Women at work | Sunday Observer

Women at work

Even though Sri Lanka has made great progress in economic growth still a considerable number of women is left out from the labour market. This serious issue is very threatening to the prosperity of the country. The female labour participation rate remains low and has declined in recent years. According to the records of the Department of Census and Statistics of Sri Lanka, the economically inactive female population in the 3rd quarter of 2018 was 73.9% while the economically active female population is 35.3% compared with men. This proves that many women missed the opportunity of being employed throughout this period.

The time has come to look closely into the potential of women. A new World Bank report states three key obstacles to the utilisation of female labour. Household work and child care are the main reasons as these responsibilities fall disproportionately on women. Secondly, women are not acquiring the skills which are demanded by the labour market and this is also known as the human capital mismatch.

The third is gender discrimination in hiring and promotion. (Women find it harder to enter high skill and management jobs). Sexual harassment while travelling to work and in workplaces is another factor. With all these challenges how can Sri Lanka ensure that women are able to fulfill their potential as productive stakeholders in the economy?

Many of the employed mothers in Sri Lanka face the problem of child care. They usually overcome this issue by passing the responsibility to the hands of elderly parents or relatives in their extended family. Or else they choose child care centres as a second option. The mothers who fail to find these solutions decide to leave the job and take care of their children.

Inoka* is a management assistant in the government sector who left her job to take care of her one-year-old son. “I supported my husband with the daily expenses with my salary.

Therefore, our economy was secured. I was happy that my education was not wasted. I was about to be promoted. Now the struggle to take care of my children has made me leave my job,” she said. Leaving her job is a crisis which could cause depression and low self-esteem in a woman.

In the present Sri Lankan economic context, it is imperative that both parents are employed.Money has become an important factor of survival in this developing country.

The parent who is the sole breadwinner in a family has a huge responsibility as all other family members rely and depend on him or her. There are common situations such as when a woman leaves the job for the sake of her children or the man unfortunately loses his job due to issues at the work place. Kamalini* is another mother who faced this unfortunate situation.”We never thought things would turn out like this. Now, I feel that I should not have left my job. I could have gone for another option,” said Kamalini.

This kind of crisis leads to conditions like poverty and family problems. A woman should have the power to live her own life without depending on someone else.

Being unemployed or resigning is disadvantageous and unfair to women when it comes to the law. Unemployed mothers who divorce their husbands lose their child as they are jobless. The employed, divorced mothers encounter the issues of child care if they are to retain their sources of income.

Child care centres is a good option which enables the child to grow within a community. A child develops his psychological, physical and social well-being while growing up in the care centres. In developed countries such as Japan, child care services are expensive and working parents have to pay a tidy sum of money. However, the Japanese have quality child care and the mothers make use of it.

However, the situation in Sri Lanka is somewhat different. For years it has been found that children are neglected, punished and under nourished in child care centres without the parents’ knowledge. Semini who is an employed mother complains that the day care centre where she keeps her child, only feeds the child once a day. Her child now faces some physical difficulties.“This is an act of negligence. We expect a safe and quality service from the day care centres and it is very disappointing that nobody reacts or take steps against it” said Semini.

Though such incidents had revealed the need of reformations in this sector, quality of child care has not improved for decades.

Parents with extended families have solved this problem to some extent. Elderly people in Asian countries perform the duties of child carers, though it has not come to a satisfactory level as they undergo different physical problems.

Some women face the problem of acquiring the skills as marriage and thereafter children, prevent them from pursuing further education. Mothers such as Nadeera face this pathetic condition when the need of a job arises.”I could have studied more. I managed to get a job that pays me Rs.25, 000 per month. This amount of money is not enough for even a single person to survive.

I finished my education at the A/L stage due to marriage. I was a bright student at school; also I qualified for the university. A woman must give education the first place and all other things should come second. My example is a good lesson for other young girls” said Nadeera. These are the consequences of gender discrimination in society. A woman should have the right to decide on her life and marriage and should not have her human rights violated.


As childcare has become an issue in Sri Lanka the female work force should be made aware of their options so that they can strengthen the economy of the country.As Sri Lanka is moving towards the nuclear family, the government must focus more on solving the problems which stop women working. If ‘on-site child care centres’ provide quality child care with free medical services it would create more opportunities for women who aspire to bigger goals in their career using their knowledge. This would affect the productivity and the stability of the working place. Also it would reduce absenteeism and increase employee loyalty and satisfaction.

On the other hand, women can earn an income while staying at home. In foreign countries self-employment is a common way of earning. In Sri Lanka there are many home makers who earn by selling food , accessories, textiles and many other products.

Child care should not be taken as a burden if Sri Lanka moves towards the solutions. Educating women and creating space for them in society is very important. For women, gender shouldn’t be an excuse or an obstacle to live an economically independent life. In addition, ensuring gender equal labour laws and non- discriminating work places will lead to a strong female labour community in Sri Lanka.