Central Data Catalog

Citation Information

Type Report
Title Getting in and staying in: increasing women’s labor force participation in Sri Lanka
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2013
URL http://www.partnershipforsouthasia.org/sites/pfsa/files/documents/Getting in and Staying in -​INCREASING WOMEN’S LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION t - May 2013.pdf
Sri Lanka hosts the 20th largest gender gap in labor force participation (LFP) globally, which
presents significant challenges to its growth and equity goals. This is surprising given Sri Lanka’s
longstanding achievements in human development outcomes and its standing as a middle-income
country. The 2010 LFP rate among women over age 15 in Sri Lanka was 41 percent, versus 82 percent
for men of the same age. In contrast, women’s 2010 LFP rates in Thailand and Malaysia were 80 and 57
percent, respectively. By examining gender norms about work, this report explores why, compared to
men, women are well educated but less commonly working for pay in Sri Lanka. It then identifies
means of promoting women’s entry into and continued employment in the labor market.
Analysis of Labour Force Survey (LFS) data for Sri Lanka shows remarkable persistence in low
labor force participation rates for women over the past three decades—with even a slight decline as
the economy has expanded. Rural women continue to participate more than urban women, but not as
much as estate sector women (LFS 2006-10). Considerable variation in female LFP (FLFP) rates exists by
ethnicity, education, and income level; Indian Tamil women have the highest rates and Moor women
the lowest. Female LFP falls dramatically for females with education above Grade 6 and rises again only
with university education. A similar U-shaped pattern exists between women’s LFP and income deciles.
Low FLFP in Sri Lanka can be attributed to three key factors. First, the presence of gender norms
around household roles, where household care responsibilities typically fall to women, create time
poverty and lower social support for women’s employment. Second, educational and occupational
streaming has led to a skills mismatch between women’s human capital attainment and market
demand for their paid labor. Finally, gender bias through active and institutional gender discrimination
– that is, gender wage gaps, discriminatory workplaces, and weaker job networks, compared to men’s –
lowers FLFP and induces some women to withdraw entirely from the labor market.
Primary research conducted in Badulla, Gampaha, and Trincomalee districts elucidates the
intervention areas through which these constraining factors on women’s labor force participation can
be effectively addressed: (i) expansion of opportunities for women to access part-time work, maternity
leave, and child care services, in concert with efforts to remove the general stigma against using such
services; (ii) support for girls’ career identification and development from an early age, including in
non-traditional fields and through such channels as in-school mentoring, and technical and vocational
education and training (TVET); and (iii) expansion of job information and job placement services, with
an increased emphasis on Job Centers in rural areas. The Government of Sri Lanka’s (GoSL) efforts to
expand the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) system and linked rural-based providers should
ease some of rural women’s constraints in accessing TVET close to their homes.
The report emphasizes the need to take a disaggregated look at female job-seekers from diverse
age, educational, and regional backgrounds in order to customize program responses. Of particular
import are school leavers and students educated to O-level only, who require support in the school-towork
transition. Other target groups include war widows and female oversees migrant returnees, who
could benefit from attention to their opportunities in enterprise development, use of microfinance and
land titling reforms. Finally, the report gives detail and direction to a number of additional policy areas
that GoSL is considering to expand female LFP, such as parity between public and private sectors for
maternity leave coverage and support for transport and housing services for female workers.

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