While we may live in a man’s world, Sri Lankan women are making themselves relevant. In the professional sphere, business world, public sector and academia, women are proving equal or better than men.
Last year when Echelon Magazine did a selection of the 50 most powerful business women in the island, they came from a range of backgrounds and pursuits. The top 10 among them included Renuka Fernando – CEO of Nations Trust Bank, Ranga Ranmadugala – CEO of Brandix Apparel Solutions and Linda Speldwinde – founder of the Academy of Design and the Sri Lanka Design Festival.
We have many educated women but only some join the labour force
It’s encouraging that women are breaking barriers and smashing the glass ceiling. But how hard is it for women to strive for excellence and equality? It certainly doesn’t come easy.
In terms of education according to the UNFPA fact sheet ‘Fulfilling Young People’s Potential’, there are more women enrolled in local universities and higher education institutions than men.
However, according to the Labour Force Survey for the second quarter of 2015 by the Department of Census and Statistics, only 35.2% of the total population of women in Sri Lanka are currently part of the labour force. Is it because many educated women have chosen to be housewives? And while women should have the right to make such choices, how often is that their choice? Are family or societal factors preventing them from joining the formal work force?
There are a few factors that indicate that Sri Lankan women are not yet on an equal playing field with men.
Recently, to mark World Statistics Day (20 October), The World’s Women 2015: Trends and Statistics was launched at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. It’s a comprehensive report with information gathered from around the world. It contains some interesting insights on how Sri Lanka compares with other South Asian Countries when it comes to women’s rights.
Rights at the work place
According to the report, in Sri Lanka, like many other South Asian countries, women get paid less than men regardless of whether their work is of equal value to that of men.
And it only gets worse. Apart from being paid less, employers give preference to men when they hire new staff. This again is similar in other South Asian countries; only India has a policy in place to ensure that women and men have equal employment opportunities.
On a positive note, all SAARC countries, except for Afghanistan, have outlawed sexual harassment in the work place.
What it means to be pregnant and employed
Sri Lankan labour laws state that women must be given a minimum of three months of fully paid maternity leave after delivering a baby. It’s the same in India and Pakistan. The best in South Asia is Bangladesh which gives mothers four months of paid maternity leave; the worst is Nepal which allows less than two months.
Paid maternity leave is borne by the employers themselves in all of the South Asian countries except for India and Iran. Paid leave in these countries are provided by the government (Social Insurance).
As things stand, Sri Lanka is either middling or below ideal standards of gender equality. What’s impressive, however, is that Sri Lankan women are pushing boundaries and have made it in a man’s world, going by the Echelon Magazine. But there is much more to be done to ensure full gender equality in employment, and to make work places more conducive to women.