Today, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. Women make up over half of the worlds population but remain constrained by archaic traditions, policies and attitudes denying them opportunities to play a larger role in shaping our societies.
Sri Lanka is no different to this narrative, unfortunately. However, there are beacons of hope, not only for other women, but for Sri Lanka as a whole and the world, who inspire each and everyone one of us to achieve greater things. That’s why we at Kantala want to celebrate some of our very own Sri Lankan women who are inspiring and shaping the world.
We are covering a select few of the many Sri Lankan women in science and arts in this blog post whom we hope will inspire you to dream big and realise them.
Hiranya Pieris (Professor of Astrophysics)
Hiranya Pieris, quite simply put, studies the Big Bang. She was an integral member of the 27 strong team of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) which in 2018 won the Breakthrough Prize for Fundamental Physics and an endorsement from world famous physicist Stephen Hawkins who said the team’s work on cosmic inflation as “the most exciting development in physics during his career”. Amongst others, she is the recipient of the Fred Hoyle Medal and Prize of the UK based Institute of Physics in 2018 for “her leading contributions to understanding the origin and evolution of cosmic structure”. [UCL profile]
Dr Vajira Chitrasena (Ballet & Traditional Dancer)
Vajira Chitrasena is an iconic Sri Lankan ballet and traditional dancer. She was the first professional female Kandyan dancer - a leading dance tradition in Sri Lanka. Her many exploits paved the way for generations of women after her to take up traditional dancing professionally in Sri Lanka. Her contribution to traditional dancing was not only limited to Sri Lanka. She was very recently recognised by India with the Padma Shri Award, one of the highest civilian honours in India, for her “pioneering contributions in their individual fields of work and for strengthening India-Sri Lanka ties”. [Chitrasena Dance School]
Minnette de Silva (Modernist Architect)
Minnette de Silva is widely recognised as Sri Lanka’s first modernist architect, bursting on to the scene a decade well ahead of her better known contemporary, Geoffrey Bawa. She was the first Asian woman to become an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In the middle of the 20th century in a male dominated industry, Minnette de Silva rubbed shoulder with the likes of Le Corbusier and Pablo Picasso. She is also widely credited for integrating and promoting the use of traditional crafts in architecture.
Hasini Jayatilaka (Postdoctoral Researcher)
Hasini is credited with leading research which discovered a signalling pathway that controls how cancer cells metastasise through the body and a way to block that pathway. Her research counts amongst the most notable in recent history in the study and treatment of cancer and has formed the basis for new developments in therapeutics targeting tumour growth and metastasis. Hasini featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 - Science 2019 list for her groundbreaking work. She is without doubt an inspiration for young women to achieve greater things in the field of science. [@HasiniJt]
Asha de Vos (Marine Mammal Biologist)
Asha's research has helped to understand the behaviour patterns - mostly unknown or little understood before - of blue whales in the Indian ocean and support their conservation. Along with a team of international researchers, Asha works closely with the Sri Lankan government to reduce accidents between ships and whales. She holds distinction as the first and only Sri Lankan to have a PhD in Marine Mammal research and first Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation from Sri Lanka. Her conservation efforts and research has brought her many international accolades and recognition, including featuring in BBC's 100 Women in 2018. [@ashadevos]
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