Good morning ladies and gentlemen and colleagues. On behalf of the World Bank, I warmly welcome you to a collaborative conversation bringing urban, social and transport sectors together with representatives from the government, civil society, private sector and donors working on initiatives to improve women’s accessibility in the metro Colombo region.
Today, is exactly one week after the world celebrated International Women’s Day with the theme #PressforProgress. We, at the World Bank made a commitment last week to #PressforProgress everyday of the year towards getting women to access work and remain at work. As expressed in the Country Director’s statements last week, we are determined to walk the talk and to work with partners like you to press for progress in taking policy actions based on research findings. This is not something one organization or an individual can do alone. This is a collective task and we hope you will join us in these efforts.
Our research findings as captured in “Getting to work: unlocking women’s potential in Sri Lanka’s Labour Force” finds that despite steady economic growth, the number of women participating in Sri Lanka’s workforce has declined to 36 percent in 2016 from 41 percent in 2010. Sri Lankan women, especially younger ones do not sufficiently acquire marketable skills, face higher unemployment rates and can expect to receive lower wages than men.
Once women are at work, increasing the availability of high quality child care services, improving access to part time work and maternity leave and addressing constraints on women’s mobility through safe transportation and telecommuting are essential to helping them remain in the workforce.
There is a large degree of harassment of women on public transport in Sri Lanka. According to the findings of a UNFPA study, over 90 percent of women have experienced harassment but just 4 percent of women have sought help from the Police. This study initiated in 2015, covered the whole country with 2500 respondents included in the survey. Findings indicate a wide range of mistreatment on public transport including leering, verbal abuse and unwelcome advances. The majority of harassment was physical. Women in low income groups of Sri Lanka rely heavily on public transport. There is clear evidence that harassment and the threat of harassment are limiting women’s mobility, participation in public life and overall well-being. Removing these barriers to women’s paid work will encourage more Sri Lankan women to participate in the workforce. Among many recommendations, safe childcare and transportation and implementing gender equal labor laws and practices are policy recommendations of this study.
Today we are gathered here to exchange knowledge on the issue and identify gaps, share ideas based on experiences, especially initiatives led by the private sector and also identify ‘quick wins’ and small scale opportunities that could kick-start improvements to women’s accessibility and public transport experiences in the short term and also identify long term changes that would improve the livability of metro Colombo region for both women and men.
I believe all of us working in Sri Lanka are accountable to help expand women’s options for productive, safe and fairly compensated work which in turn would benefit her family and also the country.
I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this conversation and next steps taking it forward.