Sri Lanka female labor force participation could boost productivity: Kvintradze 

Dec 11, 2015 (LBO) – Sri Lanka needs labor market reforms including boosting of female labor force participation rate, a senior International Monetary Fund official said.

“If you look at labour force participation across the globe and especially in Sri Lanka you see there is a huge opportunity to boost labour force participation,” Eteri Kvintradze Resident Representative, IMF said.

“And an important dimension to that is the female labour force.”

She was speaking at the LBR LBO Debrief – “Business Climate Outlook of 2016” held in Colombo.

According to data, women represent approximately 51.7 percent of the total estimated population of 21 million in Sri Lanka but only 33.4 percent contributes to the national economy, from 8.5 million of economically active population in the country.

Kvintradze says that Sri Lanka stands out because it has very high education attainment levels but female participation in the labour force is low.

“When you compare India’s education attainment level it is much lower than that of Sri Lanka,” she said.

“So there is an opportunity there – your educated labour force is not able to utilize its full productivity level and there could also be added significant gains if there was more labour force participation opportunities for women.”

This is in spite of the fact that in most university courses, including management, law and liberal arts, the numbers of women outnumber men and large proportions of women attend management and accounts training programmes offered by private educational institutes.

In Sri Lanka at the undergraduate level the share of females is at 60 percent but this is not reflected in the employment levels or the labour force. The employment to population ratio is only 30 percent females and labour force participation is around 30 – 35 percent and the unemployment rate in females is 6.6 percent compared to 3.2 percent in males, data shows.

“Actually according to IMF calculations if there are more women contributing to the island’s productivity then Sri Lanka’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can increase by 20 percent,” Kvintradze said.

A recent labour force survey in Sri Lanka shows that the highest percentage of women are in the service sector accounting for 39.5 percent of the labour force, while women in agriculture and industry account for 35.3 percent and 25.1 percent, respectively.