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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: https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2023/03/08/digitall-are-sri-lankan-women-abandoned-in-digital-transformation/

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. (lakshila@ips.lk)

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Sri Lanka may have to depend on India or nuclear to reach low carbon target: researcher

DOUBLE WHAMMY: In Sri Lanka’s driest period, wind potential also goes down, a researcher and policy advocate says

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will need to either connect to India or set up a nuclear power plant if the country is to reach its renewable energy targets due the country’s weather patterns, a researcher and policy advocate has said.

Sri Lanka has set ambitious goals for renewable electricity generation by 2030, apparently without much prior study or any costs being revealed when the target was set by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Rohan Pethiyagoda, a taxonomist and researcher who had also been senior state officials involved in policy at one time said overall Sri Lanka used a large volume of biomass (firewood) for cooking.

“We need to recognize, of course, that about 60 percent of Sri Lankan households still use firewood as their primary fuel,” Pethiyagoda told a climate forum organized by Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“Bless them, because they reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for cooking. Even the tea industry, one of our largest exports, uses biomass as its primary fuel for about 90 percent of its production.”

In the electricity sector, where the renewable lobby and other activists oppose coal on the basis of carbon emissions based on international trends, as well as dust, base load still has to be generated if thermal generators are replaced.

Solar power is available only for a few hours in daytime and it can also vary depending on cloud cover.

Hydro power (run of the river plants) is more stable but is dependent on rain. Large hydros with storage can be used for peaks, industry analysts say.

Wind is available throughout the day but can also be unstable. The problem of variability (non-firm energy) can be solved to some extent through ramping and battery storage at additional cost, analysts say.

A renewable plant in Poonakary with battery storage was priced at around 48 to 49 rupees (about 15 US cents) based on public statements.

Meanwhile Pethiyagoda said Sri Lanka’s weather patterns created an additional problem.

“We have this unusual thing for our renewable energy in Sri Lanka, that at the tail end of the northeast monsoon, from about December to April, we have a dry period in this country, which means that our hydro potential during those months goes down,” Pethiyagoda said.

“Now, as luck would have it, our wind potential goes down at the same time.”

As a result, Sri Lanka needs a reliable alternative to the current coal baseload.

“So for that reason especially, we need to look at either connecting to India’s grid in the long term or having a nuclear facility in Sri Lanka if we want to be low carbon. And of course, we need to replace our vehicle fleet.”

“And our base load can probably come from nuclear,” Pethiyagoda said.

“But whichever way we do it, the cheaper way would be for us to connect to India’s grid.

“Whichever way we do it, we’re looking at an investment of about 40 billion dollars. And then we have the problem of looking at how wind and solar will behave.”

It was not clear what the 40 billion dollar investments would be made up of.

Sri Lanka’s external debt as at December 2024, including unpaid principal after default was 37.3 billion US dollars.

In 2021 when the 70 percent target was unveiled in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election manifesto power engineers said a 53 percent energy share planned for 2030 in a general plan at the time was was equal to that of Germany.

Pushing up the share to 70 percent would require billions of dollars of extra investments, they said.

Related

Sri Lanka generation plan renewable power share for 2030 equal to Germany: CEB engineers

After the central bank cut rates and triggered an external default however, Sri Lanka growth, and power demand in the next few years is expected to be lower than before extreme macro-economic policy.

Related Sri Lanka to invest US$11bn by 2030 to meet renewable target

In 2023, the CEB said about 11 billion US dollars would be needed to meet the 70 percent target. (Colombo/June19/2024)

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Sri Lanka President discusses Starlink with Elon Musk

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has discussed connecting the island to the Starlink satellite system with its founder Elon Musk, his office said in a statement.

President Wickremesinghe has met Musk at a World Water Forum High-Level Meeting in Indonesia.

President Wickremesinghe discussed “the implementation of Starlink in Sri Lanka & committed to fast-tracking the application process to connect SL with the global Starlink network,” the statement said.

Starlink is a low earth orbit satellite network, connected to Musk’s SpaceX group. (Colombo/Jun19/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s CEB March 2024 profits Rs84bn with capital gain, fx strength

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Electricity Board group has reported profits of 86 billion rupees with the help of 25.9 billion rupees of capital gains from a transfer of shares, interim accounts show.

The rupee also appreciated in the quarter which keeps imported fuel prices low.

As a standalone entity, the Ceylon Electricity Board, made profits of 84.6 billion rupees in the March quarter.

CEB’s revenues rose 38.5 percent to 167 billion rupees in the March 2024 quarter, while cost of sales fell 26.1 percent to 105.0 billion rupees giving gross profits of 62.7 billion rupees.

The CEB also reported 30.6 billion rupees of other incomes and gains in the March quarter, up from 3.1 billion rupees last year.

Other Income and Gains

The utility said it made a 25.9 billion rupee capital gain from transferring LTL Holdings shares to West Coast Power an IPP in which other entities have a majority holding.

In the quarter the rupee also appreciated.

A rupee appreciation will help reduce the carrying cost of dollar loans and also reduce the cost of imported thermal fuels and maintenance costs of spares.

The central bank allowed Sri Lanka’s exchange rate to appreciate from 324.40 rupees in December 2023 to 300.17 on March 2024 amid deflationary policy and weak private credit allowing imported fuel costs also to fall.

Especially after 1978, after rate cuts drove the country into balance of payments crises, the central bank had collected reserves with free market interest rates, but has not usually allowed the exchange rate to re-appreciate despite generating a BOP surplus with deflationary policy.

Un-anchored Bad Money

Before 1978, when an apparently doctrinally foxed International Monetary Fund abandoned both external and specie anchors simultaneously after the Fed closed its gold window triggering the Great Inflation period, Sri Lanka also did not depreciate its currency, analysts have pointed out.

Related Why the IMF is hated now and is backing bad money in Sri Lanka and Latin America

Since it was set up in 1951, the central bank has printed money under various dual anchor conflicting Saltwater-Cambridge ideologies (re-financing rural credit, sterilizing outflows, potential output targeting, yield curve targeting) to create forex shortages and currency crises and started to go the IMF from the mid-1960s.

From 1978, after the IMF’s second amendment to its Articles denied the central bank a credible external and domestic anchor simultaneously, the currency stated to depreciate steeply.

The government was therefore unable to balance its budget and state enterprises were also unable to balance their budgets running large losses whenever the rupee fell and energy prices went up.

After abandoning its external and specie anchor the central bank followed a anchor conflicting regime involving money supply targeting without a floating exchange rate in the 1980s.

The ideology was rejected in toto by Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand and China.

Since the end of a civil war macro-economists have followed inflation targeting without a floating exchange combined with extreme macro-economic policy to target potential output, eventually driving the country into external default.

Budgets went haywire in the early 1980s as the rupee fell, despite then President JR Jayawardene cutting subsidies and ending price controls (administered prices) two years earlier, in reforms that Singapore’s economic architect and one-time Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee said were “economic reforms which most people had considered politically impossible.”

Goh who set up a currency board in Singapore rejecting Cambridge-Saltwater ideology, warned JR not to destroy the rupee.

“Exchange rate policies involve many complicated technical issues which I do want to discuss here,” he said.

“On balance, the disadvantage of a depreciating rupee will, I believe, outweigh the advantages. Most of the products whose prices are administered are ether wholly imported or contain a high import content. About a quarter of rice consumption is imported.

“All wheat from which four and bread are produced is imported. The same holds true of kerosene and milk powder.

“Bus fares ware largely determined by the rupee price of imported oil and spare parts. Fertilizers are also mostly imported.”

At the time Sri Lanka had hydro-electricity.

Capital Injections

Some of the CEB’s dollar loans were been taken over by the central government after the steepest currency collapse in the history of the central bank in 2022 and external default.

The CEB’s contributed capital as at end March 2024 was 991.4 billion rupees up from 865.1 billion rupees.

With the March quarter profits with some financial engineering involving the asset sale and the government equity injection, the CEB’s group accumulated losses reduced to 456 billion rupees from 575 billion rupees.

The CEB ran large losses as the regulator failed to raise tariffs as macro-economists printed money to target potential output over the past decade.

From 2011 to 2022 the rupee fell from 113 to 370 to the US dollars as the central bank ran un-anchored monetary policy the regulator only raised prices in 2022.

Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said the last price cut was also made possible due to rupee appreciation.

With no potential output targeting (no inflationary open market operations), the country has started to recover from the stability that has been provided up to now amid weak private investment credit.

Sri Lanka’s private credit is now starting to recover.

Based on past trends of using statistics instead of classical economic principles (cutting current current interest rates with inflationary open market operations of a money monopoly based on historical inflation rates under ‘data driven monetary policy’ without regard to domestic credit) analysts have warned of a return to monetary instability under potential output targeting. (Colombo/May19/2024)

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