Image: Sri Lanka Nurses, courtesy of News.lk.
By Paneetha Ameresekere.
Though Sri Lanka has a poor women’s labour force participation rate (LFPR), women comprised a massive 63. 65 per cent of all professionals, and men, a miserly 36.35 per cent, Census and Statistics Department’s (CSD’s) second quarter (2Q) 2016 Labour Survey report showed. Nonetheless, as at end 2015, this number for women was still higher, with 65.8 per cent of all employed professionals in Sri Lanka comprised of women, the CSD said.
In absolute terms this number (end 2015) comprised 336,586; out of a total number of 511,230; with male professionals comprising a mere 174,644.
However, by 2Q 2016 this number, led by the decline in ‘women professional participation’ decreased by 7,606 to 503,624 on an overall basis.This fall was led by a sharp decline in ‘women professional participation’ by 16,022 to 320,564, while the number of male professionals in the review period increased by 8,416 to 183,060.
Nevertheless, on a ratio basis, women at end 2Q 2016 still led the way, with women comprising 63.65 per cent of all professionals, and men, a miserly 36.35 per cent, as at the end of that period.
But that appears to be the only silver lining as far as women in employment in the country is concerned, because, on an overall basis, women participation in employment, in Sri Lanka, is low.
This, however, doesn’t take into account the large numbers of the island’s women, working abroad, mainly as housemaids.
‘An estimated 1.7 million Sri Lankans are employed abroad impacting nearly 25 per cent of our population. A total of 300,413 (63.22 per cent of males and 36.78 per cent females) left for employment in 2014,’ the Foreign Employment Bureau on its website said.
But, as an official from the CSD told this reporter, though women employed abroad are not taken into account in the CSD labour survey, from a statistical perspective, as both of those numbers add up on the numerator and the denominator, they cancel out.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that there was a greater number of women in the country, the majority of the female population (15 years and above), was in the economically inactive group (64.1 per cent). Whereas those women (15 years and above) who were in the economically active group was a mere 35.9 per cent, the CSD’s 2015 year end data showed. By the 2Q of 2016 this number had come down to 35.1 per cent.
Sri Lanka is a multiethnic, multilingual and multi-religious society that believes and practises the equality of sexes. Nonetheless, despite the fact that the majority of its population is women, ‘women in employment’ on the whole is low, in comparison to their male counterparts.
Considering the economic status by gender, majority of the female population in the island is in the economically inactive group (64.1 per cent); whereas in the case of males it was a mere 25.3 per cent by end 2015.
CSD statistics further showed that those who may claim to be in the country’s labour force, that is those who are 15 years and above as at last year end, numbered 15.28 million (increased to 15.38 million by end second quarter (2Q of 2016). Of this number, men comprised 7.04 million (down to 7.03 million by 2Q of 2016) or 46.04 per cent of the prospective labour force; women, 8.25 million (8.35 million by 2Q of 2016) or 53.95 per cent of the labour force by end 2015.
However, the actual labour force comprised a mere fraction of that figure, namely 8.21 million (8.19 million by 2Q of 2016) or 53.8 per cent of the prospective labour force, which percentage (53.8 per cent) is also known as the LFPR (LFPR was down to 53.3 per cent by end 2Q of 2016).
Such a low LFPR (53.8 per cent as at end 2015) is led by women, whose LFPR is a mere 35.9 per cent (it had decreased to 35.1 per cent by end 2Q of 2016) or 2.96 million of its potential labour force of 8.25 million. In contrast, that of men were a high 74.7 per cent (5.26 million) LFPR, out of a potential LFPR number, in absolute terms, of 7.04 million (7.03 million by end 2Q of 2016).
District wise, the highest female LFPR is reported from the Nuwara Eliya District (48.8 per cent), while the lowest female LFPR is reported from the Mannar District (18.9 per cent) as at end 2015.
Though Sri Lanka’s unemployment rate stood at 4.7 per cent in 2015 (it had come down to 4.6 per cent by the end of the second quarter (2Q of 2016), ‘female unemployment’ stood at a high of 7.6 per cent (it had decreased to 7.3 per cent by end 2Q of 2016), a CSD report on ‘Labour’ released on 17 November, 2016 showed.
Meanwhile, though unemployment as a whole has come down, so also has employment numbers. The employment number, which, as at end 2015 stood at 7,830,976, had, by 2Q of 2016 come down to 7,815,280.
In related developments, ‘youth unemployment’ (those between the ages of 15-24 years) as a proportion of total unemployment by gender and level of education stood at a high of 61.6 per cent for men, by end 2015, whereas in the case of women, it was a comparatively low percentage figure of 45 per cent, CSD data showed. These details as at end 2Q of 2016 were not immediately available.
‘Youth’ is defined as those between the ages of 15-24 years. The total youth unemployment rate in absolute terms stood at 198,908 last year, equivalent to 51.9 per cent of the total unemployed population. The number of unemployed persons is estimated at about 383,496 last year (2015). Of this number, 41.1 per cent are men and 58.8 per cent are women. By end 2Q of 2016 this number had come down to 377,987 (4.6 per cent unemployment rate).
CSD defines ‘labour force’ as the current, economically active population who are 15 years of age and over. This number as at end last year (2015) stood at 8,214,473 (2Q of 2016: Down to 8,193,266).
CSD defines ‘unemployed persons’ as those who are available and/or looking for work, but who did not work, though having had taken steps to find a job during last four weeks and are ready to accept a job given a work opportunity within the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, ‘male unemployment’ stood at a relatively low figure of 3 per cent as at end 2015. But by end 2Q 2016 it had increased to 3.1 per cent, whereas, female unemployment during this period stood at 7.3 per cent.
The main reason reported, for the majority among females (64.1 per cent) to be economically inactive is because of their involvement in housework activities, CSD said.
In related developments, those in the labour force (both sexes) comprised 8.21 million last year, said CSD. The CSD refers to the ‘labour force’ as: All persons who are/were employed or unemployed during the reference period of the survey (the reference period is the ‘previous one week’). They include all persons who worked or were available/looking for work during the reference period. Of this number, males comprised a gigantic figure of 5.26 million or 63.98 per cent of that segment of the population and women, a poor 2.96 million (36.02 per cent) of that segment of the population.
The ‘excuse’ given for this poor participation of women in the labour force is due to their ‘responsibility’ towards household chores, CSD said.
Women employment in Malaysia
But by contrast in Malaysia, which may be considered as the island’s closest peer as far as the Asian region is concerned, in the sense both countries have open economies; they are also multilingual, multiracial and multi religious countries (though Malaysia can be construed as being more conservative than Sri Lanka because of its Muslim background as far as women are concerned), both countries were also former British colonies and both countries, area wise and population wise may be considered as being somewhat comparable, despite the fact that Malaysia is bigger than Sri Lanka in both of those instances, but not by wide margins, relatively speaking.
Therefore, to compare women in employment vis-à-vis its peers, one example that may be taken for this purpose may be Malaysia. Both countries practise open economies. According to Malaysia’s official statistics as found on the web, its population as at last year (2015) end was 31.2 million.
However, it was not immediately possible to get the composition of the sex’s, with respect to Malaysia’s population of the year 2015.
Nonetheless, Malaysia’s official statistics have given estimates, of the breakdown in sexes as at the current year (2016).
The website of Malaysia’s Statistics Department estimated that the country’s population by this year (2016) end will have had been 31.7 million. Of this number, men will have had comprised 16.4 million (51.7 per cent) of the total population and women, 15.3 million (48.3 per cent).
Meanwhile, the LFPR, says the total number of the economically active population as a percentage of the total working age population among women in Malaysia was a high of 54.1 per cent last year (2015), Malaysia’s Statistics Department (MSD) said, compared to a mere LFPR of 35.9 per cent among women in Sri Lanka in the same period.
Malaysia however, defines its working age population as those between 15 to 64 years of age, whereas in Sri Lanka it’s all those who are 15 years and over, ipso facto, no upper age limit being fixed, as far as the employable population was concerned.
“The increase of female employed persons contributed to the increase of overall LFPR,” MSD said. Malaysia’s overall LFPR as at last year stood at 67.9 per cent, a 0.3 percentage point year-on-year (YoY) increase. Female’s LFPR was up by 0.4 percentage points reaching 54.1 per cent in 2015″, it added.
These compare with a low, overall LFPR of 53.8 per cent in Sri Lanka and an even low LFPR for women in the island at 35.9 per cent.
The top three sectors that attract ‘women in employment’ in Malaysia are the wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing and the education sectors, its Institute of Labour Market Information & Analysis (ILMIA), which functions under Malaysia’s Human Resources Ministry said.
CSD, said of the women employed in Sri Lanka, 24.3 per cent were in elementary occupation; skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers (18 per cent) and craft related trades workers (15.8 per cent).
However, the silver lining was that when it came to ‘professionals and employment’, 12.3 per cent of the total employed women in Sri Lanka were employed in this sector. In descending order, after ‘craft related trades workers,’ the next highest absorption was in the ‘professional’ category.
Further, 65.8 per cent of all employed professionals in Sri Lanka comprised women. Overall, professionals (both men and women) comprised 6.5 per cent of the total employed number for that sector.
As far as the other aforesaid sectors were concerned, namely, ‘elementary occupation’; ‘skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers’ and ‘craft related trades workers’, women employed in those sectors comprised under 40 per cent of the total number of persons employed in those sectors.
Part of the reason why Malaysia has a high LFPR may be due to the fact that Malaysia’s informal sector is relatively small compared to that of Sri Lanka’s.
In 2015, 11.4 per cent of non agricultural employment was in the informal sector comprising 1.4 million persons, MSD said.
In contrast, 53.7 per cent (1.47 million) of all of Sri Lanka’s employed women (2.73 million) are employed in the informal sector as at end 2015, CSD data showed.
In fact, the majority (4.69 million (59.8 per cent)) of all Sri Lankans in employment (7.83 million) are employed by the informal sector.
Informal sector employment among men comprised 63. 4 per cent (3.22 million) of this sex’s total employment figure (5.1 million) as at last year (2015) in this country.
In contrast, in Malaysia, out of a total labour force of 14.1 million last year, it had an LFPR of 67.9 per cent in 2015 (14.07 million) and an unemployment rate of 450,300 (3.1 per cent).
Though it was not possible to get the data with reference to those employed, sector wise, in Malaysia as at last year (2015), the figures for 2014 were, however, available.
Those were 12.2 per cent employed in the Agriculture Sector in Malaysia in 2014, 27.4 per cent in the Industries Sector and 60.3 per cent in the Services Sector respectively.
In contrast, in Sri Lanka, a high number of those employed were in the Agriculture Sector, occupying a space of 28.7 per cent. Those in the Industries Sector comprised 25.8 per cent and Services (45.6 per cent).
But by the end of the 2Q of 2016, the Agriculture percentage had come down to 25.1 per cent, whereas those employed in the Industries Sector increased to 27.1 per cent and the Services Sector (47.8 per cent).
In absolute terms, these numbers by end 2Q of 2016 were:-Agriculture (1,961,818; down 2,244,547 as at end 2015), Industries: (2,121,365; up from 2,018,171) and Services (3,732,097; up from 3,568,259).
Women in employment
According to the Census and Statistics Department (CSD), Sri Lanka’s midyear population (as at this year (2016)) was 21.2 million. CSD doesn’t give the island’s end last year population, but it gives the country’s midyear population as at last year (2015) at 20.97 million. Taking the average of these two numbers, it may be assumed that the island’s population as at last year end (2015) was 21.08 million.
According to CSD, as at middle of this year (2016), the total number of women in the country was 10.94 million or 51.59 per cent of the total population and men, 10.27 million or 48.41 per cent of the population. As at mid last year, the number of men was 10.15 million or 48.42 per cent of the total population and women, 10.82 million or 51.58 per cent of the population.
On that basis, the number of men as at last year end may have had averaged out to be 10.21 million or 48.41 per cent of the total population and those of women, 10.88 million or 51.59 per cent of the total population; on the hypothesis that the country’s total population by last year end was 21.08 million as derived above.
In numbers, the economically inactive women were equivalent to 5.29 million of that population, whereas its economically active group represented a mere 2.96 million of that population in question.
Meanwhile, in the case of men (15 years and above), the economically active group represented 74.69 per cent (5.26 million) of that sector population, whereas its ‘economically inactive’ comprised 1.78 million or a miserly 25.31 per cent of that sector’s population.
CSD’s definition of the ‘working age population’ is all those who are above 15 years of age. That number comprised 15.28 million (both sexes) as at last year end, CSD said. This comprised a male population of 7.04 million (46.05 per cent) and a female (working age) population of 8.25 million (53.95 per cent).
Over a seven-year period from 2006 to 2012 though the women unemployment rate had declined from 9.7 per cent to 5.8 per cent, nonetheless, in the three-year period from 2012 to 2015 it has risen from 5.8 per cent to 7.2 per cent, said the CSD. Over the period female unemployment remains higher than that of males.
The unemployment rate among the ‘high educated’ group (G.C.E (A/L) and above) is reported to be 9.2 per cent. The gender split in this connection is 4.7 per cent for men and a high of 13.5 per cent for women, respectively.
This reveals that the problem of unemployment is more acute in the case of educated females than males.