March Reading List on Care Work and Motherhood

Everystory Sri Lanka
6 min readApr 26, 2021

Curated by Devana Senanayake (YFN member and volunteer curator)

Young Feminist Network is hosted by Everystory Sri Lanka. The Network brings together young women and girls in Sri Lanka interested in issues of gender, feminism, and activism together to learn from each other, collaborate on projects, be connected to funding and other opportunities, mentoring opportunities, how to better shape their ideas and work, tools they can use and more. We are an informal network built collectively with the members and their ideas/needs.

This Reading List first appeared in the Young Feminist Network by ESSL newsletter for the Month of March 2021.

This month’s reading list revolves around the theme of care work and motherhood. What does it mean to be a carer, particularly as the movements around reproductive justice have helped us make better choices about our bodies and the trajectory of our lives? How does motherhood shape one’s identity and path in life? What are some paid care roles that are unique to Sri Lanka? Why is there limited infrastructure and resources to support unpaid care work for local mothers? What happens when the act of care becomes political?

Capitalism And Reproduction

Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici is about the history of the development of capitalism in the 16th and 17th century. Federici touches on the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages, the witch-hunts, and the rise of mechanical philosophy to examine the capitalist rationalisation of social reproduction. She notes that the tensions shared by the body and mind are necessary elements for the development of labor-power and self-ownership.

Image Credits: Wikipedia

Motherhood As An Identity

In Motherhood by Sheila Heti, the speaker questions if she should have a child or choose a life of art. This is a conundrum many young women face.

Stepmom is a movie about the tensions shared by a birth-mom and step-mom — fun, sad, and entertaining. The movie is a rollercoaster of emotions and a hit of nostalgia! Netflix’s Tribhanga explores similar themes in India.

Image Credit — Wikipedia Image Credit — Koimoi

Mommy Queerest” is a memoir piece about mother and daughter interpretation of ‘queer’. The speaker’s mother lives a life outside of the norm — an odd, ‘queer’ life. The speaker realises that her identity is outside the norm — she is ‘queer’. Here, a mother paves a ‘queer’ path for her child. Conversely, Blue Nights by Joan Didion is narrated upon the death of her adopted daughter, Quintana Roo. The book simultaneously touches on Quintana’s childhood and Didion’s personal musing over death. The book is repetitive, unstructured and chaotic. It stylistically mimics a mother’s pain over an unaccountable loss.

Image Credit — Amazon co.uk

Mom and Me and Mom by Maya Angelou is an autobiographical take on the complicated relationships mothers and daughters share. Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi is a letter of fifteen suggestions for raising a feminist daughter.

Image Credit — Goodreads Image Credit: Amazon

For fiction reads, What Lies Between Us (available in local bookstores and online via the Perera-Hussein Publishing House) by Nayomi Munaweera explores the dark sides of motherhood, The House of Hidden Mothers (available in local bookstores) by Meera Sayal is a superb read on surrogacy and the commodification of child-bearing and Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda explores motherhood across geographical distances.

Behind Glass is a beautiful portrait series about motherhood during COVID19. The photos are evocative of a darker side of motherhood: claustrophobia, loneliness, and mundanity.

Care Work

Traditional Midwives are formal carers in Sri Lanka’s reproductive healthcare system who play an important role in the country’s impeccable maternal mortality rates. Are Traditional Midwives History? by Dr. Sepali Kottegoda is a report conducted by Women and Media Collective (WMC) from 2004–2005 in three conflict areas across the country. When state-sponsored infrastructure and resources were destabilised in conflict zones, these carers jumped in. Unlike Public Healthcare Midwives (PMC), Traditional Midwives learned their craft through informal methods and in-person instructions. There is an element of ritual in their practice as they pray to the Gods and Goddesses of fertility and use ayurvedic plants and herbs to treat their patients. This groundbreaking report is available in all 3 languages: Sinhala, Tamil, and English.

Sri Lanka’s low labour force participation is partly because of the limited infrastructure inside the country to support care work. Women actively choose to not participate in the workforce or leave the workforce because of the burden of unpaid care work.

Listen to The Darkest Light’s episode: This, Too, Shall Pass to hear a first-person narrative of the burden and complexity of care work. This article by Anarkalee Perera dives deep into the problem in Sri Lanka and the need to recognise, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work. Read this post by the World Bank to understand the opportunities for the corporate sector in Sri Lanka to support women with unpaid care work and increase labour force participation.

Motherhood And Activism

Sri Lanka’s most striking protest movements have been run by mothers, namely the Mothers Front. When the UNP started their counter-insurgency programme in the 1980s against the leftist-JVP, mothers from Sri Lanka’s Southern Coast started the Mother’s Front to look for their sons.

Read Malathi de Alwis’ chapter “Motherhood as a Space of Protest: Women’s Political Participation in Contemporary Sri Lanka” in Women in Peace Politics to learn more about the movement’s revolutionary actions, both in the realm of protest and gender.

Perhaps one of the Mothers Front’s most famous founders is Manorani Savaranamuttu. Savaranamuttu started the Front to look for the body of her disappeared son, journalist, and media personality, Richard de Zoysa. Dr Savaranamuttu also had an exceptional career as a maternity doctor. Read this profile by The Washington Post and listen to this episode from The Darkest Light to learn about her extraordinary character.

After Dr. Saravanamuttu’s death, Mr. Britto Fernando founded a similar movement called: “Families of the Disappeared”. With this movement, mothers in the South supported by politicians like Mahinda Rajapaksha continued their demands for “Truth, Justice, and Relief”, but have received little to no respite.

Image Credits: twitter.com

Like the Mothers Front and Families of the Disappeared, there are similar movements in the North-East. The Northern Mothers Front, formed in 1984 to demand for the release of young Tamil men abducted by Sri Lankan soldiers, have been an important voice in Sri Lanka’s post-War era. Unlike the Southern movements, the North-Eastern movements continue to demand for the disappeared men. Look at this photo-essay by Marco Valle for The Guardian and this essay on RESURJ to understand the movement dive deeper into the movement.

As we attempt to build our Collective through the challenges of a pandemic and remote working whilst remaining true to our feminist values, we find ourselves leaning on the ideas and advice of our feminist peers at FRIDA (who also happen to have given us the seed money to start EverystorySL, and continue to generously and kindly fund us). We hope our little YFN community can offer you the same. Our inbox is always open for any questions, to bounce off ideas, or give you any support you may need.

In solidarity x

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Everystory Sri Lanka

Everystory Sri Lanka (formed in 2018) is a collective of young Sri Lankan feminists identifying as a storytelling collective.