Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World by Kumari Jayawardena – review

Stories leap from the page in this reissue of the Sri Lankan scholar’s classic study of women’s movements in Asia and the Middle East

In the early 1980s the Sri Lankan historian Kumari Jayawardena, travelling by train from Brussels to The Hague, wrote lecture notes for a course on the history of women’s movements. Many lecture notes crumble into dust – but not these. They were published in 1982, and later evolved into the influential work Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World. The book has been republished, as one of Verso’s feminist classics, with a foreword by Rafia Zakaria.

More than three decades after it first came out, the book remains the best introduction to the history of women’s movements in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. It takes us into the lives and ideas of a host of women and ...