It’s time to #PressForProgress for Sri Lanka’s women!

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Starting today, March 8, we at the World Bank are embarking on a year-long effort to rally the government, our development partners, the private sector and the public to see how we can really deliver results for Sri Lanka’s women.    

International Women’s Day is always an important marker in my calendar and this year’s theme #PressForProgress couldn’t be more exciting .
Starting today, March 8, we at the World Bank are embarking on a year-long effort to rally the government, our development partners, the private sector and the public to see how we can really deliver results for Sri Lanka’s women.     
What’s the urgency?
Simply put, Sri Lanka is trailing behind many countries in its development bracket when it comes to working women.  
Did you know that 214,298 women over the age of 15 are unemployed in Sri Lanka today?   Sri Lanka’s female labor force participation or FLFP rate has stubbornly remained in the mid-thirties for the last two decades ; out of an estimated 7.3 million people who are considered ‘economically inactive’ 73.8 percent are women, while just 26.2 percent are men.
It is clear this challenge is too great for any ministry, development partner or corporate office.
But why do Sri Lankan women need to get to work?
Because this country’s prosperity depends on it!  Sri Lanka is getting older before getting rich. Without a labor force the country cannot be competitive nor can it deliver on basic services that require revenue to be generated.
So, the question is, what will it take to really deliver change for Sri Lanka’s women? What are the challenges? How can we help motivate those able to energize change that will benefit women?    
The World Bank is ready to join the government, private sector, development partners and the citizens of Sri Lanka in supporting tangible initiatives which address the realities on the ground. We are going to advocate widely.
So, let’s start with a few important announcements. We want to learn from you. Tell us where we should start, and what specific issues need attention. We want to know what your challenges are, and who inspires you most.

There are 3 ways you can get involved and #PressForProgress:

  1.  Answering our survey and sharing your story with us. With only ten questions, the survey is open to both men and women.  Development is a partnership and we need our men-folk to help us advocate and act.  Your answers will be used to inform policy-makers and stimulate conversations with both the private and public sectors on how women can get to work.
  2. Success often hinges on the individual’s inner desire to succeed and learning from role models. Who is your female role model? Send us a photograph and a few lines that capture the woman who inspires your work for our ‘who’s your role model?’ photo contest.  
  3. Finally, we’d love to hear from you! Share your insights as one of our guest bloggers – write to us at with a bio and your idea for a blog.  In fact, our next guest blogger, Seshika Fernando, will be talking about her experiences as a woman in technology, and how it takes a diverse team to create a world-class product.
Please do participate, and share this widely with others you think can contribute. We need to work together because only a coordinated, monumental effort can move the needle on FLFP.
If you have been concerned about this issue, you know that successive Sri Lankan governments have recognized the need to improve the number of women getting access to safe, fair and paid employment. Many development partners, including the World Bank, have invested in this work. Thanks to several reports we have a sense of what the challenges could be:
Sri Lanka needs an overhaul of outdated legislation and policies that act as deterrents to women entering or staying in the labor market.   It needs to spark the interest of young girls in subjects like science and mathematics, and convince them that they are just as capable as boys; that they too can build on careers in engineering, scientific research, IT etc.   
Employers need to walk the talk and commit to supporting diversity in the workplace by hiring women and paying them the same wages as men for similar jobs . Women need safe transportation and zero tolerance of sexual harassment in the office. High-quality childcare can enable women with young children to work if they choose to.
At home, we need families to see their girls as capable future professionals. Household responsibilities can be equitably divided between men and women.  
Finally, given a chance, women can drive the change they want to see.  And their mentors, be they men or women, can be the catalysts that enable women to realize their potential at work. This, I am certain is what those who came up with the slogan ‘Press for Progress’ had in mind. Personally, I will continue to advocate through various pieces, all year round, for women’s labor force participation.  I hope you can and will join me.


Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough

Country Director, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, Comoros and Seychelles

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