Apr 16, Colombo: While successful on several development indicators, Sri Lanka has the 20th largest gender gap in labor force participation globally, which impedes the country's goals for growth and equity, the World Bank says.
While Sri Lankan women are educated and live longer many do not work outside the home partly due to skills mismatch - a disparity between the skills women attain and what the market demands or will pay for.
To empower women and increase their chances for employment and entrepreneurship for women at the grassroots, Fusion, the ICT arm of together with Microsoft recently conducted a two day workshop in Colombo for civil society organizations (CSOs) working on women's empowerment.
The workshop, Innovate for Impact connects CSOs promoting women's empowerment with ICT tools to build social enterprises and make a difference at the grassroots level.
"ICT is a powerful transformative tool and it has revolutionized the way people think, behave, work and also advocate for change," said Rolande Pryce, Operations Advisor World Bank Sri Lanka and the Maldives, at the inaugural session of Innovation for Impact.
Despite a growing ICT literacy, less than a fifth of Sri Lankans use the internet, and only 10 percent of households have direct access.
An obvious gap in Sri Lanka's development toward a knowledge economy stems from the lack of university graduates, especially women who major in technical fields, the World Bank says.
World Bank attributes the low female labor force participation in Sri Lanka to 3 key factors: Gender norms around household roles as women are responsible for household chores limiting access for outside employment; Skills mismatch - a disparity between the skills women attain and what the market demands or will pay for; and Gender bias - active and institutional gender discrimination, wage gaps, discriminatory work places, and weaker job networks compared to male counterparts.
"While governments, policy makers and practitioners work on making systemic changes, civil society groups can help improve this situation at the individual and household level through exposure, encouragement and advocacy," said Pryce, encouraging NGOs to incorporate ICT as well as gender and development into their existing programs.
To help address low female labor force participation, World Bank says CSOs can promote and advocate for women to access part time work, maternity leave and child care services in an effort to eliminate associated stigma.
Also CSOs can help girls to identify and develop careers of their choice from an early age regardless of gender norms and restrictions and provide Access to job information and placement services.
The two day workshop provided opportunities for CSO participants to network and brainstorm possible ICT solutions integrated within existing projects. This will be followed up with a year of support for NGOs in close collaboration with the partners.
"Our goal is to support our NGO partners in creating employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for educated young women in Sri Lanka. We will work towards this goal and keep track of results which we hope will be innovative and demonstrative examples for others to follow," said Isura Silva, Manager of Sarvodaya Fusion.
This is the third year of partnership for ICT development outreach for NGOs working with youth implemented by World Bank South Asia Region External and Corporate Relations unit, Microsoft Asia and Pacific Citizenship Engagement program and the Sri Lankan ICT4Development partner, Sarvodaya Fusion.