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Tuesday May 30th, 2023

Low female participation in Sri Lanka’s ICT sector calls for action – IPS

ECONOMYNEXT – The participation if women in Sri Lanka’s ICT industry is low with females holding only 34 percent of the jobs in the sector, policymakers and organizations should consider establishing female friendly policies to encourage more participation of women, the Institute of Policy Studies, a Colombo-based think tank has said.

The full statement is reproduced below;

DigitALL: Are Sri Lankan Women Abandoned in Digital Transformation?

By Lakshila Wanigasinghe

Written for International Women’s Day on 08 March 2023.

Technology plays an important role in modern society. It connects, innovates, and transforms economies and societies at large. Yet, women and girls continue to have limited access to technology. This gender bias is also present in Sri Lanka, where women comprise of over 50% of the population.

This year, the United Nations marks International Women’s Day with the theme “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, focusing on the digital gender gap’s impact on widening socio-economic inequalities. This blog explores the factors hindering Sri Lankan women’s access to technology and discusses some ways to overcome them.

Digital Gender Divide

The term digital gender divide refers to the gap in digital adoption and use across genders. Findings suggest that more than half of all women worldwide are offline. The gender gap in digital access is wider across developing countries, where the internet penetration rate is 53% and 41% for adult men and women respectively.

COVID-19 emphasised the importance of technology as many government services, education, business, and financial services were performed online during this time. It also confirmed that many groups not only lack access to the digital economy but also resources, technology, and knowledge. In Sri Lanka, only one out of five households owned a desktop or laptop computer in 2021. Less than half of the population used the internet, and email users were even fewer. While Sri Lanka reported a digital literacy rate of 57.2% in 2021, the computer literacy rate was only 34.3%, with females falling behind in both aspects (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Digital and Computer Literacy Rates, 2021

Although Sri Lanka’s higher rate of digital literacy comes across as a positive indicator, it is important to note that the measure for digital literacy is an individual’s ability to ‘use a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone on his/her own.’ However, this measure may not fully reflect true digital literacy as it can also include those who only use smartphones for voice calls. Even against this measure, it is evident that women are underrepresented.

The digital gender divide adversely impacts women’s access to education, health, and financial inclusion. Women and girls face various obstacles, including the limited availability, knowledge, and socio-cultural barriers, which prevent them from fully utilising digital resources. Another deterrent is the high costs associated with digital devices and internet services, especially for rural households. Sri Lanka’s rural and estate sectors lag in digital and computer literacy in comparison to the urban sector. This is likely to have a more significant impact on girls and women in these regions. Further, digital safety concerns relating to cybercrimes, online harassment, greater potential for hate speech, and the overall lack of accountability for such actions discourage some women from using technology entirely.

Closing the Gap

Enhancing Employability Prospects – In today’s growing digital era, the absence of digital literacy and usage will reduce women’s employability prospects further widening gender inequalities. Hence addressing it is crucial to narrowing economic and social inequalities. As the job market shifts towards highly skilled positions, women must adapt and prepare to remain competitive. It can be expected that these jobs will increase more formal employment opportunities and secure forms of income generation. Currently, only 34% of ICT jobs in Sri Lanka are held by females. Increasing female representation the sector will also contribute towards having more role models for girls interested in pursuing similar fields in the future. Thus, shattering the glass ceiling requires immediate action to close the digital gender divide in the long run.

Gender Equality at Work – To address the existing gender bias, policymakers and organisations must work together to establish ‘female-friendly’ policies and programmes. Making women feel welcome and empowered is a good starting point. While addressing gender stereotypes is important, they also need to be coupled with other facilities such as safe transport and flexible work schedules to encourage more women to apply for positions in male dominated fields. This would not only increase the number of women in the field but also help women receive family support to pursue careers in technology.

Empowering Rural Women – It is necessary to provide equal opportunities for women in tech and allow them to grow so that their success can inspire other women to follow suit. This also includes bridging the urban-rural divide in technology access. Hence introducing rural women to digital technology, formal banking and digital financial solutions is important. This could also include specialised training and loan schemes for females interested in entering the technology field. Improving women’s access opens up opportunities for secure financing and a path out of poverty -by engaging in various businesses, especially at a time when e-commerce is popular. These positive economic outcomes can be a game changer for rural female-headed households and Sri Lanka as a whole. Moreover, they can provide small businesses access to international markets if done correctly.

Skill Improvements – Survey findings link higher educational attainment and knowledge in English to greater computer literacy in Sri Lanka. Thus, promoting higher education and English literacy among girls from a young age will prove mutually beneficial in improving computer literacy rates. While ICT is included in the current school curriculum, what is taught at the mandatory level is inadequate. Therefore, it is essential that policymakers update the subject matter to meet the growing digital demand. In line with this, disparities in resource allocations at the school level must also be addressed (such as inadequate availability of computers in smaller schools, absence of computer labs etc.). Encouraging girls to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is critical because ‘there won’t be any women in tech without girls in STEM.’

Given Sri Lanka’s current economic standing, it is also important to consider resource allocations. This is especially concerning allocating funds towards distributing computers to less-developed schools, organising training programs for rural women etc. While these are essential measures in bridging the digital gender gap, implementing any initiatives in stages is best. This will provide a better mechanism to monitor the impact of actions on closing the gap and help adjust course as necessary, without unnecessary waste of scarce resources.

Link to original blog:

Lakshila Wanigasinghe is a Research Officer at the IPS with research interests in poverty, social welfare, development, education, and health. She holds an MSc in Economics with a concentration in Development Economics and a BA in Economics with concentrations in International, Financial and Law and Economics from Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), US. (

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Sri Lanka food producers on countdown; 6-months to reduce trans fat content

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan food manufacturers only have another six months to reduce the amount of trans fat in food items as the government plans to ban high trans-fat food from January 2024 onwards, an official said.

“A six-month grace period has been given to existing manufacturers, sellers and distributors whose products contain trans-fat,” an official of the Ministry of Health told EconomyNext requesting anonymity.

According to a Ministry of Health gazette issued on… a person shall not sell, offer for sale, expose or keep for sale or advertise for sale, any packaged food product containing trans-fat unless the total amount of trans-fat of such food product per 100 grams or 100 milliliters of the food product is declared on the label of such packaged food product.

However, these regulations will not be applicable for export oriented food products.

Trans-fat is a type of fat that has certain chemical properties and is usually found in processed foods such as baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, shortening, margarine, and certain vegetable oils.

Eating trans-fat increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Sri Lanka for enacting a legislation on trans-fat to protect health and prevent premature deaths from coronary heart disease, a statement from the WHO said.

“Eliminating trans-fats from food supplies is a cost-effective measure with enormous health benefits,” the statement quoting Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia said.

“By enacting legislation on trans-fat, Sri Lanka has once again demonstrated its resolve to protect and promote the health of its people”.

The regulations are coming into effect as Sri Lanka is struggling with food insecurity as the country recovers from its worst economic crisis.

However, an improvement in food security across all provinces has been recorded, according to an assessment by a Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) of two UN agencies. (Colombo/ May 30/2023)

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India extends under utilized $1 bln credit facility to Sri Lanka by one year 

ECONOMYNEXT – India has extended a $1 billion credit facility to Sri Lanka by another year after the loan that was given to help the crisis-hit island nation to continue import of essentials was not fully utilized in the 12 month period originally agreed, officials said.

Sri Lanka faced with a looming sovereign default signed the credit facility in March 2022 for one year through March 2024. However, the full $1 billion had not been utilized yet.

The Facility has been used for urgent procurement of fuel, medicines, food items and industrial raw materials, as per the requirements and priorities of Sri Lanka.

“The initial agreement was signed in 2022 March and out of the 1000 million US dollars allocated materials were imported for $576.75 mil,” Shehan Semasinghe, State Finance Minister said in his official twitter platform.

“The agreement is extended for the remaining $423.25 mil. We will prioritize the import of essential medicines till March 2024.”

Indian High Commission in Colombo said the State Bank of India (SBI) has extended the tenure of the $1 billion Credit Facility provided to Sri Lanka in response to a request from the Government of Sri Lanka.  (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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Sri Lanka President cleared to discuss cancelled LRT after soured Japan relations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe discuss resuming a Japan funded. Light Rail Transit (LRT) project cabinet spokesman said, as the island nation is in the process of mending ties with Tokyo.

However, any such deals are likely to take place after the debt restructuring and Sri Lanka starts to repay its foreign loans to come out of default, analysts say.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa unilaterally cancelled the 1.5 billion US dollar LRT and East Container Terminal (ECT) projects in 2021. Japan agreed to fund the LRT project while it was one of the tripartite members of the ECT project along with India and Sri Lanka.

The abrupt cancellation hit the diplomatic ties between the two countries and Sri Lankan government officials have said Japan had given the project to Sri Lanka at a very lower financing cost.

President Wickremesinghe returned from Japan late last week after having met top officials of the Japanese government including its prime minister.

“In recent history, due to the stopping of several agreements and proposals suddenly, President Wickremesinghe went to Japan after creating the background to clear some of the worries we have,” Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena told the weekly media briefing.

“Before he went, he got the approval from the cabinet to resume the discussion on the light railway project. He got the approval from the cabinet to get parliament approval for bilateral agreements signed or any other investments project. Any change or cancellation of a project could be done only with the approval of the parliament.”

Japan has backed Sri Lanka under Wickremesinghe’s presidency after the island nation declared sovereign debt default. (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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