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Women’s increasing vulnerability and COVID-19



Sri Lanka’s Gender-based Employment Segregation

By Sunimalee Madurawala

Although COVID-19 may be gender-blind, it has created a crisis that has disproportionately affected women across the globe. The economic impact of the pandemic is mostly channelled through the labour market. Estimates show that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s jobs, and while women make up 39% of global employment, they account for 54% of overall job losses. While many factors affect the vulnerability of women’s employment during the pandemic, existing gender gaps in the labour market, women’s employment share in highly-affected sectors, the ability to telecommute and the amount of unpaid care work carried out by women have been identified as the main determinants. In this context, this blog examines women’s vulnerability in the Sri Lankan labour market due to the sector they are employed in. It also looks at gender-based employment segregation – a key factor behind women’s overrepresentation in certain industries and underrepresentation in others – and proposes policy measures to address this imbalance.

Impact of COVID-19 on Employed Women in Sri Lanka

A comparison of labour market figures and indicators for Sri Lanka for the fourth quarters of 2019 and 2020 shows a severe impact on women (Figure 1). While the absolute number of employed men has increased by 38,938, the number of employed females has decreased by 189,148. The number of economically inactive persons has increased between the years. Females account for 64% of that increase in economically inactive persons. The labour force participation (LFP) rates for both sexes have decreased significantly but the fall is more prominent for women. The unemployment rate has increased for both sexes during the period, whereas the increase for men is marginally higher than that for females attesting to the lowered LFP of women.

The Sector Matters­­

The greater impact on employed women due to the pandemic is linked directly with the sectors they are employed in. Calculations of the author on women’s employment in Sri Lanka based on an assessment by the International Labour Organization indicate that their employment share is high in both low-risk and high-risk economic sectors (Figure 2).

Manufacturing (including the sub-sector of textile manufacturing), accommodation and food services, and wholesale and retail are high-risk sectors with relatively high female employment shares. Female representation is relatively high in some medium-high risk and medium risks sectors such as ‘arts, entertainment, recreation, and other services’ and ‘financial and insurance activities’, respectively, as well. Even though health is a low-risk sector, women employed in the health sector face a higher risk of contagion.

Gender-based Employment Segregation – a Cause for Women’s Employment Vulnerability?

Gender-based employment segregation – ‘the unequal distribution of men and women across and within job types’, is often the major reason for women’s (or men’s) over-representation in certain sectors. In most cases, especially for females, their choice of employment is linked with the traditional gender roles they play in society (i.e. direct and indirect care responsibilities such as caring for children, the elderly, and the sick, cleaning, cooking, shopping, and fetching water and fuel). For example, in Sri Lanka, the female share in several frontline occupations is high (i.e., health professionals, health-related professionals, and care workers). These occupations are directly linked with women’s traditional gender roles.

Gender-based employment segregation creates unfavourable labour market conditions such as gender gaps in wages, job quality and employment trajectories. Demand-side factors, as well as supply-side factors, limit women’s choice in selecting an employment sector, thus causing employment segregation. Gender gaps in skills and qualifications, domestic and care responsibilities, safety (i.e. harassment at workplaces and when using public transport) issues, and lack of role models and networks are some important supply-side factors. Gender biases in recruitment, evaluation and promotion processes, employers’ perceptions of women employees (where employers perceive women employees as more suitable for certain types of jobs) and features of the workplace culture are important demand-side factors.

Way Forward 

Both training in hard skills and soft skills would increase women’s chances of securing employment in fields traditionally dominated by males. Specific interventions that reduce and redistribute women’s domestic and care responsibilities (i.e. expanding access to key infrastructure for care and investing in labour-saving technology, and redistributing care responsibilities between men and women within households and between households and state and other institutions) would lessen the burden of care responsibilities borne by women. This would create an enabling environment for women to participate in labour market activities and to expand the array of employment options available for them.

Strengthening the legal framework and law enforcement mechanisms is important to ensure the safety of working women both at the workplace and when travelling to work. Furthermore, promoting female role models who have succeeded in traditionally male-dominated sectors would inspire women to choose such careers. In addition, establishing workplace cultures that practice gender-blind recruitment, evaluation, and promotion processes are needed to curtail demand-side factors of gender-based employment segregation.

* This blog is based on the comprehensive chapter on “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Employed Women: Ensuring Gender Equality beyond the Pandemic” in IPS’ forthcoming annual flagship publication ‘Sri Lanka: The State of Economy 2021’.

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Sunimalee Madurawala is a Research Economist at IPS. Her research interests include health economics, gender and population studies. Sunimalee holds a BA (Economics Special) with First Class Honours and a Masters in Economics (MEcon) from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Talk to Sunimalee –

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BoardPAC certified one of Asia’s Best Workplaces by Great Place to Work



BoardPAC Chief Operating Officer Mr Rajitha Kuruppumulle (right) and Head of Operations & Systems Mr Buddhika Abeygooneratne with the Great Places to Work award and certificate

BoardPAC, the Sri Lanka-based multinational board meeting automation solutions company, reached another milestone recently when it was featured for the first time in the prestigious Best Workplaces in Asia 2021 list – Small and Medium category, published by Great Place to Work.

A company news release said this recognition came hot on the heels of BoardPAC being certified as a ‘Great Workplace’ by Great Place to Work in Sri Lanka for the third consecutive year in 2021.

“The internationally acclaimed list follows strict criteria in acknowledging the best of the best in terms of workplaces in the Asia region. BoardPAC’s recognition is based on extensive ratings provided by its employees in an anonymous survey and a culture assessment conducted by the Great Place to Work organisation, and upon having achieved the globally accredited cut-off scores,” the release added..

Commenting on being placed on this esteemed list, BoardPAC’s Chief Executive Officer, Ms Lakmini Wijesundera stated: “We are honored to be selected into the Asia’s Best Workplaces List. Our team’s happiness is key to our success. The well-crafted GPTW Survey helps us with an accurate analysis of employees’ sentiments. The emphasis by GPTW on Trust, Pride, Camaraderie, and Care has been valuable in our efforts to improve continuously. GPTW has become a hallmark of our positive work culture. A big thank you to our team for the contribution to this great culture.”

Great Place to Work provides the benchmarks, framework, and expertise needed to create, sustain, and recognise outstanding workplace cultures, and is the global authority on high-trust and high-performance workplace cultures. This process is carried out via proprietary assessment tools, advisory services, and certification programmes, including a list of best workplaces and workplace reviews. The Best Workplaces in Asia 2021 list can be viewed at

BoardPAC is recognised for driving simple, secure, sustainable, and experiential communications for Board and Executive members. BoardPAC serves a host of fortune 500 companies worldwide, with over 50,000 users globally and a presence in over 40 countries.

Leading Indian corporations such as the Bombay Stock Exchange, Power Grid Corporation of India, IDBI Bank, Container Corporation of India, and LIC Housing Finance Limited are already users of BoardPAC. It has also been deployed by some of the strongest brands across the world such as the Axiata Group of companies, Deloitte and Maxis among others. BoardPAC clientele span the largest banks and sector leaders in the Asia Pacific region such as Prudential, Petronas, Maybank, Hong Leong Group, MSIG, BSN, Bumi Armada, RHB Banking Group, Affin Bank, and Bursa Malaysia – the stock exchange of Malaysia.

In Sri Lanka over 150 of the top corporate entities including John Keells, SriLankan Airlines, MAS Holdings, Bank of Ceylon, Commercial Bank, Hemas, Carsons, Softlogic, Sri Lanka Telecom, Sampath Bank, National Savings Bank, Nations Trust Bank and Merchant Bank of Sri Lanka as well as the SEC and Colombo Stock Exchange use BoardPAC.

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Sri Lanka Insurance holds “Minimuthulanthaya” for Children’s Day 2021



Sri Lanka Insurance holds “Minimuthulanthaya” an exclusive series of informative and entertaining sessions for children and their parents commemorating the World Children’s Day 2021. The programme was held from 01st to 3rd of October 2021 via Sri Lanka Insurance official Facebook page attracting thousands of enthusiastic children across the country.

The programme was conducted with the support of Sri Lanka Insurance Minimuthu Education Plans to inspire the younger generation to achieve their dreams. The Minimuthu Education Plan provides financial assistance for children to pursue their dreams setting a strong foundation for child’s future.

The first session of the series “Super Parents”, an informative discussion on child education, mental health and nutrition was held for parents on 1st of October with the participation of Ms.Christine Jayakody Psychologist, Mr.Upali Ginasekara former Principal of Royal College Colombo and Principal of Polymath College, Dr.Sujeewa Wickramasinghe Nutritionist and Mr.Amintha De Silva Visionary Guru. The programme was well received by parents participated and the programme was followed by a Q & A session where many important issues were discussed regarding the education, health and wellness of children.

The other sessions of Minimuthulanthaya was held during the weekend allowing children as well as their parents to enjoy a quality time together. “The Artist” session and “The Entertainer” session was conducted live in both Sinhala and Tamil mediums teaching and allowing children to express their talents in drawing and creativeness.

The Mastermind session was conducted to interact with masterminds with knowledge about mathematics, science, history, general knowledge and various other fields.

The Computer Wizard session was the main attraction of the whole series as many kids with avid interest towards computer programming joined the session to learn programming.

The sessions were concluded asking the participants to submit their own creative work to stand a chance to win valuable gifts from Sri Lanka Insurance and is receiving tremendous response in return.

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UN-recognized pioneer leads Hayley’s Fabric’s greening thrust



Leonie Vaas, a chemical engineer who’s the Manager of Sustainability and Innovation at Hayley’s Fabrics made history last June when she was selected from thousands across the globe to be designated as one of just 10 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Pioneers by the United Nations (UN) Global Compact for 2021.

With an extensive range of experience in green house gas (GHG) reduction and ensuring carbon neutrality, life cycle perspective of products, plant and process improvements with sustainable technologies and textile chemical management, Leonie has paved the path for local sustainability champions to be recognized on a global platform, a news release from Hayley’s Fabrics said.

She primarily focuses on five key areas at Hayleys Fabric, including driving efforts in reducing GHG emissions, water preservation, improving efficiency with sustainable solutions for effluent treatment plants, building and training sustainability teams, as well as developing and applying new processes for ‘better and greener’ products, the release said.

Sustainable business starts with a sustainable culture

“I’ve always had a passion for the environment, and so from the start, I gravitated towards work in sustainability. Once I joined Hayleys Fabric, I was challenged and supported to link sustainability with innovation properly. Here, the opportunity to have a continuous learning experience, to be at the very forefront of sustainable innovation and part of shaping a greener future – is tremendous.

“We have a strong leadership commitment that all employees evenly match, and ultimately, that culture and enthusiasm to take the lead on sustainability are what drives our success. Sustainability at its core is driven by the higher management and we were able to come this far with the support and guidance of our CEO and Managing Director Rohan Goonetilleke. Because of this unique dynamic, we were able to rapidly commercialise our sustainable innovations, which gave me a chance to showcase what Hayleys and Sri Lanka have to offer the world. When you build the right culture, everything else flows from there,” Vaas said.

A team committed to sustainable innovation

True sustainability is about more than a single innovation. Leonie cites a host of extraordinary initiatives implemented by the Hayleys Fabric team collectively aimed at securing global leadership in sustainable textile manufacturing.

“We treat 100% of the water used for production to maintain strict compliance with certified and audited commitments on Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals. This standard is recognised globally, beyond Sri Lanka’s strict national regulations,” Leonie noted.

As a signatory to the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming at 1.5°C, Hayleys Fabric has already cut its carbon footprint by 15%. This was achieved by installing the largest private sector rooftop solar power system in Sri Lanka at the company’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Horana. With 9,000 solar panels installed across 18,000 square metres, the system has contributed 4.5 Mw to the National Grid since June 2021.

Leonie finds the company’s future focus on re-engineering its value chain truly inspirational. “Our team is looking at substituting production supplies with recycled polyester, organic cotton, and other bio-degradable materials as well as augmenting production capabilities to create textiles from yarn comprised of recycled plastic.”

The innovation team recently launched an app to enable end-to-end traceability for its recycled PET fabrics, mostly supplied locally to Sri Lanka’s largest apparel manufacturers. This will allow local producers and global retailers to tag individual pieces of clothing with a QR code, which customers can scan to learn exactly how many discarded PET bottles were used to create the item and exactly which part of Sri Lanka, the bottles were collected from.

Hayleys Fabric also connects employees with key sustainability issues through culture building, webinars, and training and awareness building workshops.

“Keeping key issues like waste segregation, pollution, and energy efficiency top of mind, ensures that the entire workforce stays engaged with the company’s quest to become a global leader in sustainable textile production. As local leaders, we must always continue to find ways to become global pioneers.”

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