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Intervention at the Ministerial Roundtable (C) - 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61)

Monday, 13 March 2017



61st Session of the Commission on the Status of women

Ministerial roundtable (C )

Theme: Informal and non-standard work – What policies can effectively support women’s economic empowerment


The Hon. Minister of Women and Child Affairs of Sri Lanka

Hon. Chandrani Bandara Jayasingha

13th March 2017

CR2, United Nations, New York


Thank you Madam Chair

In Sri Lanka the contribution of informal sector women to the national economy is significant, in addition to their contribution to the well - being of the family. Established social and cultural norms of the society on women’s household roles, a lack of visibility given to them and their contribution at the policy level, have precluded women from enjoying equal rights enshrined in CEDAW and other human rights conventions.

Assessing the economic contribution of women as unpaid care workers, legislation for ensuring decent work for female domestic workers, introducing equal wages for work of equal value, eliminating discriminatory provisions in land allocation, and introducing social protection measures, are some of the key areas to be addressed, for empowering and protection of rights of informal sector women in Sri Lanka.

The situation with regard to unpaid care workers is as follows:

The Labor force survey conducted in 2015 reveals that 60% of the population are working in the informal sector. Of this number 62,4% are males and 53.9% are females.  Those who are not in the labor force are  categorized as economically inactive. Accordingly, 46.7% persons of working age population are in the economically inactive group - comprising around 25.2% males and 74.8% females. This shows that the number of inactive females is higher than that of males. One of the reasons given in the survey for being economically inactive is that they are engaged in household work.

They are treated as unpaid care workers as they do not receive a wage, and thus it falls outside the production boundary, and is not counted in the Gross Domestic Product. Their work involves preparing food, washing, cleaning, caring for the young and old members of the household. For households and families to be sustained on a daily basis, women provide their labor and time working on average of 15- 18 hours per day. These are activities that if carried out by someone hired for the purposes would be valued in terms of wage. They will be engaged as being in the labor force, and categorized as being engaged in productive work. This is critical to understand the role that women play in contributing, not only to the social and economic well-being of the family,  but also to the national economy. We need to quantify the unpaid care work to estimate the cost of unaccounted work performed by women and connect findings with mainstream national accounting.

With the quantification of unpaid care work the government could invest in safe child care facilities accessible to women, and provide incentives for employers to encourage men to share household care work with women. Recognizing unpaid care work, has been included in  target 5.4 under Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Hence it is vital to include this subject in the government agenda, which Sri Lanka has done in our action plans.  

Domestic Workers

Around 90% of domestic workers in Sri Lanka are women employed by private households. The domestic workers have always been drawn from poor economically deprived families to work for economically strong middle and upper class families.

The domestic workers within Sri Lanka  falls into the informal sector and does not contribute to the Gross National Product directly. As a result of this invisibility domestic workers receive no legal recognition, safeguards or benefits that the formal labour force receives.

The ILO Convention 189 on Domestic workers which  guarantees worker rights, salary payment, rest periods, terms and conditions ensuring decent work conditions is not ratified by Sri Lanka yet.

 The Wages Board Ordinance provide the legal framework for fixing of minimum wages. Under the Wages Board Ordinance currently 43 Wages Boards have been established and these Wages Boards determine the minimum wages of respective trades. Therefore it is important to include domestic workers within the definition of  “Trade” under the Wages Board Ordinance to regulate the working conditions.

Equal wages for work of equal value.

Around 54% of women falling below the poverty line in the informal sector are engaged in wage labor.  It is a common phenomenon that poor women in the rural sector are engaged in wage labor to supplement the meagre family income. Wage labor is mainly available in the tea, rubber and coconut small holdings as well as in subsistence production activities. In the agriculture sector it is estimated that over 56% of the women work  in planting, weeding and post harvesting work. Youth both males and females are seen less likely to move to agriculture as a livelihood and as a result women are more responsible for most of the cultivations by themselves. Their work is confined to eight hours. However the discrepancy is that for the same output of work men are given a better wage while women receive a low salary compared to men for work of equal value. Hence legislation is needed to protect the wages of women workers in the informal sector.

Women’s access to resources

One of the key aspects in empowering women is their access to resources. Women are benefitted through the development of micro finance schemes in accessing credit on more favorable terms. However women’s access and control over resources is some what limited to men specially in ownership to land. Although in theory most customary laws in Sri Lanka allows women to enjoy equal inheritance rights  with men over land  may not necessarily put into practice. The inheritance schedules of the Land Development Ordinance had stipulated that if the allottee died intestate only the eldest son could inherit the land holding. We have been negotiating with Ministry of Land for the removal of this discriminatory provision in the Ordinance. Different land ownership laws (Thesawalami,Muslim Law,Roman Dutch Law)and lack of a common civil code make land use assessment difficult. The application of the Head of Household concept often discriminates against women in issue of property and land inheritance.

Social protection measures

Despite the well covered social protection system in the formal sector, the coverage is less for those working in the informal sector. Samurdhi is the largest social protection program in Sri Lanka covering a population of 1.5 million. In addition there are three social security schemes in the informal sector operating in Sri Lanka, namely, Farmers Pension Scheme, Fishermen’s Pension Scheme and the Self Employed Person’s pension Scheme. However the coverage and the government contribution to these schemes are limited and more attention is needed to improve these schemes for the benefit of the contributors. Sri Lanka has one of the fastest ageing population in South Asia. Currently the population of those above 60 years comprises 13% of the population which is estimated to be increased to 25% in 2025.Therefore we need to face the challenges by expanding the social security systems to protect the ageing population with special focus on vulnerable families.

In Sri Lanka, we have included these measures in our Action Plans, specialty in the Human Rights Action Plan and we hope to collaborate with relevant Ministries to develop policies, and legislation while the Civil society Organizations are encouraged to advocate for transformative changes.