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Sri Lanka

Equal opportunity to women benefits all

Annette Dixon's picture


Celebrating the women of South Asia

As we today mark UN Women’s Day, it is worth considering what the inequality between men and women costs South Asian countries and what can be done about it. 

One big cost of inequality is that South Asian economies do not reach their full potential. In Bangladesh, for example, women account for most unpaid work, and are overrepresented in the low productivity informal sector and among the poor. Raising the female employment rate could contribute significantly to Bangladesh achieving its goal in 2021 of becoming a middle-income country. Yet even middle-income countries in South Asia could prosper from more women in the workforce. Women represent only 34 percent of the employed population in Sri Lanka, a figure that has remained static for decades.

Economic opportunities for women matter not just because they can bring money home. They also matter because opportunities empower women more broadly in society and this can have a positive impact on others.  If women have a bigger say in how household money is spent this can ensure more of it is spent on children.

Improvements in the education and health of women have been linked to better outcomes for their children in countries as varied as Nepal and Pakistan. In India, giving power to women at the local government level led to increases in public services, such as water and sanitation.

Just as the costs of inequality are huge, so is the challenge in overcoming it. The gaps in opportunity between men and women are the product of pervasive and stubborn social norms that privilege men’s and boys’ access to opportunities and resources over women’s and girls’.

 

The tyranny of the kitchen spoon for Sri Lanka’s women

Dileni Gunewardena's picture
Sri Lankan woman washing lentils ahead of preparing a meal
Sri Lankan woman washing lentils ahead of preparing a meal. Credit: Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank

A common Sri Lankan proverb states that a woman’s wisdom only extends to the length of the kitchen spoon’s handle. With near universal female lower secondary school completion, and more girls than boys receiving tertiary education, the knowledge of Sri Lankan females has clearly moved beyond the length of the kitchen spoon’s handle. However, the evidence suggests that ties to the kitchen spoon may still be keeping Sri Lankan women out of the workforce.

Sri Lanka’s population has more women than men; there are 106 women for every 100 men. But when it comes to the labour force, there are only 54 women per 100 men, and 52 women employed for every 100 employed men. In the last 10 years, the female labour force participation rate has declined slightly from 39.5 percent to 34.7 percent, and the female unemployment rate has been consistently twice that of males during this period or longer[1] So why aren’t Sri Lankan women – who are on average more educated than Sri Lankan men – engaged in the labor force in similar proportions? This question has been raised and discussed in policy circles, gaining momentum in recent times.
 
 

Fragility, conflict, and natural disasters – a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to resilience?

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
A partner from the EU assesses damage to an apartment building in Ukraine. Photo credit: EU

It’s a simple yet essential idea: war and disaster are linked, and these links must be examined to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

Alarmingly, the total number of disaster events – and the economic losses associated with those events – keep increasing. This trend has been driven by population growth, urbanization, and climate change, leading to increasing economic losses of $150-$200 billion each year, up from $50 billion in the 1980s. But here is another piece of information: more than half of people impacted by natural hazards lived in fragile or conflict-affected states.

Can poverty be defined by shelter?

Sangmoo Kim's picture
 
Slums in Dhaka
Small shacks with bamboo frames & corrugated tin roofs - where 40 percent of the city’s population live.
Sangmoo Kim/World Bank

In Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, you cannot miss the slum neighborhoods. More than 5,000 slum communities, accounting for 40 percent of the population, are spread across the city, often located right next to luxury penthouses, hotels, and high-rise office buildings. Most slum dwellers are limited to low-quality housing in precarious areas, often prone to flooding. The limited access to adequate shelter is an important factor that – according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 livability rankings – makes Dhaka one of the least livable cities in the world. These communities are among the most neglected in the city in terms of urban policy, planning, and development, although the people who live in the slums make up the lion’s share of the work force, which drives the city’s economy, contributing significantly to the garment and leather industries, construction, waste management, and many other informal sectors.
                                                                         
Living in slums puts enormous social, economic, and financial burdens on households, and it can lead to intergenerational poverty. Many argue that slum dwellers are caught in a poverty trap—that living in slums makes it harder for households to escape poverty. Several slum-related factors contribute to the perpetuation of poverty, including poor health outcomes; an inability to access finance or leverage property assets; and lack of access to basic services. The existence of slums is a symptom of a shortage of affordable housing, the provision of which can be viewed as a valuable goal in its own right and as a critical ingredient in addressing the broader challenges of poverty.

Food systems are finally on the climate change map. What’s next?

Marc Sadler's picture
 
Climate-smart crops can help feed the world. Dasan Bobo / World Bank

So, food systems are finally on the climate change map and embedded in the language of the Paris Climate Agreement.

This is a long way from the previous involvement of agriculture as a contentious area that was subject to fractious debate and fatally entwined with the discussion around climate-change related loss and damage. A vast majority of national plans to address climate change or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) presented at the COP in Paris contained language and commitments on agriculture – for both adaptation and mitigation measures.

What’s behind this change in sentiment and action?

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