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(Un)employment in Sri Lanka – Twice as Hard for Women?

Women seem to have equal opportunity when it comes to education in Sri Lanka – if you were to look at the numbers of female graduates streaming out of universities. These numbers can be delusive in education; once armed with their degree and marching into the job market many women find that they aren’t able to secure themselves a job; let alone their dream job.


Discrepancies between male and female unemployment has an alarmingly wide divide, and this has been the case for a while now. In this instance the statistics hide nothing. The Labour Force Survey for the fourth quarter of 2014, released by the Department of Census and Statistics, revealed that unemployment of men with a minimum G C E A/L education or above is at a low 5.6%. Unemployment of women is sadly twice as much, standing at 12%.


Unemployment by age

The highest unemployment rate can be seen among youths between the ages 15 and 24 (21.6%). Females in this particular age group, it would appear, have it far tougher than their male counterparts, if their respective unemployment rates are any indication: 32.1% female vs. only 15.5% male.

You’re probably thinking, “15 to 24? But that should be about right… that’s the age between studying for your O/L’s and completing your degree. Employment shouldn’t matter at that age”.

Enter – the definition of unemployment: unemployment occurs when a person who is actively searching for employment is unable to find work (via Investopedia).

So according to the survey this would include people who have either quit school and are looking for employment or those who are studying and looking for part-time employment. And 32.1% for women against 15.5% for men, plainly shows women have it harder.

Now let’s include those university graduates, both with a Bachelors and a Masters degree as well. Employment for those who are 30 and above looks a bit better. At this age unemployment drops to 1.5%. But divide the men and women of the age group and it’s not all peachy. Females above 30 years of age have a 2.7% unemployment rate while the percentage for males is as low as 0.9%.


A broader perspective

Not much has changed in the past couple of years. Between the first quarter of 2013 and the fourth quarter of 2014, there has been no noteworthy rise or drop in the national unemployment rate overall, having fluctuated between 4.6% and 4.4%. (A total of 387,104 unemployed as of 2014Q4).

Throwing in a quick definition for clarity – An employed person, according to the report, is defined as someone who works as a paid employee, an employer, is self-employed or is a contributing family worker.

Now here’s something interesting. 52.9% of the country’s population (15 years and above) constitute the country’s economically active labour force. That’s nearly 8.8 million Sri Lankans with jobs (not too great considering our entire population is about 20 million). Of this 8.8 million, majority (64.9%) are men, so about 35.1% are women. Contrast this to the economically inactive population that comprises of only 25.2% males and a whopping 74.8% females!


Urban and rural unemployment

With better prospects for education and more of a burning need for employment, you’d assume the chance of securing a job in urban areas is better than in rural areas, right? Surprise, surprise, that isn’t the case. In fact the gender gap is most prominent in the urban areas according to the survey.



It is worth noting that a majority of the country’s labour force (44.2%) works in the services sector. This means there are 3.7 million Sri Lankans working in wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles, transportation and storage, accommodation and food services, information and communication, financial and administrative activities and the like. Jobs in this sector, it would appear, are fairly evenly distributed among the two genders: 45.3% male versus 42% female.

The tables turn when it comes to agriculture. 30.4% of our labour force works in agriculture. That’s little over 2.5 million people. An odd figure, perhaps, when you take into account Sri Lanka’s agricultural roots, but hardly surprising given current trends. More women (33.9%) work in agriculture than men (28.6%).

The remaining 25.4% of the labour force work in industries such as construction, mining, electricity, water supply, etc. There are over 3.5 million Sri Lankans working in the private sector as employees while only 1.3 million have government jobs. Once again, more or less evenly distributed among males (26.1%) and females (24.1%).


Unemployment of women in Sri Lanka is certainly a problem, especially when, even with an education, women struggle to find employment. We’ve seen a shift in government but little has been done or spoken of with regard to improving employment opportunities for women (a problem that has lasted several years) by the new regime.

Also of note: Of the 8.8 million strong labour force, less than 192,000 are employers. However, over 2.6 million have found self-employment while nearly 725,000 are contributing family workers.

Various icons from: |Graduation cap (first image) http://ymbproperties.com/ | |Skyscraper + House icon (5th image – ‘Labour force by demographic’) and all three icons in 6th image (Labour force by sector) made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com |

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