As per the last population census, majority of Sri Lanka’s population is females (52%). However as per economic statistics, they do not generate adequate personal income, impacting economic progress of the country. Therefore, this report attempts to describe importance of gender lens investment and its impact to economic and social improvement of Sri Lankan women, and resulting benefits to the economy.
2.0 Gender Lens Investment explained
An investment of any nature carries the objective of financial returns. Gender lens investment too carries this core objective, however with due consideration for the gender of women, and also investment focused on improvement of economic opportunities and social welfare of females.
Gender lens investment can take multiple dimensions and focus. Investment in industries or professions preferred by women, industries within the comfort zone of women considering specific cultural responsibilities vested upon them, businesses with past track records of providing employment to females or even firms that focus manufacturing or marketing products and services that improve lives of women are in the paradigm of gender lens investment. Another form is providing capital for business owned by women to further strengthen them and support long term sustainability.
Gender lens investment could also focus on less affluent, minority races or women that belong to lower social classes, with the noble objective of uplifting women of such communities.
Gender lens investing is also a strong advocate of gender equality and empowerment of women. It is evident that gender equality has a strong correlation with long term economic growth. Gender based wage inequality has also directly contributed to income inequality of households, thus warrants attention on gender lens investment.
3.0 The Sri Lankan context
Women accounts for 52% of Sri Lankan total population estimated at 21 million. However, it is noted that only 33.4% of economically active individuals of 8.5 million are women. Therefore, closer to 70% of our labor force constitutes economically inactive females.
However, this is mainly not due to marginalization or discrimination of women to take up gainful employment. There are varieties of factors associated with this phenomenon. At the helm, Sri Lankan constitution deems women as citizens of the country with equality with men, equal rights and privileges.
The country’s main agricultural produce, tea rubber and coconut employ large amounts of female employees in unskilled/semi-skilled categories. Labor positions such as pluckers (tea industry), tappers (rubber) and labor category coir workers (coconut) are usually dominated by women. Therefore, Gender lens investing in these industries are useful propositions. Further, programs focused on improving of skills of women in labour categories to take up more high positions are another area of potential focus for such investment.
There are scores of self-employed women in the agricultural sector, involved in cultivation of fruits, vegetables, flora and fauna and even paddy and other crops of economic value. Gender lens investment in this sector, to offer working capital at reasonable rates of interest, imparting technical knowhow on crop management and yield improvement, guidance to seek attractive markets to sell their produce are further areas of focus. Women in the Northern Province of Si Lanka is another important segment of focus due to the fact that the said province is recovering from a 30-year-old war and lack of economic opportunities, gainful employment and education for women. Gender lens investment in this region would support economic and social recovery process in this region.
Further, overall unemployment rate reported for females is 7.4% whilst it is only 2.9% for males. In terms of youth unemployment rate (age category 15 to 24 years), 33.1% are females whilst male counterparts accounts only 50% of this figure (15.5%). Even in age 25 to 29 category, males are only 6.9% whilst females almost 3 folds higher at 18.2% (Department of Census and Statistics, first quarter 2018)
In terms of opportunity for education, there is gender equality for women / girls in Sri Lanka. There are scores of exclusive primary and secondary schools for girls, convent education and other scores of opportunities to educate themselves at post-secondary level. Sri Lankan state university system has equal opportunity for women to admit themselves. In fact, a higher percentage of current university population is female students. However, in the labor force, females haven’t taken up employment positions although higher levels of grandaunts are females. Therefore, gender lens investment to investigate the reasons for dropouts (in terms of entering the labor market), although after receiving a quality education is a valid cause. Further, gender lens investment to create industries to employ female graduates and transform them to become economically active individuals is a need of the hour. A large number of unemployed female graduates is unproductive for country’s economy as university education in Sri Lanka is provided free of charge, unlike provided under loan schemes in first world countries.
The flip side of the story is that a vast majority of Sri Lankan migrant workers abroad are females, contributing to numerus social impediments within their family circles, although they are economically active individuals. Therefore, gender lens investment to create skilled employment in viable domestic industry sectors is a useful mechanism to circumvent social issues associated with female migrant workers.
It is worth investigation the type of positions and number of positions occupied by Sri Lankan females in the corporate and state sector. It is observed that gender diversity supports improvement of business performance. I was revealed that when women occupied 50% or more positions in the leadership hierarchy, such organizations have demonstrated higher sales growth, earnings growth and ROA and even gearing levels have been lower (Credit Suisse, 2016). However, in Sri Lankan context only a minute percentage of female workers occupy leadership positions in state and corporate sector. A large number of females are noted to occupy clerical and executive level positions which warrants focused gender lens investment to change the status quo.
It is worth mention the involvement of women in micro enterprises and SME sector in Sri Lanka. It is reported that only 10% of the SME sector accounts for female contribution, thus warrants greater focus on gender lens investment in micro and SME sectors.