Kumudini Samuel is the founder of Women and Media Collective, a women’s group working for the inclusion of women concerns in peace process and the change of attitudes towards gender issues. We begin our conversation over Kumudini’s interesting naming of her son, leading to larger questions over discrimination and negotiation of identity, race and ethnicity in Sri Lanka.
Kumudini also talks about her work as a peace activist during the years of war from the 80’s, and about her time as a member of the Sub Committee on Gender Issues during the ceasefire agreement in 2003, negotiating with at the time high-level female cadre from the LTTE. I asked her why in 2003 she thought it fit to sit down with the killers of Sarojini Yogeswaran. As noted in this article, Sarojini, who was shot dead at her home, had refused military security in her belief that the political culture of Jaffna should, and could, be changed by a civil administration practising non-violent democratic politics. Where was the well-spring of hope, I asked Kumudini, that the LTTE had changed its character at the time of the ceasefire agreement.
We also talked about the prevalence of Gender Based Violence in post-war Sri Lanka, particularly in the North and East. I asked her whether after setting up the Women and Media Collective in the 80’s, she saw any positive change over attitudes towards gender and the representation of women in politics in Sri Lanka. As Kumudini noted, “The biggest problem today is that political parties are very reluctant to give women nominations”.
We end our conversation critiquing the mainstream media, and the challenge of using it to champion and raise awareness on issues related to gender and women.