Remembering Sunila | Sunday Observer

Remembering Sunila

Charlotte Bunch - renowned feminist activist and organizer who together with Sunila and others brought women’s human rights into the mainstream human rights discourse, Founder of the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, USA. Life-long friendships with the South Asian feminists led to many collaborations and cross-border co-creations.
Charlotte Bunch - renowned feminist activist and organizer who together with Sunila and others brought women’s human rights into the mainstream human rights discourse, Founder of the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, USA. Life-long friendships with the South Asian feminists led to many collaborations and cross-border co-creations.

Women and Media Collective celebrated the memory of its founder, Sunila Abeysekera, the renowned activist, colleague and friend. Activists from around the world joined the event to honour Sunila, who embodied the framework of human rights and advocated throughout her life on the inclusion of women into that framework to address specific concerns.


 A section of the audience.

Charlotte Bunch, women’s human rights advocate and founder of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University (CWGL), USA, Nighat Said Khan from Pakistan, Kamala Bhasin from India were among the speakers, along with Sri Lankan activists Sepali Kottegoda and Sarala Emmanuel of Women and Media Collective, who reiterated that though it has been years since Sunila physically departed from us, she is still very much alive in the hearts of those who love her, in the souls of those whom she touched, and where patriarchy is challenged. Often, among friends and colleagues, she is still referred to in the present tense.

Sunila was a fiercely committed activist for Sri Lankan human rights and women’s human rights globally, and, if a Sri Lankan claims not to know Sunila Abeysekera, she wouldn’t have taken offence, one bit. Most of the speakers said, it didn’t matter to Sunila who got the credit for the work as long as the objectives are met. She understood that feminism and human rights were never exclusive for her, and was willing to support whoever and wherever support was needed.

Sunila also contributed to shaping feminist thinking in South Asia, while strengthening the solidarity between different partners fighting the same battle, within Sri Lanka and within the South Asia region. Beyond activism, the panel spoke of their friend Sunila, the comedian in the group who played practical jokes, the listener who would always come up with the best advice, the ally with whom they raised children together, the comrade who would go to any length to fight their corner. Sunila dedicated four decades of her life to activism, and started Sri Lanka’s first independent human rights organization, the Civil Rights Movement with the aim of protecting the rights of young men and women who led the 1971 youth uprising. She was also the founder of Sri Lanka’s Pacific and Asia Women’s Forum, and became the strength of Mother’s Front to stand against the State. Sunila pioneered the global feminist campaign to gain international recognition while working with CWGL (Centre for Women’s Global Leadership) which resulted in the recognition given to women’s rights as human rights at the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, at other UN World Conferences in the 1990s and the Beijing World Conference on Women in 1995. She nurtured and supported countless women and men of all ages around the world, inspiring many to stand up against discrimination, and abuse. Isuri Kaviratne 


Panel of Speakers: Sepali Kottegoda (Sri Lanka), Kamla Bhasin (India), Charlotte Bunch (USA), Roshmi Goswami (India),
Kumudini Samuel (Sri Lanka), Nighat Said Khan (Pakistan), Sarala Emmanuel (Sri Lanka).

 

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