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ILO’s Gender Pay Gap report; a scathing indictment against Sri Lanka

09 Apr 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

Despite Sri Lanka having been boasting about producing the world’s first woman Prime Minister and two women heads of government whose tenures spanned 23 years of the 76 years since Independence, the reports published by international organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) do not allow the leaders of the country including those two women leaders to boast that they have done much to improve the lives of the women in the country.   
A London-based global magazine, Time Out, had named Sri Lanka last week as the best destination for solo female travellers in 2024. According to the magazine the Indian Ocean Island is the ‘perfect first stop’ for female travellers wanting to dip into South Asia. Compared to the treatment of tourists in other countries the Time Out might be correct. Yet, it is not sure that local women in Sri Lanka would vouch for this claim. Gender discrimination and sexual harassment are facts across the world.   
The latest ILO report titled “The Gender Pay Gap in Sri Lanka – A Statistical Review with Policy Implications” is a scathing indictment in that regard against all leaders who were and are in office throughout these 76 years.   

The report says; that when taking into account differences in the composition of the population of male and female employees, the gender pay gap (GPG) in Sri Lanka is still quite high and it has not substantially decreased over the last decade. It further says “GPG in Sri Lanka is higher than both the global average and the average for lower- middle-income countries.” A disheartening fact is that this problem is not much in the public domain, since it does not affect some sectors including opinion makers such as politicians and journalists.  
GPG is substantially higher up to the bottom 40 percent of the hourly wage distribution and starts to decline substantially among those at the top 30 percent, particularly at the top decile, the report says while pointing out that it is generally higher among low-educated individuals as well as among workers in the informal economy.   
It gives an example from the apparel industry – a major foreign exchange earner for the country; “The sewing machine operator jobs require relatively less skill. These jobs are held mostly by women and no GPG is observed. In contrast, mechanical worker jobs (e.g., in the packaging division) require more skills and are held mostly by men. However, a woman who becomes a mechanical worker tends to be paid less than a man. According to the trade union representatives from the apparel sector, these wage differentials arise because of the employer’s mindset – that in completing these tasks, a man can deliver more than a woman and so should be paid more than a woman.”  
The under-representation of women in politics and the lack of organized voice of the affected people are two reasons for this problem’s persistence. The Gender Equality Strategy report compiled by the UNDP offers a graphic portrayal of Sri Lankan women’s current place in politics. “The country is ranked 182 out of 192 in the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) ranking of female representation in Parliament, with only 5.3% of Parliamentary seats occupied by women which is a little better than Maldives at 4.7%” it says.   

In 2016 and 2017 laws were introduced for a 25% and 30% mandatory quota of seats for women at the local government and provincial council levels respectively. However, the government of the day linked the law concerning women’s representation in provincial councils with an irrelevant issue – mixed electoral system – which ultimately made the whole provincial council system defunct.   
Gender stereotypes, according to the ILO, have also contributed to limiting women’s participation in leadership positions in the workplace and trade unions, which could influence the resolution of GPG. However, trade union leaders have pointed out that societal and gender norms have resulted in a lack of enthusiasm among women to pursue higher roles within trade unions. Whatever the reasons for the persistence of the gender pay gap, it is uncivilized and does not equate to the standards of the 21st century.