Dr. Hema Goonatilake

Sri Lanka

Dr. Hema Goonatilake received her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She has served as a gender expert at the United Nations, New York and Cambodia. She has also served as a Senior Advisor to the Government of Cambodia regarding university education and Buddhist affairs. Her services in Cambodia have earned her the highest honor given to a foreigner, the title of “Sahamitra.”

Dr. Hema Goonatilake has been the main lay advocate for the resurrection of the Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka through newspapers, radio and TV. Her comparative research of Bhikkhuni Vinaya (Rules of Conduct) is widely respected,

as well as, her international research on contemporary Bhikkhuni movements in Mahayana countries. Her translation of the Bh-chu-ni-chang (Biographies of Bhikkhunis) written in China in 520 A.D., clearly identified the link of Theravada Bhikkhunis entering China in ancient history, and thus preserving the Theravada Bhikkhuni lineage. This finding led to an inspirational movement by Sri Lankan women, the ten-precept mothers, such that they began to go forth for higher ordination. Dr. Hema Goonatilake helped the Bhikkhuni movement to grow by personally witnessing the modern-day Theravada Bhikkhuni ordinations in 1996 and 1998 in India. Sri Lankan Bhikkhunis are so empowered nowadays, that the Bhikkhus are very grateful to them for conducting sermons, counseling women and girls, and leading meditation sessions.

In the aftermath of the Tsunami disaster, 23 countries joined in a Buddhist conference and founded the “Red Lotus Organization for Humanitarian Assistance,” similar in nature to the Red Cross or the Red Crescent Societies. Dr. Hema Goonatilake serves as the Honorary Secretary of this humanitarian organization.

In Sri Lanka, she holds many notable positions, including: Honorary Editor of the Royal Asiatic Society, member of the Presidential Steering Committee of the 2600th Commemoration of the Buddha’s enlightenment, founder and editor of the Buddhist Times, the only English language Buddhist paper in Sri Lanka, to mention a few of her posts. She co-founded the Voice of Women in 1975, and founded the Center for Women’s Research (CENWOR) in 1984. She served as the President and Editor of the Social Sciences Association for the Advancement of Science in Sri Lanka, and the National President of the World University Service, as well as, the Secretary of the Sri Lankan Federation of University Women.

Dr. Hema Goonatilake’s international posts include: Vice-President of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women; Founding Board Member of Women for Mutual Security, Athens, Greece; Founding Board Member of Sisterhood is Global Institute, USA / New Zealand; Associate Member of the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press, Washington, D.C.; Founding Member of Worldview International Foundation, Colombo / Oslo; Committee Member of the Research Committee on Sociology of Religion of the international Sociological Association, and Board Member of the International World University Service (Geneva).

Her distinguished teaching posts include: Tokyo Women’s University, University of Toronto, University of Guelph, Canada; Center for the Study of Women and Society, The City University of New York; Peace Research Institute of Oslo, Norway, and currently the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Dr. Hema Goonatilake has carried out commissioned research or worked as a consultant for the following organizations: UNESCO, Paris; ILO, Geneva; UNIDO, Vienna; ESCAP, Bangkok; FAO, Bangkok; United Nations University, Tokyo; United Nations Women’s Development Center for Asia and Pacific, Bangkok; United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), New York; Asian Mass Communication Research and Information Center, Singapore; Asian and Pacific Development Center (APDC), Kuala Lumpur; Institute of World Affairs, Connecticut, USA; Asian and Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development, Kuala Lumpur; Center for Development Studies, Helsinki, Finland; Norwegian Research Council for Social Science and Humanities (NAVF), Oslo; SIDA, Stockholm; SAREC, Stockholm; CIDA, Toronto; IDRC, Toronto; NORAD, Oslo; and NOVIB, Netherlands.

Dr. Hema Goonatilake is a specialist in gender issues, religion and culture in southeast Asia and their connections to Sri Lanka. She has published widely nationally and internationally on gender and Buddhist issues. She delivers lectures in Women’s Studies and Buddhist Studies in universities around the world.