“So how many women cartoonists are working in our newspapers?”
My daughter Dhara, 13, asked me this simple question earlier this month when I was involved in judging Sri Lanka’s first contest of cartoons on climate change, organised by the British Council and the Ken Sprague Fund of UK.
I tried to come up with an answer, and couldn’t think of a single woman cartoonist who works for a print or online media outlet in Sri Lanka. That, despite my long association with the media and also being a great admirer (and collector) of good cartoons.
Later that day, at the awards ceremony for winning and commended climate cartoonists, I posed the same question to leading Lankan cartoonists Wasantha Siriwardena, Winnie Hettigoda and Dharshana Karunatilleke. They too couldn’t name one immediately; later, a single name was mentioned but it’s not one I recognised.
Clearly, cartooning is still a very male dominated profession — but that might soon change, going by the active participation of young women in the climate change cartoon contest.In fact, the first and third prize winners were both women — respectively Shamanthi Rajasingham and W M D Nishani. They beat close to 200 other contestants to get there.
Additionally, there were 6 women among the 22 commended cartoonists, and one woman among those 11 who were highly commended — judged on four criteria. See all winning and commended entries.Okay, the four judges were all male (among us, two professional cartoonists). But during this entire judging process, the identity of artists was withheld and we only knew each entry by a number. In fact, we discovered the names (and gender) of artists only at the awards ceremony.
This would be encouraging news to Dhara and all other aspiring young girls and women who want to pursue careers in media. Let’s hope at least some of the women contestants in the climate cartoons contest would end up being more than just hobby cartoonists…
Meanwhile, it’s not just Sri Lanka that has a shortage of women engaged in cartooning, and awareness of their contribution is lacking. A quick Google search brought up a book titled “The Great Women Cartoonists” by Trina Robbins (Watson-Guptill Publications, 2001). Reviewing it in TIME, Andrew D Arnold wrote: “Name three women cartoonists who worked from 1900 to 1950. Okay, just name one. Couldn’t do it? Neither could I until reading a new, invaluable book…”