Cayathri Divakalala

Country of Origin:
Sri Lanka

WLS Award:


Graduate Program: Master’s program in Women, Gender and Development at the Institute for Social Studies, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Background & Goals: Cayathri Divakalala has worked on development, conflict and humanitarian relief issues with a gender lens. Divakalala has been involved in a number of projects such as; working with the Suriya Women’s Development Centre in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka on programmatic capacity issues; serving on the Editorial Board of “Sol,” a Tamil periodical on women’s issues published by the Women and Media Collective; and conducting longitudinal case studies focusing on the survival of women in poor Sri Lankan communities for Oxfam Australia.   She also has served as an Affiliated Research Fellow for the Social Policy Analysis and Research Center at the University of Colombo. After her studies, she wished to return to Sri Lanka and contribute to existing gender frameworks in humanitarian assistance, to strengthen research on women and development in Sri Lanka, and to make existing postgraduate programs in gender and development accessible to local communities throughout Sri Lanka.

Post-Degree Projects: Cayathri Divakalala completed her master’s degree in December 2008 and wrote her thesis on “Contested Notions of Wellbeing: Peoples’ and Donors’ Perceptions in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.”  She then went back to Sri Lanka and worked with internally displaced people in the North for several years.  It was one of the crucial times in the three-decades-long history of war in Sri Lanka.  Divakalala worked with several communities that were relocating and rebuilding their lives in the context of post-war Sri Lanka.  Following that, with the desire to continue her academic pursuits, Divakalala did a Post-graduate Diploma in Social and Political Thought at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney. Since February 2020, she has been a doctoral candidate at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Divakilala wrote, “I have worked with broad objectives of challenging patriarchal norms and structures and ensuring women’s rights through various means. These include influencing legal and policy making processes, building networks among women’s and human rights organisations to produce resources on issues in question and to initiate discussion on these subjects. I have also worked on rights of marginalised groups on the basis of ethnicity, language, religion, class, caste, and sexual orientations. What I have learned in the journey towards positive social change is that adversities do not just victimise people. It also makes them strong enough to practice their agency in forms of negotiations, adjustments and transformations. My doctoral research will be one that consciously deals with such concerns from a feminist perspective.”

“It is my lived experience in relation to many other researchers/activists/concerned individuals that has led to the conceptualisation of my doctoral thesis that hopes to turn the focus on the lives and voices of marginalised groups within social movements in Sri Lanka. I will use this perspective to evolve a nuanced understanding of social movements and activism in post-war Sri Lanka while pushing the meanings of ‘feminism’, ‘women’s rights’, ‘development’ and ‘civil society’. I also hope to contribute to writing the relatively less documented history of Sri Lanka in general and more specifically the ‘post-war situation’ while making a theoretical intervention in feminist understandings of social movements at large, its strengths, limitations, contours and textures.”