“Women empowerment isn’t about making women stronger as they are already strong. It is about changing the way the world perceives that strength,” Managing Director of Jetwing Travels Shiromal Cooray said speaking at the launch of WPAN (Women’s Policy Action Network) organised by the Advocata Institute recently. WPAN is an independent network of individuals committed to bringing about policy reform through advocacy for the economic empowerment of women.
WPAN comes in the light of the disproportionate impact of both the pandemic and the economic crisis on women, enhancing women’s participation in the workforce is even more critical.
The launch was followed by a panel discussion on the “Reforms to Empower Women During an Economic Crisis.”
“At the moment, we do have the political will to make changes by 2024,” said Shan Yahampath, the Adviser to the Ministry of Labour and Foreign Employment. According to International Labour Organization estimates, the female labour force in 2021 was at 34.47%.
However, a report said that despite the increase in the percentage compared to the previous years, the number had dropped again in 2022 due to the economic crisis in Sri Lanka.
The report also said that women had left their jobs during this time mainly because of the financial difficulties and clashes in the work routine due to the country’s economic crisis, which followed the pandemic. However, to fix the system and create more level playing field and work options for women, the WPAN has already started working on making new policies.
In comparison to the past few decades, there is marked progress in women’s participation in degree programs of different subjects like tech and hospitality and other sectors. Yet, in rural areas which lack less awareness, mentoring and training, a huge struggle is observed in finding opportunities - Sampath Thrimawithana
The attitude towards employed women
“It is about changing the way the world perceives that strength,” keynote speaker Managing Director of Jetwing Travels Shiromal Cooray said at the event.
She highlighted the importance of the equal requirement of both social and economic policies to support the dual roles played by working women, who are also held responsible for nurturing and taking care of children.
“An archaic system which expects girls to give up on their dreams and manage household chores and take care of them is a major cause for only 30 - 35 per cent of the girls becoming part of the labour force among the 52% of women population,” Ms Cooray said.
“As a result, only 25% of women are in the senior and middle management level of the labour force.
“Unfortunately, women who work as tea-pluckers, seamstresses and migrant housemaids are at the lower end of the pyramid with no opportunity to grow, even though they are the ones who earn us the most amount of foreign exchange,” she said.
She stressed factors such as implementing appropriate or flexible working hours, assurance and availability of jobs after maternity leave and the availability of opportunities to learn subjects like technology and engineering.
“The percentage of women working in the tourism sector is dropping due to social stigmas associated with employment opportunities in the tourism sector,” she said.
“No amount of economic reforms will solve this until the attitude of the society and cultural biases and gender stereotyping are changed,” concluded Cooray.
Inspiring and bringing confidence to working women as a nation is something we need to constantly do to inspire the current and future working women too - Shan Yahampath
Why is maternity leave considered a cost?
“Companies should look at maternity leave as an investment and take the biological angle into account to level the playing field,” said Anarkali Moonesinghe, former CEO of CIMB Sri Lanka.
CIMB Group Holdings Berhad is a Malaysian universal bank headquartered in Kuala Lumpur and operates in high-growth economies in ASEAN. CIMB Group is an indigenous ASEAN investment bank. She said that creating flexible work arrangements such as working from home during maternity leave was a healthy way to encourage female participation in the labour force.
Bringing the stakeholders together and converting the formulated policies into collective action is expected to be seen, Anarkali said.
Creating flexible work arrangements such as working from home during maternity leave was a healthy way to encourage female participation in the labour force - Anarkali Moonesinghe
Affordability of Childcare services in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, relying on the unpaid labour of women-especially the unpaid labour of grandmothers- to support childcare has been in existence for so long.
However, the lack of childcare services and the issue of its affordability have been the main concerns affecting the female workforce, Senior Research Analyst Sumini Siyambalapitiya said speaking at the panel.
“The cost exceeds the earnings women receive,” she said.
This leaves women to make a rational choice between looking after the children or joining the workforce,
“They have to decide to either stay at home and take care of the child or to bear the cost which is both an economic and emotional strain,” she said.
Regulating the childcare industry is one of the easiest moves which will positively impact these concerns, Sumini said.
She said how the Government had drafted a national guideline for childcare services in 2019 which considered all factors like affordability and quality of the services in both the city and rural areas. However, these guidelines were never implemented due to political and other factors.
The percentage of women working in the tourism sector is dropping due to social stigmas associated with employment opportunities in the tourism sector - Shiromal Cooray
Participation of women in the Higher education sector
In comparison to the past few decades, there is marked progress in women’s participation in degree programs of different subjects like tech and hospitality and other sectors, the Director at Virtusa, Sampath Thrimawithana said.
“Yet, in rural areas which lack less awareness, mentoring and training, a huge struggle is observed in finding opportunities,” Thrimawithana said.
Introducing role models and conducting workshops and campaigns and discussing challenges and solutions would encourage more women’s participation in the workforce, Thrimawithana suggested.
How to get men involved in unpaid domestic work?
Acknowledging care work and household work as work with economic value will be an initial step to making a shift in the thought process of society, said Sumini.
Acknowledging the fact that women’s contribution to household work also contributes to an economy’s function is essential, she said.
Giving more dignity for the role played by women,” she added. Men should start considering taking up more and more household chores, she said.
She said that even though the cultural norms cannot be changed overnight, creating flexible work options like remote work and making changes in the way employment is generally defined, would encourage women.
Even though the cultural norms cannot be changed overnight, creating flexible work options like remote work and making changes in the way employment is generally defined, would encourage women - Sumini Siyambalapitiya
Laws and Reforms
A draft policy framework has been made on the unified labour code and is expected to be presented to the Cabinet by the end of May 2023.
“Our labour laws fail to focus on competitiveness and productivity, while efficiency is not taken into consideration, especially in terms of night time work restrictions, overtime restrictions, part-time work, occupational safety, sexual harassment and termination of employment,” stated Shan Yahampath, Advisor to the Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment.
Expanding and reforming certain existing definitions by giving a futuristic outlook, abolishing certain legislations, creating more job opportunities and understanding how the local industries can compete globally without undermining foreign investments are measures taken into consideration, he said.
“Most importantly, the issues faced by pregnant women are looked into in the policy draft and the Government is looking into whether it could implement a paid maternity leave and other financial compensations,” he said.
“Inspiring and bringing confidence to working women as a nation is something we need to constantly do to inspire the current and future working women too,”
NAGA Sunday, 28 May 2023 11:37 PM
THE LABOUR THAT SHOULD NOT BE LOST. THAT IS VERY IMPORTANT IN THE WORLD.
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