Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, born on April 17, 1916, into a prominent Kandyan aristocratic family of Sinhalese descent in British Ceylon (later known as Sri Lanka), is a figure who left an indelible mark on history. Despite her education in Catholic English-medium schools, she remained firmly connected to her Buddhist faith, symbolizing the cultural and religious diversity of her homeland. Proficient in both Sinhala and English, she possessed the qualities that would define her as a stateswoman and leader.
Before entering the political arena, Sirimavo Bandaranaike was deeply involved in social work, particularly focused on improving the lives of rural Sri Lankan women and girls. Her dedication to these causes laid the foundation for her future political career. Alongside her national commitment, she balanced her life with family responsibilities, marrying Solomon Bandaranaike, a prominent politician, and raising a family.
A turning point in Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s life came with her husband’s tragic assassination in 1959. She inherited his political legacy, becoming the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. In 1960, she shattered the glass ceiling by becoming the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), marking the dawn of women’s leadership on the global stage.
Throughout her illustrious political career, Sirimavo Bandaranaike served as Prime Minister for three terms. Her initial term spanned from 1960 to 1965, and she subsequently held the position twice more, once as the head of state and later under a presidential system from 1994 to 2000. Her enduring popularity among the Sri Lankan people bore witness to her leadership and unwavering commitment to the nation.
Beyond her political achievements, Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s legacy extended to addressing the needs of women and children. She established the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs in Sri Lanka, a groundbreaking initiative reflecting her dedication to improving the lives of vulnerable segments of society.