By Shaahidah Riza and Zahrah Imtiaz
"Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, 'She doesn't have what it takes'. They will say, "Women don't have what it takes."
American author, politician, and playwright who wrote The Women, Clare Boothe Luce sums up the universal challenges of women which all women experience at least at one point of their lives. Sri Lankan women, in this case, are a prime example.
Two weeks ago (8 March), Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Harsha de Silva was invited as guest speaker to a Women's Day celebratory event. During his speech, he said that 65 per cent of women are eligible to work, yet choose not to do so, and added that more women go on to achieve higher education. He raised the question as to whether it is necessary to provide higher education, if women are not willing to work and make an economic return from the education they have garnered.
Although, Dr. De Silva was emphasizing on the need to encourage women to reach their highest potential, career wise, the matter of women's lack of contribution to the economy cannot be ignored. In order to shed more light on the matter of less number of women workers, Ceylon Today spoke to founder Chairperson and Managing Director of Women in Management (WIM) Sulochana Segera, who is presently working on an academic project pertaining to women and employment.
Speaking to Ceylon Today, She said,
"To not to work is a choice made by women. It basically cements what Dr. Harsha De Silva said. Sri Lanka has the highest number of educated women in Asia, but women's contribution to the economy is only 33.4 per cent. If you look at the data more critically, Sri Lankan economy according to the 2013 statistics, women employment rate is 54 per cent. Women employers, in comparison to men, are 0.9 per cent. Entrepreneurs and those who earn from a small business under the registered license of a man is 36.2 per cent are men, whereas women its 26.6 per cent. Unpaid family workers that is women who are in the family, but contributing to the family business or employment but not being paid is 20.5 per cent, whereas men are just 3 per cent, whether they contributed or not, they are being paid.
Yet, 20 per cent of women who contribute to the economy are unpaid. If the statistics are perused more critically, education rate is high among women; even though they are not employed they are contributing to the economy. But they are not paid monetarily."
Sri Lanka Labour Force Survey (LFS) done in the first-quarter of 2015, showed that 3,274,026 women reflected by 36.7 per cent were economically active, as opposed to men in the same category amounting to 5,650,690 reflected by 63.3 per cent. On the other hand, 1,997,581 reflected by 25.9 per cent were economically inactive as opposed to 5,726,514 women reflected by 74.1 per cent.
These statistics show a great margin between women's economic contribution as opposed to men. However, in response to this, Segera explained,
"I agree that Sri Lanka has more educated women, but they are not contributing monetarily to the economy. Their contribution is not valued. The definition for unpaid employed worker is a person who works without any payment in an enterprise, which may be social, business or a service, whose contribution will not have for a monetary value. These women fall in to this category."
She continued further,
"If you look at the professional occupation survey, total professionals of the government and private sector are 532,446 professionals. Out that 328,000 are women, whereas men are only 203,000. If you look at the senior management level women are only representing 140,000 where as the men are representing 279,000."
Segera further added that women have no decent choice when it comes to employment. In Sri Lanka where rape and child abuse is high, women cannot take the risk of routinely leaving their children unattended.
"In our Asian culture, when the children are being destroyed the mother is always blamed and not the father. The whole responsibility of the family is upon the shoulders of the women. That is one of the reasons why women choose not to be employed. When a country like this has so many women, where the highest population is women and they are not contributing we have an issue as to whether we should give women an opportunity to be educated. That question can be raised, but the question must be answered by the authorities and the society, as to whether women are safe to be employed? Are they being supported by their families and their husbands, Or from the corporate? Corporatists take the women employees as a burden," she said.
She emphasized that women are expected to juggle multiple familial roles, which cannot be compromised in favour of academic or professional interests. She noted,
"If women work, they have to come home and be the mother, be the wife, be the cook and the cleaner, and also be an employee. If a man, the father works, if he be tired, allowances are always made for him and to relax when he gets home. If a woman works she cannot compromise on her role as mother or wife, because we live in a patriarchal society. You cannot always blame the man, as mothers bring up sons with similar notions, where they inculcate the principle of the son being employed and making the wife handle the rest of the work. There is no sharing of responsibilities."
She also cautioned that curtailing opportunity for higher education is not the answer for woman's choice of not finding employment, adding that the consequence of doing so will be dire.
"If education is not given to women, nonetheless, Sri Lanka will suffer even more, it is because of these educated women that the children are safe and well brought up. Education is not only about being employed, education of women empower the children, environment, men and the society. A large number of women are at medical college and entering university to study law, if you look at the medical specialists, and the leading lawyers they are mostly men. This is because, women after receiving their degrees give up their higher studies to build a family, and allow their husband to continue their higher studies and achieve success. Women sacrifice their education and their needs and their freedom for the success of men," She remarked and added: "This is the typical Sri Lankan environment, whereas in India multinational companies have more female CEOs. An Indian professional once told me that the Indians albeit being family oriented and having a strong culture, the husbands tend to support their wives. They want to see their wives excelling in their careers, too. However in Sri Lanka, the men want women to have an inferior job to them, they don't want the wife to have a senior management position.
Even in our polling cards the head of the household must be the father, if that is not the case that slot has to be blank and the wife has to fill the second form. In India, Their cultural norms were not compromised, and in that level of society women were treated somewhat equally. Even in Sri Lanka women are treated equally to some extent, but the women choose the role of being a mother and a wife for their future, than their career, for the benefit of having a good family life and for their children's benefit."
On the other she also added that one of the reasons women choose not to work is due to self imposed manacles, where the husband is willing to be supportive, yet the woman does not encourage his support.
"If you talk to women, they think it is better to be in a more secondary role than in the forefront. Women compete professionally with women, and not with men. Men always make the decision in the family even with regard to their careers.
If a woman clashes with her husband, then she has to leave her family life. There is something missing in this dynamics. The missing part here is that women are also responsible for this. Women think that they have to do everything alone; women are not good at delegating. For example, if a woman requests the husband to do the marketing, and he does a poor job of it, then the woman has to be patient and praise him for what he did so that he will be encouraged to do a better job in the future.
Women sometimes tend to amplify the mistakes of men, so some of the men are scared to help at home, and share the responsibilities. The brains of men and women function differently. Even the aspect of sharing must be initiated by women, and not men. It's not just about being adamant and saying 'I am a working woman, you do the work' to the man, they should discuss and identify their roles better. Sri Lanka needs a way where children are taught to respect the wants and career choices of women and to understand the concept of sharing responsibilities in life."
She further implied that neither males, nor females are enjoying absolute freedom of choice in the employment sphere. Individuals are ensnared in an economic culture, where the social elements of sharing responsibilities and returning favours are only measured in monetary terms Segera observed,
"At present, no choices are given to anyone. We talk about women being educated, and so on, but what we must really understand is whether the women, regardless of the economy, contribute something for themselves, are they really happy at home? Are they really doing what they got an education for? Elderly dependency is more among women. There are more women in the home for the elderly.
It is because they have sacrificed their life for their children and their families, yet, with the current economic state children cannot take care of the mother, albeit the mother being so educated yet she has not earned anything for herself. Even emotionally she tends to be neglected, no one returns her favours, and she only gets blame. Even when the economy is collapsing, with the GDP dipping, women were blamed for not contributing to the economy despite their large number; this is the government's complaints.
But they won't look in to the other aspects, is she safe to work? Will her children be brought up properly? Why does she not get any support from her husband? All these factors must be taken in to account."
Thus, the aforementioned quote by Claire Boothe Luce exemplify; drawing on the need to focus on failing elements that are socio-familial which incapacitates women's choice of contributing economically.
(Contact: [email protected] and [email protected])