Empowering Sri Lankan Women: Highlights from the National Policy Conference on Women’s Access to Decent Work in Sri Lanka
The Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) recently conducted a thought-provoking discussion aimed at improving women’s access to decent work in Sri Lanka. The event, titled the ‘National Policy Conference on Women’s Access to Decent Work,’ was organised in collaboration with the Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP) and Co-Impact and took place at the Dr Saman Kelegama Auditorium, IPS.
Sri Lanka’s low female labour force participation rate (FLFP) has received intense policy attention over the past several decades for many reasons. It is widely assumed that improving FLFP will not only empower women and reduce gender disparities but will also promote productivity and economic growth. Over the years, a popular strategy for promoting FLFP by successive governments has been to encourage self-employment opportunities or entrepreneurship. However, FLFP has remained below 35% for years. Self-employment jobs are highly vulnerable to economic fluctuations as social safety nets do not cover them. Furthermore, on average, self-employment income is lower than other types of income. This blog argues that to empower women and drive economic growth, policy should focus on facilitating women’s access to decent work over access to any job.
The decision by the Cabinet to partially lift the Family Background Report (FBR) requirement for female migrants is long overdue and a welcome move to promote female labour migration from Sri Lanka. The FBR policy was introduced in June 2013 to restrict females with children under the age of five and to discourage females with older children from taking up foreign employment. The FBR initially covered only female domestic worker departures but in August 2015, this was expanded to cover all females. As a result, from 2013 onwards the dominance of women among worker departures declined significantly. The partial removal of this discriminatory requirement is likely to increase female departures by enabling women to decide independent of their maternal status while minimising delays and vulnerability in the recruitment process. However, to reap the desired outcome of more remittances, the new stock of females departing for foreign employment in the absence of the FBR must be convinced to remit through formal channels.
Although Sri Lanka elected the world’s first female Prime Minister in 1960, over six decades later, the country’s political arena continues to be male-dominated. Sri Lanka currently ranks at 179 out of 189 countries for the percentage of women in national parliaments. This is far below the country’s South Asian counterparts. Women represent over 52% of the country’s population, yet men continue to play a dominant role in the national legislature. Insufficient female representation is a prominent weakness in Sri Lanka’s political landscape. The 2019 Presidential Election recorded the highest number of contestants in a Sri Lankan presidential election. Of the 35 presidential candidates, only one was female. With an overwhelming majority of the current administration being male, the current share of female members of parliament stands as low as 5.33%. This blog explores the gender disparities in Sri Lankan policymaking and outlines actionable steps to increase the share of women in politics.
The tourism industry’s performance was hampered first by the Easter Sunday bomb explosions in 2019 and then the COVID-19 pandemic. Sri Lanka saw a decline in tourist arrivals from 1,913,702 in 2019 to 194,495 in 2021. It is estimated that revenue declined from USD 3600 million to USD 261 million during 2019-2021, reflecting a staggering 92.75% reduction due to a fall in arrivals. This blog discusses existing disparities in tourism and the possibility of adopting a sustainable, pro-poor tourism strategy to reduce poverty in Sri Lanka.