A new World Bank report has recommended multi-prong strategies to help women gain employment and then continue to thrive in the workplace in order to close Sri Lanka’s gender gap in the workforce.
The report Getting to Work: Unlocking Women’s Potential in Sri Lanka’s Labor Force” finds removing barriers to women’s paid work will encourage more Sri Lankan women to participate in the workforce.
The report notes that despite steady economic growth, the number of women participating in Sri Lanka’s workforce has declined to 36 percent in 2016 from 41 percent in 2010. Sri Lankan women, especially younger ones, do not sufficiently acquire marketable skills, face higher unemployment rates, and can expect to receive lower wages than men.
“Getting women to work is not just about supporting human rights; it’s about smart economics”, said Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, the World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives. “Lifting the barriers to women’s participation in the workforce will not only help Sri Lanka realize its economic potential and build on its several achievements, it will also increase the equitable sharing of the development benefits”.
Getting to Work report points to three factors that impede women’s participation in the paid workforce.
First, marriage, childrearing, and related household chores that fall disproportionately on women deter their participation in labor markets. Marriage drastically lowers women’s odds – by 26 percentage points – of becoming a paid employee, while for men it slightly increases the odds, by 2.5 percentage points.
Second, women are not entering educational fields or acquiring the skills that are sought by employers, particularly in the private sector.
Third, gender discrimination in job search, hiring, and promotion keeps women from obtaining high-skill and management jobs, where men continue to dominate.
Safe childcare and transportation, early orientation to career development to better prepare girls to enter and remain in the workforce and implementing gender equal labor laws and practices are among recommendations of the report.
Starting young, career development initiatives can help girls acquire the education, skills and confidence to pursue courses, particularly in the STEM fields of general education or in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programs that teach non-traditional skills, which are in demand from prospective employers.
Once women are at work, increasing the availability of high-quality child care services, improving access to part-time work and maternity leave, and addressing socio-physical constraints on women’s mobility through safe transportation and telecommuting are essential to helping them remain in the workforce.
The report says the workplaces must embrace gender equity in labor legislation and non-discriminatory policies, including zero tolerance for sexual harassment. By undertaking ethical branding initiatives and women-centered training programs, the private sector could help expand women’s share of employment and firm ownership in emerging industries.
“Addressing the many issues that keep women from joining and succeeding in Sri Lanka’s workforce will require concerted efforts,” said Jennifer Solotaroff, Senior Social Development Specialist at the World Bank and author of the report. “Various stakeholders – ranging from relevant government ministries, to education providers, to public sector and especially private sector employers – must use their comparative strengths to help expand women’s options for productive, safe, and fairly compensated work.”