Status of Women in Sri Lanka- A Review of SDG Goal 5

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The world is meant to be a place that offers equal status to women and men. Women and men in equal partnership and leadership in the global economy, politics, acting as fundamental elements of a just, successful and prosperous society.

Out of the 17 Sustainable development goals, Goal 5: ‘Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls’ was introduced to tackle gender inequality from its roots. It is not only pledge to “leave no one behind” but also “to reach the furthest behind first”. This is one of the most important goals as all SDGs depend on the achievement of Goal 5 and gender equality is integral to all dimensions of inclusive and sustainable development.

Despite the Government’s initiatives, and although there are more women in the labour market; more girls in primary and secondary education, there are still large inequalities in some regions, with women systematically denied the same work rights as men. Sexual violence and exploitation, the unequal division of unpaid care and domestic work, and discrimination in public office all remain huge barriers.

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Sri Lanka presents a mixed picture with respect to gender equality. Sri Lanka was ranked 73rd out of 188 countries in the UNDP’s gender inequality index (GII) of 2018, which measures gender inequality using three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment, and labour market participation. The country’s rank in the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum is low at 109 out of 144 countries, driven by a large gender gap in wages for similar work. Universal access to free health and education services for seven decades, with the intention of leaving no one behind, has contributed to gender parity in many related indicators (Target 5.1).  Source:

The Gender Inequality Index of Sri Lanka has being increasing since 2006.  Unemployment is high among women and youth while women’s labour force participation rate has been half that of men over a period of time. Women seek employment, especially in exploitative work environments in manufacturing supply chains, as plantation and overseas migrant workers. Women do not receive equal wages for equal work in the private and informal sectors and the gender wage gap is one of the highest in the region. The legally sanctioned minimum wage falls far short of a living wage.  Public expenditure on social sectors has declined and is lower than that spent on defence even after the end of the armed conflict.

Sri Lanka has being performing poorly in two indicators specific to the achievement of gender equality, labour force participation and representation in elected political bodies. In addition gender based violence is a serious concern. The majority is engaged in the unstable informal sector; and as unpaid family workers with a widening gender gap in wages, Patriarchal norms are strong and women’s representation in governance is very low, as also their access to decision making positions. Women and girls are subjected to gender based violence, particularly to domestic violence. Harmful traditional practices are prevalent among specific communities while personal laws also discriminate against women and girls. 

Women’s political participation should be developed not only by increasing the number of female voters or female candidates, but also by adopting gender equal policies in decision making bodies and introducing gender sensitive practices to create a new political culture. As a country emerging from a major political upheaval of thirty years of armed conflict, it is important to understand women’s issues as well as their potential to contribute to the long term peace and reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. Source:

 Sri Lanka committed to the achievement of the SDGs, and set in place the legal and institutional frameworks for their implementation.  However, while the alignment of the SDGs with national priorities and resource mobilisation has not been finalized, authority structures, coordination, cooperation and lack of awareness of the SDGs across the board are challenges that Sri Lanka faces.

At the first South Asian Speakers’ Summit in Dhaka, Sri Lanka pledged to come together as a region to tap into our potential and face the challenges collectively in the journey towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

At the second Summit in Indore in July 2018, it was decided to focus on four priority areas as a region:
1. Poverty eradication

2. Gender inequality

3. Climate change and disaster management

4. Regional connectivity

(Department of Census and Statistics 2017. Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2016.)

Sri Lanka agreed to strengthen parliamentary cooperation, mobilise resources, and to share, learn and benefit from the good practices followed in other countries in the region. Therefore, it is important to discuss the progress achieved by our national parliaments on the SDGs and the implementation of the Indore Declaration, and chart our path for the next year.

Sri Lanka has a rank of 73 out of 188 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) Gender Inequality Index, which uses three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment, and labour market participation. Gender inequalities can be observed in labour force participation and political representation. Regulations have been introduced to facilitate women to balance work with their family responsibilities. Further, women’s share in local authorities has been increased through legislation. Source:


  1. A separate central coordinating and management mechanism is required to focus only on matters related to SDG 5 and gender issues in other SDGs. The Ministry of Women and Child Affairs could play a leading role in this regard, as the Sri Lanka Women's Bureau, National Committee on Women, as well as the Department of Probation and Childcare Services, National Child Protection Authority, and the Children's Secretariat fall under this Ministry.
  2. A focal point should be appointed in the President and Prime Minister’s office and in each relevant ministry and agency to liaise with the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs on Goal 5 and other relevant SDGs.
  3. Ensure gender sensitive monitoring across all SDGs.
  4. Include women’s groups in the monitoring and review processes of the government.
  5. As the budgetary allocation for the implementation of Goal 5 is one of lowest, financial resources should be increased.

Source: CENWOR- APWLD, People’s Development Justice Report on National Review and Monitoring of Sustainable Development Goals in Sri Lanka, 2019