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Critical costs: Negotiating feminism 'at home'

Malathi de ALWIS

  This paper seeks to illuminate some of the discrepancies and contradictions that constitute certain debates about ”„Westernization”¦ by analyzing how ”„feminism”¦ is situated and negotiated in post-colonial Sri Lanka. One of the greatest strengths of both the left and feminist movements, I would argue, is their internationalism and their sustenance upon ideologies that have arisen out of political struggles. The celebration of May Day on May 1st and International Women's Day on March 8th are two such occasions that exemplify this internationally-shared history of struggle. This internationalism has enabled both movements to form alliances, share ideas and experiences and participate in struggles that transcend national borders and boundaries. While their primary categories of analysis such as 'woman' or 'worker' may form the bedrock of internationally-shared ideologies, it has not precluded different movements in different parts of the world or even in different parts of one neighbourhood from interpreting, problematising and mobilising these categories differently. Some of these moves could be read under the sign of 'indigenisation' and/or the 'invention of tradition' --the incorporation of new practices into already familiar ones, the labelling of new practices as actually being part of ancient traditions, the search for native practitioners in local histories etc. These innovations, of course, are commonly pursued by all movements, be they progressive or conservative, international or national. In Sri Lanka, the practices of the Christian Workers' Party is a particularly apt example. This party is involved in a double indegenisation; it mobilises idioms of 'nativity' to translate Marxist interpretations of a missionary-introduced religion --Christianity.

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Author”¦s biography

Malathi de ALWIS is Senior Research Fellow, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo & Visiting Associate Professor of Anthropology, New School University, NY. She is the Co-author, with Kumari Jayawardena, of Casting Pearls:

The Women's Franchise Movement in Sri Lanka (Colombo: Social Scientists' Association, 2001), Editor of Cat's Eye: A Feminist Gaze on Current Issues (Colombo: Social Scientists' Association, 2000) and Co-editor, with Kumari Jayawardena, of Embodied Violence: Communalising Women's Sexuality in South Asia (Delhi: Kali for Women/London: Zed Press, 1996).