The Female Pioneers at Colombo Port (Part 2)


In the second instalment of a two-part feature, which began by introducing us to one of Asia’s youngest crane operators, guest author Nilantha Ilangamuwa further explores the lives and work of the extraordinary women working at the Port of Colombo.

Poojani, along with her colleagues Sewwandi, Harshani and Udeshikai (pictured above), represent the present stage of woman’s long journey for freedom. All of them have their own story and experiences to narrate.

Poojani said: “It was challenging at the beginning as many thought women were weak and would not be able to do what men were doing for decades.

“Especially in a place like a port: how could a woman handle skyscraping cranes, they questioned. But we must, first of all, thank the higher officials for making this revolutionary decision to recruit a group of females as crane operators in Colombo Port.”



Sri Lanka Ports Authority took the decision to ensure gender equality in the work place, allowing 25 females to join its training programme. In the end, 10 out of 25 remained. Subsequently, those female crane operators were deployed in the Jaya Container Terminal at the Port of Colombo.

“Our general target is to handle 25 to 30 containers per hour, so we are doing that,” Poojani commented, while levering a container.

As with any other field, the beginning for these women was a mixture of the excitement of winning and the fear of failing. Working as a gantry crane operator, while many others are looking at you, is indeed challenging.  

“I can proudly say we are playing an active part in enriching our country. When we learn that the port has become one of the best ports on Earth, we feel delighted recalling our contribution.”


Read more about Colombo Port: Sri Lanka and China Unite for Port Upgrade


Like many others working in Colombo Port, there is a long journey ahead for women like Poojani and her colleagues. Every drop of sweat from their hard labour is well-preserved, filling the pages of the Colombo Port’s history. 

Harshani, who hails from the Colombo suburb, also describes her experiences as a female crane operator, claiming that what she is doing is beyond her dreams.

“I never dreamt of this job, as it was classified only for men. But, when we were receiving the training, we slowly learned how to break the old myth of impossibilities. We were taught how to break the technical and ideological barriers established in this society.”

She added: “Many gentlemen here trained us, helped us, and immediately corrected us whenever we made mistakes. But in a very short period of time, we as female gantry crane operators proved our capability and efficiency just like other male colleagues. We are safe and we are proud.”


Colombo Harbour, Sri Lanka


Colombo Port, as one of the ancient ports on the earth, has witnessed many historical events. Located in a strategically valuable part of the Asian continent, the port occupies a significant space in the global supply chain.

These female crane operators are writing the new pages of Colombo Port’s rich history, as well as that of the maritime industry in their country.

Joining the discussion, Sewwandi and Udeshika shared their rich experiences of working as gantry crane operators. Both their fathers worked in the Colombo Port, so it is not a new place for them. But they never thought that they would one day be operating this high-rise crane.

Speaking of their occupation’s importance, the two said: “The gantry crane has already become an inevitable part of our life. I believe it is not an exaggeration to say that the home has become secondary to the gantry crane. Our world is here.”



On the wake of celebrating International Women’s Day – which took place on March 8, 2019 – these women are showing the world how to change the traditions for the betterment of mankind. They are involved with the very inception of new technology and innovations.

Ultimately, the world is changed not by those who obey and follow tradition, but those who are thinking differently and act differently with both compassion and discipline.

Their courage, self-belief, commitment, and bravery made it possible for these women to override barriers and become successful. It is indeed demonstrated by every step forward Poojani and her colleagues take.

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