Labour dynamics in any country places a significant role in economic development. As the economy grows, labour dynamics of economies are expected to get better, benefiting every segment of the society.

Hence the overall unemployment rate as well as the unemployment rate among various groups such as females and youth has to be thoroughly analyzed to identify the effect of labour dynamics of an economy. As per the Department of Census and Statistics in Sri Lanka, the overall unemployment rate had declined to 4.2 per cent in the final quarter of 2016 from the 4.5 per cent that prevailed during the third quarter of 2016.
Accordingly the decline in the unemployment rate is significantly contributed by the reduction of the unemployment rate among females which had declined from 7.6 per cent to 6.8 per cent during the final quarter of 2016.

Likewise the overall unemployment rate among females is 6.8 per cent and 2.7 per cent among males. The youth unemployment rate (age 15 – 24 years) corresponding to the fourth quarter of 2016 is 21 per cent and is the highest unemployment rate among all other age groups.

The survey has further revealed that the unemployment rate among females is higher than males in all age groups. Youth and female unemployment contribute more to the overall unemployment of the country.

The highest unemployment rate is reported from the G.C.E (A/L) and above group which is about 7.6 per cent. Corresponding percentages are 3.7 per cent and 11.6 per cent for male and females respectively. Female unemployment rates are higher than those of males in all levels of education.

Although the overall female unemployment rate had dropped down, the core issue of educated females being unemployed remains. On top of that, the labour force participation rate of females is way lower than that of males. In the context of Sri Lanka, as per the Labour Force Survey, the estimated economically active population was about 8.4 million in the third quarter of 2016 of which 63.5 per cent are males and 36.5 per cent are females. Out of the economically inactive population 24.6 per cent are males and 75.4 per cent are females.

Statistics from the World Bank reflect that the female unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is higher than many developed countries, despite the fact that Sri Lankan females receive an education. According to the data from the World Bank, the unemployment rate in Australia is 5.9%, Austria 5%, Germany 4.8%, India 4%, Korea 3.3% and Pakistan 9.3%

Unemployed female graduates

Alarmingly, there is a significant portion of female graduates who remain unemployed. According to the Graduate Employment Census in 2012, which is the latest graduate employment census available, most of the graduates are females and the unemployment among females is way higher than among males. According to the report, the majority of the graduates were females which amount to 60.1% of total graduates.

As per the data, 72% of graduates were employed compared to the 50% female graduates employed. It should also be noted that per cent under employed was quite similar irrespective of the gender. Unemployment rate among female graduates is 35% compared to the 15% of male graduates unemployed.

According to the Central Bank Annual Report 2014, multiple reasons caused the low female labour force participation rate and high female unemployment rate. As findings reflect, being involved in household responsibilities, particularly childcare, unavailability of safe accommodation and transportation facilities to and from work, difficulties in adhering to work time slots and inability to find employment after a break, can be identified as major reasons for low female labour force participation in Sri Lanka.

“Also, there is a social norm in the country that women are to take up household responsibilities, while men are engaged in earning. This traditional perception hinders the opportunities available for women to attain economic freedom. Females with middle level educational attainment or those living in middle level income households tend to opt out of the labour force and take up household responsibilities. Economic literature on labour supply by households with pre-school children in Sri Lanka explained that many women chose to leave their occupations due to unavailability of quality affordable childcare services. This is more prominent among educated mothers,” states the CBSL Annual Report 2014.

Due to cultural and social reasons, the flexible working hours would have attracted more women to the labour force and would have reduced the unemployment rate. Yet, the labour market had failed to provide flexible working hours. In the absence of flexible working hours, females find it difficult to manage the work of children which subsequently result in them leaving their jobs.

It was further stated in the CBSL Annual Report that where labour mobility is considered, women find it more difficult than men to move to geographical areas that provide more employment opportunities. With higher levels of educational attainment, women aspire to employment in the Industry and Services sectors, but such employment opportunities are offered mainly in centres or urban areas, where rural women cannot gain access to.

Further, the Women and Media Collective, in its shadow report to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women notes that the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act, No 43 of 1985 places two limitations on maternity leave. As it was noted by WMU it is limited to the birth of the first two children of a woman employee and it is restricted to ‘live births’ which completely ignores cases of miscarriages.

“Furthermore, the Establishments Code 1985, Chapter XII, sets out that: A female officer required to retire on marriage will not be eligible to maternity leave under this section in respect of an illegitimate child,”

Therefore, amendments should be brought in to address these issues which were ignored for decades if we are to get the best out of our educated females for economic development.

In that backdrop, the country requires significant policy reforms to reduce the female unemployment rate and those should not take ages. It is high time for serious thought to the issue.