Sunila Abeysekera

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Sunila Abeysekera (1952 – September 9, 2013) was a Sri Lankan award-winning human rights campaigner. She worked on women's rights and human rights issues in Sri Lanka and in the South Asia region for over 20 years as an activist and scholar. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented Abeysekera with a United Nations Human Rights Award in 1999, she was also honoured for her work by Human Rights Watch.[1]

Since 1992 Abeysekera worked with the Global Campaign for Women's Human Rights and was active in lobbying at all the UN Conferences since then – 1993 in Vienna and 1995 in Beijing –focusing on the issue of mainstreaming women's human rights concerns within the international human rights system. Abeysekera died in Sri Lanka on September 9, 2013.[2]

Early life[edit]

Born on 4 September 1952 in Sri Lanka, Sunila belonged to a politically liberal family,[3] she got involved in politics in 1970's as a member of the Civil Rights Movement.


In 1994 Abeysekera received an M.A. in Women and Development from the International Institute of Social Studies in the Hague, Netherlands, and won that year's award for the best research paper.

The major themes of Sunila Abeysekera's work include issues of equality and non-discrimination in understanding women's human rights and in promoting equal treatment for women; problems of re-conceptualising the nation-state and principles of good governance from a feminist perspective; problems of representation of women in art and culture; and feminist film criticism.

In Sri Lanka, Abeysekera founded the Women and Media Collective, which does national level organising on women's issues, with a special focus on the themes of State and Politics; Gender Identities and Sexuality; and Media;[4] the political participation of women and ending violence against women were two key areas of her work. She also worked with cultural workers and cultural groups to develop and create new ways of expressing themselves through the media and the arts, including work on critical cultural theory.

In 2002, Sunila joined the feminist International Initiative on Justice in Gujarat, India, where she worked alongside Indian feminists, for Muslim women who were victims during the 2002 Gujarat riots,[5] she played an important role in ensuring that women's needs were addressed in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Sunila also served as Chair of the Board of Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights.[6]

She was also involved in film songs composed by Maestro Premasiri Khemadasa "Hemin Sare Piya Wida" and "Udumbara"

Selected works[edit]

"Women and the Media in Sri Lanka: The Decade from Nairobi to Beijing," in Facets of Change. (Sri Lanka: CENWOR, 1995). CENWOR - Centre for Women's Research

"Women's Human Rights: Questions of Equality and Difference," (MA Thesis) (The Hague: Institute of Social Studies, 1994).

"Women and sexuality : the city and the village ; Sri Lanka". In: Cinemaya : the Asian film quarterly. 1996, Nr. 32 (Spring, April/June), pp. 8–13

"Organising for Peace in the Midst of War: Experiences of Women in Sri Lanka," in From Basic Needs to Basic Rights. Ed. M. Schuler. (Washington DC: Women, Law and Development International, 1995).

"The Abortion Debate in Sri Lanka," in Reproductive Health Matters. (London: 1995).

"Consolidating Our Gains at the World Conference on Women's Human Rights: A Personal Reflection." Canadian Women's Studies Journal 15 (Spring-Summer 1995).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Youth 'disappear' from IDP camps
  2. ^ .Sunila passes away
  3. ^ Fox, Margalit. "Sunila Abeysekera, Sri Lankan Human Rights Activist, Dies at 61". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  4. ^ "About Us". Women & Media Collective. 2012-01-26. Retrieved 2017-09-08.
  5. ^ Dugan, Samantha. "Sunila Abeysekera Biography". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  6. ^ Dugan, Samantha. "Sunila Abeysekera Biography". Retrieved 2018-09-28.

External links[edit]