By Anju Ambawatte
A recently released World Bank report on female labour in Sri Lanka said, Sri Lanka has the 14th largest gender gap in labour force participation globally and the situation is getting worse by the day.
The report titled ‘Getting to Work: Unlocking Women’s Potential in Sri Lanka’s Labour Force’ also noted that young women have the highest unemployment rate in Sri Lanka—29 percent for the 15-24 age group in 2016—and the gender gap in youth unemployment has widened since the end of the civil war.
According to Chandrani Senaratna, Secretary to the Women & Child Affairs Ministry, only 30 percent of women in the country are engaged in the labour force and if Sri Lanka is to move from a middle-level-income to an upper-level-income nation, a substantial increase in women participation in the country’s labour force is important.
“Due to the seriousness of this issue, Prime Minister’s Office has appointed a Task Force to explore issues and develop sustainable solutions to increase female labour force participation in the country,” she said.
“Sri Lanka is committed towards achieving gender parity or equality in all sectors but for this to happen women’s participation, not only in the labour force but also in the political sphere must be increased”, she stressed.
Senaratna emphasized on the steps taken by her ministry from district to divisional level to increase female labour force by introducing economic empowerment initiatives such as micro-financing programmes for those who promote sustainable agriculture, implementing revolving credit schemes and linking the rural women with primary industries.
Presenting the report, Wold Bank Senior Operations Officer for Sri Lanka and Maldives, Valerie Layrol highlighted the aims and objectives of the World Bank in assisting countries in the South Asian region to unleash women’s potential in their respective labour forces.
“The World Bank global gender strategy in its action plan for South Asia, emphasizes the importance of gender equality for achieving all institutional goals by reducing extreme poverty by the year 2030,” said Layrol and added that in order to turn these ideals into reality the World Bank is working with governments of each country in South Asia.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Solotaroff, Senior Social Development Specialist, World Bank – South Asia Social Development Unit, presented the three main reasons for the gender gap increase in Sri Lanka and what holds back Sri Lankan women from identifying their economic potential.
According to her, they are household roles and responsibilities, human capital mismatch and gender discrimination.
Solotaroff explained that Sri Lankan female participation in the labour force has been declining within the past 20 years and the rates are averagely below compared to other middle income countries.
World Bank in their report recommended several solutions to reduce gender gap in labour force and increase female participation by implementing childcare services within institutions and providing safe transportation, strengthening career development at an early age through skill enhancement and prepare them for labour markets, preparing female students in high skill and high paying jobs and to ensure gender equal labour laws and non-discriminatory workplace environments through ethical branding and zero tolerance policies towards sexual harassment.