Where Have All the Working Women Gone?
by Kiyanna Staff
April 4, 2016

Did you know that only 10.3% of women in the Sri Lankan work force are employers?

This is odd given that our women account for 59.7% of students enrolled in universities. That means we have produce more academically qualified women every year, but the unemployment rate for women is 67.7% — more than double that of men.

UNFPA Sri Lanka has identified several key factors that affect the leadership potential of women:

  • Gender stereotyping of education options
  • Lack of flexi-work conditions
  • Minimal child care options
  • Male bias in the private sector

On 29 March 2016, when UNFPA held its second Generation to Generation for Our Sri Lanka dialogue, some interesting views were shared on how to improve the employability of women.


E25_7086Providing solutions, Dr. Harsha de Silva, economist and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said “Women are under-represented in the IT sector. We need to look at increasing the number of women in this sector”.

He added, “Our banks, micro-financing agencies must go beyond extending credit. They must provide advice and consultancy services, tell borrowers how to finance a project from micro-finance level to a larger scale. We might then see an exponential increase of women entering the workforce. Women are doing better in high school. If they learn to write computer coding they can work from home. You will see a shift. I’m confident it will happen with some government help.”


E25_7165Prof. Savitri Goonesekere,  Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Colombo, took an opposing view stating that “The State cannot just say well we’ll create jobs or improve telecommunications infrastructure so that women can work from home. Women want to work as partners in society”.


E25_7225Mr. Anushka Wijesinha, Chief Economist,  Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, shared his expertise saying “If we are looking at achieving 8 per cent growth and taking the demographic shift, we should improve vocational training, new sectors – for example emerging tourism sector, and not in terms of waiting and laundry staff”.



Ms. Shanaaz Preena, Director, Women Go Beyond programme, MAS Holdings, “Most institutions don’t acknowledge sexual harassment nor do they have policies in place to combat it. If you believe in the wellbeing of your employees – to work without fear and harassment, then create that culture of respect and trust.”

She added: “Some companies ignore, or can be ignorant. Some companies ignore it because it’s too troublesome to deal with. People might also not be aware. When you develop a culture of respect and trust then they want to work”

She related how MAS, the garment factory network that is the largest employer of women in Sri Lanka next to the Army, started with a project that originally used the negative term ‘gender based violence’. Women didn’t come forward. Then MAS changed it to have a more positive note calling it ‘gender sensitivity’ and had the programmes with both men and women. With that approach, workers were more responsive.

Disciplinary action is the most difficult part, she said.  “We must correct people first before going to disciplinary stage. Even senior level people have been addressed. Policies must be enforced.”


E25_7336Ms. Maithreyi  Rajasingam, Executive Director (legal), Viluthu Centre for Human Resource Development, said “We must start considering paternal leave as well. Flexi-work hours must be available to both women and men, so they can help take care of the children”.


Kiyanna Staff