tamil women

Topics: Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Political Participation, Post-Conflict Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: Sri Lanka

Year: 2021

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