Although Sri Lankan women’s contribution to the island’s economy is remarkable contributing to the major foreign exchange earning sectors comprising a larger proportion of women, yet the female labour force participation has fallen behind many Asian nations.
Presently, Sri Lanka’s female labour force participation rate is around 35 percent compared with male participation rate of 75 percent. However, female labor force participation in selected Asian countries particularly Singapore, Japan, Thailand, China and Bangladesh remain in the range of around 50 percent to 65 percent.

Sri Lankan women possess 92.6% of literacy rate which is above its regional peers and the share of female students enrolment in university undergraduate level is around 60%. Surprisingly, this remarkable educational achievement of Sri Lankan women is not portrayed in the economic participation highlighting a significant gap in transforming available human resource potential productively to generate economic outcome measured in GDP and the national wealth.

Socio economic transformations
Indeed, Sri Lanka’s demographic transition with the rapidly ageing population creates critical labour crunch in several sectors whereas promising growth potential of the service sector of the economy requires more female skilled labour input. In this given context, increased women’s economic participation is necessarily important to maintain the desired economic growth momentum.

Further, United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals also emphasizes to ensure that all human being can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality paying attention to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

What can be done?  
Of course, majority of women are taking up household responsibilities including caring for children and elderly which take priority over working for wages outside home. In line with this, women being married and having young children reduces women’s participation in the labour force significantly in most countries.

More women’s economic participation could be induced with the introduction of women positive cooperate environment, supportive human resource policies and working  arrangements in view of relieving the pressure of care-giving responsibilities and balancing their career with family responsibilities.

Accordingly, flexible working hours, part-time jobs, working from home, establishing more day care centres both in urban and rural settings to provide quality of care at affordable rates could be considered.

Accelerated economic growth
Sri Lanka’s present economic expansion activities are not adequate to absorb the larger proportion of current economically inactive women into labour force.

Accelerating the economic growth is a must and fast export-oriented industrialization is instrumental with the support of International Cooperation and foreign direct investment to create substantial employment opportunities for women whilst taking labour intensive industries and commercial business ventures to rural villages would  enable rural women to  find employment opportunities in their own villages.

Garment industry in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka is ideal example which enhanced economic participation of women and thereby uplifting the rural economy.

Moreover, economic reform agenda should focus on fostering more women entrepreneurs, with the necessary support on capital, markets, technology and training to grow their businesses successfully.

Additionally, women should be encouraged to follow more job-oriented educational streams and acquire market-oriented skills such as fluency in languages and  ICT and soft skills mainly communication, leadership, and problem solving will  boost the job prospects and convert them as successful professionals.

Change in attitude
Socio Cultural factors such as traditional attitudes, social norm and practices also restrict women participating in the labour force. Many still perceive women to be fully caregivers at home limiting women’s ability to make economic contribution. Hence, promoting greater awareness is critical to change the mindset of women who still doubts about taking up jobs and the general attitude to stimulate women to join a workplace to build fulfilling careers outside homes.

Political empowerment
Interestingly, Government endeavour enabling 25% female representation in local government bodies is an encouraging which could improve political, social and economical leadership role played by women significantly.

Overall, the economic participation of women is essential to sustain the economic growth momentum in a changing socio economical landscape. A strong collective effort of various stakeholders particularly government, companies, investors and citizens is critical to create supportive environment which enhance  women’s labour force participation, which will not only empower women but also improve family living standards, uplift rural economy and leads to  overall economic prosperity of the nation.