Parity in employment

Friday, 23 October 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The latest Gender Report, released jointly by UNESCO and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, shows that, although the goal has not been met by all, progress towards gender parity is one of the biggest education success stories since 2000. Sri Lanka is among the countries that has done well but continues to lag behind in increasing women employment in the formal sector.

The number of countries that have achieved the goal of gender parity in both primary and secondary education has risen from 36 to 62 since 2000. Although 62 million girls are still denied their basic right to education, the number of out-of-school girls has declined by 52 million in the last 15 years. Nonetheless, considerable challenges remain, with gender disparities widening at each cycle of the education system and the poorest girls remaining at stark disadvantage.

Among regions, South and West Asia made the strongest progress, achieving parity in primary enrolment from the lowest starting point. Over the period, only four of the eight countries with data achieved parity: Bhutan, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan had just 72 girls enrolled for every 100 boys. In Nepal by 2012, the gender gap had been reversed, with more girls than boys enrolled in primary education.

However, this parity is lost in the job market. According to the Department of Census and Statistics, the estimated economically-active population of Sri Lanka was about 8.9 million in the first quarter 2015, of which 63.3% are males and 36.7% are females. Within the economically-inactive population, which also comprises everyone involved in household duties, the disequilibrium is even starker with 25.9% being males and 74.1% females.

Looking at female labour force participation rates around the world, this suggests that there is a large untapped reservoir of female manpower that could be utilised for the development of the country, while empowering women and benefitting society as a whole. But such an effort requires a huge adjustment from employers and female employees alike.

In Sri Lanka girls outnumber their male counterparts at secondary level education, indicating a dedication to gender equality across the social spectrum. However this has not translated into equitable employment opportunities, or wage parity between men and women.

The female unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is over two-and-a-half times that of the male rate, and almost twice the national figure. According to Government data, only 2.9% of men entering the labour market remain unemployed, while the corresponding figure for women is 7.2%. The national unemployment rate is 4.2% making it clear impediments exist for women to enter the job market.

The same Government figures indicate that education and skills do not necessarily help females secure employment – on the contrary, they could result in a lifetime of frustrations. Currently, the single largest employer of women is the agricultural sector at 33.9%, while the services sector employs around 42% of women, while industries employ around 24%.

Trends of women seeing employment in non-traditional industries must be enthusiastically encouraged, especially when they reach child bearing age, so that they are given the flexibility to continue being part of the formal workforce. Since 52% of the population are women it will all the more necessary to improve their skills as it also filters down to the next generation. A woman employed means a healthier, happier and better educated family. Economic growth demands investment. Let us start with the women.