Women in Sri Lanka

About Sri Lanka

A little a bit about our country: We are now known as The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and prior to that we were quite famous as Ceylon. We have India to the Northwest and Maldives to the Southwest. We are an island; therefore we carry with us all traits of an island culture.

We are a diverse culture with a majority of Sinhalese, Indian Tamils, Moors, Burghers, Malays, Kaffirs and Aboriginal Vedda. In 2009, we recovered from a 30-year terrorist war.

We are also mostly a political based Economy and our entrepreneurial eco-system faces legislation and policy changes at closer intervals. We are governed by a Presidential System where by the President is the Head of State and Head of Government and of a multi-party system. The government exercises executive power. The government and parliament exercises legislative power and the judiciary is independent of these. Recently with the passing of the 19th amendment to the constitution in 2015, the Prime Minister was granted more powers to appoint ministers and lead the cabinet.

Sri Lanka produces tea, coffee, gemstones (we are famous for our Ceylon Sapphires), coconuts, rubber and all native cinnamon. We are the only South Asian country rated “high” on the Human Development Index mostly due to our free health care. National Geographic has voted Sri Lanka one of the Best Islands in the World and No 2 on the Top Places to visit in 2014. We also have beautiful beaches, coral and marine life, history, culture, ancient sites, national parks with wild life like elephants, leopards; gem mines and tea estates.


Women Rulers in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka was the first Asian country to have a female ruler, Queen Anula who reigned during 47-42 BC.

Sri Lanka became the first country in Asia to give women the right to vote in 1931. Women have been in Parliament in Sri Lanka since 1931 and continued so up to date. The first woman representative was Adeline Molamure elected to the then State Council. 60 women have served in the legislature of Sri Lanka, which includes the currently serving 14 making over 5% of all current members.

In 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became the world’s first female elected Prime Minister. In 1994, her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, went on to become Sri Lanka’s first female head of state and president of Sri Lanka.

Out of the current approx. 20 million population in Sri Lanka, approx. 52% are females.


Women in Parliament

The percentage of women in Parliament since gaining independence in 1948 has not gone above 6.5%. Currently 13 out of 225 parliamentary members are women. 5.8% in provincial councils. In local councils only about 1 to 2 % are women representatives. However, in 2015, fresh electoral reforms expected, which include combining the proportional representation and the first-past-the-post system, as promised by the new government may ease this female shortfall in parliament.


Female Literary Rate

The adult female literary rates continue to be 90% or higher with those in the 15-24 year age bracket reaching 99%. The girls outnumber boys in secondary education and from the findings of the Census and Statistics Department 60% of undergraduates are women.


Women in the Labor Force

Women in Sri Lanka make up about 35.5% of the 8/8 million-labor force. However, many more are employed in the informal sector.

Agriculture is the largest employer of women at 33.9% and 42% work in the service sector. 1 in 4 women are engaged in industries. About 600,000 women are employed as migrant workers. In 2014 they earned US$6 billion and was declared Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earners.

Women also contribute to the domestic textile industry, which is a large contributor to export earnings.

And the popular tea industry and paddy cultivation can also boast to indicate that women are a major contributor and in these cases are mostly the breadwinners of all these families in Sri Lanka.

According to the department of Census and Statistics in 2012, out of the total ‘economically active population’ females account for only 34%


Women Entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka

The exact number of women in business in Sri Lanka both in the formal and informal sector is a study as of date is to be conducted. According to a Country Briefing Paper done by the Asian Development Bank in May 1999, ‘successful women entrepreneurs have been largely those from families with economic resources such as members of the Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce or some of those supported by nongovernment organizations (NGOs) assisting in entrepreneurial activities.

According to a study done by the Institute of Policy Studies on female entrepreneurship, “out of the total number of ‘employers’ in Sri Lanka only 10% are women. This number corresponding to the total employed population (as of 2011) is at around 0.9 percent. It has been estimated that about 80% of the economy is driven by SMEs (small medium enterprises); out of which women led SMEs are only about 10%.

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