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.
The impact of COVID-19 on Sri Lanka’s labour market, education, migration, and health sectors were discussed at the second webinar panel discussion held on October 13, to mark the release of the ‘Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2021’ report, the flagship report of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS). The event saw presentations by Dr Nisha Arunatilake and Dr Bilesha Weeraratne from IPS, with expert insights from Ms Madhavie Gunawardena, Director of TRCSL and Former Commissioner of Labour and Dr Kolitha Wickramage, Global Migration Health Research and Epidemiology Coordinator, Migration Health Division, International Organization for Migration (IOM). Ashani Abayasekera from IPS moderated the discussion. Key highlights of the discussion are presented in this blog.
Sri Lanka’s Gender-based Employment Segregation: Does it Increase Women’s Vulnerability Amidst COVID-19?
COVID-19 has created a crisis that has disproportionately affected women across the globe. Estimates show that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s jobs, and while women make up 39% of global employment, they account for 54% of overall job losses. While many factors affect the vulnerability of women’s employment during the pandemic, existing gender gaps in the labour market, women’s employment share in highly-affected sectors, the ability to telecommute and the amount of unpaid care work carried out by women have been identified as the main determinants. Against this backdrop, this blog examines women’s vulnerability in the Sri Lankan labour market due to the sector they are employed in. It also looks at gender-based employment segregation – a key factor behind women’s overrepresentation in certain industries and underrepresentation in others – and proposes policy measures to address this imbalance.
Most Sri Lankan families are struggling to meet the costs of childcare. A vast majority of women who wish to be employed do not enter the labour market due to the lack of quality and affordable childcare. Even low-income families have to bear the high cost of childcare due to the absence of affordable childcare arrangements. Despite a growing need for childcare, for many women, finding quality and affordable childcare is difficult and childcare costs are very high. At the same time, faced with labour shortages employers are struggling to attract women to the workforce. Some companies have tried to overcome this problem by offering childcare at the workplace. This blog, based on an IPS study, tries to assess the feasibility of employer-assisted child care by estimating the willingness of women to pay for such childcare.