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The three main foreign income earners for the country – the estate workers, certain garment factory workers and migrant workers especially to the Middle East – are kept out of the equation when determining the women’s labour force participation, and this is why at face value it may seem like women aren’t doing enough for the economy, the Chairperson of Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce Sri Lanka (WCICSL) Rifa Mustapha charged last week.

“There are a lot of women working in the informal sector contributing to the economy yet whose contribution goes unacknowledged,” said the Chamber Chairperson. She said that it was the government’s duty to legitimize and formalize these people’s work in order to get a holistic picture as to where the country stands in terms of women’s participation in the economy.

She added: “encouraging these segments to make the exodus from the informal sector to formal also gives them a sense of financial security as most women working in the informal sector are sometimes the breadwinners of their families.”

Mustapha believed that women need to be made aware of the benefits of joining the formal sector and when they join the formal sector they need to be further educated on their rights as an employee to protect them from being exploited in their workplaces.
Adding, the Chamber Chairperson stressed on the importance of introducing a mechanism to prevent women from going especially to the Middle East as housemaids and to promote self-employment opportunities for returning migrant workers especially in the rural areas.
She said that as far as women’s contribution to the economy goes, Sri Lankan still viewing household work and caring for children typically as a ‘woman’s job’ may have also contributed to the women’s labour force participation being as low as 36%.

According to the latest available statistics, the women’s participation is given at 36.1% as at 2016, as a percentage of the total labour force, as per the Department of Census and Statistics in Sri Lanka. Although a marginal increase from the 2015 figure of 35.9% and 34.6% in 2014, the figure is still significantly low compared to the men’s participation which is at 75%, according to 2016 statistics.