New report details barriers preventing Sri Lankan workplaces from hiring women


In Sri Lanka, women are denied equal access to the labor market not only for family or social reasons, but also by employers. This is the subject of a report launched today by UN Women, entitled Gender Disparities and Labor Market Challenges: The Demand for Women Workers in Sri Lanka. This report is among the first in the country to illustrate the largely unexplored factors on the part of employers and businesses that prevent women from entering the paid workforce.

In 2019, only 36% of Sri Lankan women of working age were willing and able to engage in gainful employment. While supply-side analyzes have identified unpaid care work, skills gaps, and socio-cultural factors such as gender norms and stereotypes as underlying factors that prevent women from engaging in the formal labor force, this report fills an important gap in our understanding of the demand-side barriers erected by employers.

For example, a new analysis of the report shows that:

a) gender-based occupational segregation powerfully conditions employer demand for low-skilled female workers, in part because women are paid less than men;

b) employers who are legally compelled to offer flexible working hours and night work to women, and those who could not fund maternity benefits, hired relatively fewer women;

vs) employers who had established ideas about what kind of jobs women could and could not do also hired fewer women;

D) female workers in mid-level positions are perceived to have the greatest skills deficits, particularly in English, and in their ability to learn and solve problems;

and) three-quarters of men surveyed were unconsciously biased against female workers and were less likely to hire women;

f) employers were willing to hire women with disabilities but are constrained by lack of experience and opportunities to train them.

The results also revealed that unlike other emerging economies, export orientation in Sri Lanka was not associated with increased demand for female workers, reflecting the low export orientation of Sri Lanka. economy lately. Companies also seemed to lag behind in applying digital technology in business operations to re-skill workers. This was especially evident when employees were constrained by limited access to IT systems and lacked the experience and resources to work from home during the pandemic. This digital divide is a major constraint for the engagement of women in emerging industries likely to offer more employment opportunities.

Speaking at the launch, Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, stressed: “The implications of low labor market participation for women and for the economy in general are serious.

This is why this new research report is vital and must be taken into account in the development of long-term economic policies. It provides us with a roadmap on which government and corporate policies are key to supporting the full engagement of women in the workforce.”

Ramaaya Salgado, National Focal Point for UN Women Sri Lanka, added: “Creating decent working conditions and protecting employees from discrimination are basic human rights. Women’s ability to participate equally in existing labor markets and their ability to participate meaningfully in economic decision-making at all levels is essential to the realization of women’s rights and gender equality. sexes. We hope that the political orientations set out in this study [outlined below] will serve as a guide for government, the private sector and non-governmental organizations to take action to increase women’s participation in the paid labor force”.

At the launch, the study was formally presented to Hon. Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Minister of State for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control and Chairwoman of the Parliamentary Women’s Caucus and Kumari Jayasekera, Secretary of State for the State Ministry of Women’s Development and Health children, preschool and primary education, school infrastructure & education services. The launch was followed by a panel discussion with key officials from government, civil society and the private sector.

Emphasizing the need to deliver on the promise of the 2030 Agenda, Kumari Jayasekera stressed that “as the gravity of this subject is high, we invite all stakeholders to work in an integrated approach. Increasing the demand for women workers requires a concerted and coordinated effort by government, the private sector and the non-governmental sector involving a process of raising awareness, engaging in policy dialogue and formulation, designing strategic interventions, as well as their implementation and monitoring. intervention”.

To ensure that women have the choice to work for pay without discrimination or bias, UN Women is calling for better policies, actions and investments in formal businesses in Sri Lanka. This includes the formulation of macroeconomic, industrial and trade policies to diversify and improve productive structures, promote productive efficiency and catalyze export-led economic growth, in order to help create jobs for women, particularly in the small economies like Sri Lanka. In addition, considering the ongoing pandemic, it is recommended to promote digitalization, automation and work-from-home agreements, which will also help improve production processes.

Policy recommendations also stress the importance of training women in mid-level job skills, particularly in English. Supportive interventions are also needed to train women with disabilities to make employers more confident about hiring them. The promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), women’s entrepreneurship, ownership and management is also highlighted, as SMEs generate greater demand for female workers.

Finally, it is also recommended to emphasize the need to reform labor legislation to facilitate flexible working hours and night work for women and to create a social fund for maternity benefits. Encouraging family-friendly work policies that promote employee retention even after marriage will ensure that more women can enter the paid workforce.


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