There are numerous instances where females are exploited in Sri Lanka and the most widely publicized lately is the harassment they face in public transport, which results in many avoiding employment, that requires the use of public transport to arrive at their work place, and only accept employment if there is staff transport provided. This not only clogs up our transport system, where the well-off refuse to use public transport, it also affects women’s participation in the workplace.
I will not go through this particular issue here, as I have already addressed this in my blog perhaps many years ago in one of my postings. I wish to address another very important aspect that impinges on a woman’s civil liberties and human rights, which is NOT addressed in any fora that I am aware of to date.
That is the exploitation of women who have to live outside of their homes, in order to work, and are captive to be exploited by unscrupulous intermediaries that effectively ruin a girl with prospects and hopes and a for want of a better word, “turn her into a BASKET CASE”, affecting her whole life and future.
Don’t forget as a Nation, our female labor force participation is at too small a level for the development we are aspiring to. The Government does NOT have a clear plan in how to increase it and is still struggling to find answers as to why this might be. Have they not got the basic common sense to realize that women are woefully exploited in the workplace? This commonplace attitude is prevalent and is subscribed to by all women, who venture out to work out of sheer necessity. It is important that this attitude changes.
This can ONLY be done by improvements to their rights and changes to current practices that exploit women in the workplace. Before we talk about equal pay for equal work, a demand in Developed Countries, we must look at all aspects of exploitation and determine that they are stamped out, in order to attract the best and brightest into the workplace, to perform the desperate tasks that our employers require in a Country with so many vacancies in almost ALL fields that cannot currently be filled.
The starting point is of a young fresh faced girl, straight out of school, wanting to earn money, to get what she wants, usually, wanting to be upwardly mobile from a relatively poor rural family, hoping to perhaps save some of it in order to one day find a partner and settle down. This is the hope of most people, no matter what their economic status, but the most vulnerable to exploitation are the ones who come a long way from home, with LITTLE family support in placement, who are forced into situations NOT of their wanting, but are caught by the system of exploitation. I know of many actual instances of this.
No wonder then that the garment industry fails to attract the available women to their factories due to the reputation that has been created, partly with the complicity of the Employer IGNORING the real concerns of the staff.
I wish to select one aspect of this, as there are many different angles where these young women are open to exploitation unless they have a strong buddy system to protect them from unscrupulous operators. I will not go into the problems of hostel accommodation, which is used by many to attract girls using false promises, into prostitution itself as the inevitable conclusion.
I will concentrate on the MANPOWER culture that promises young women flexibility in their workplace. There are agents looking for staff (women) to fill certain garment factory daily staffing requirements for certain shifts. The agents get say Rs1,700 for a day’s wages for the woman and they in turn pay the woman Rs900 for their work, and possibly don’t even do the necessary statutory deductions. There are women who for certain personal reasons, cannot work full weeks, and consistent work due to some family situation where there is the need to take care of a relative etc, and cannot abide by the attendance requirements of some of the reputed companies that have higher standards and ALSO an element of worker security, both on workplace harassment and also secure lodging that provides a modicum of safety.
In these instances, there is frequent exploitation for sexual favors, both by the agent, threatening them by not providing the needed hours of work, and by the work place where the supervisors exploit them by threats, where if refused, either they are referred to abominably, or given harder task at work as punishment for refusal, resulting in a catch 22 situation.
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to lodge complaints with the Police for Harassment and they know it as proof and evidence are sometimes hard to come by, and with the mental pressure this creates with vulnerable women, turn them into prostitution as their self-worth is completely destroyed, and they are easily prone to being anesthetized out of their mental suffering by becoming addicted to drugs, which are also freely available and part of the culture so created.
A two pronged approach is needed to arrest this problem. The first is having sufficient social service centers where women are notified of the pitfalls of work, and they are also able to notify them of harassment, where complaints, other than at Police Stations which they cannot trust to solve their problems. In the present especially Free Trade Zones where this abuse is MOST prevalent, there is NO such support mechanism to nip problem in the bud, and many NGO service centers that operated in the past have had to close down due to funding issues, often funded from overseas sources. This is similar to what the SLFEB (Foreign Employment Bureau) does to educate potential workers on what to expect and how to deal with various scenarios.
The second approach is all Employers are held accountable for workplace harassment by their staff, even if the staff member is NOT on the Company’s payroll, if the said harassment occurred in the workplace. In this instance, employers can take steps to educate all employees on the importance of workplace equity of the sexes, and that any deficit will NOT be tolerated under any circumstance.
I am sorry that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs JUST does not seem to have the teeth to protect females in this Country, and they MUST along with the Police Department, Attorney General’s Department design a plan that protects vulnerable women from exploitation, by publicity, and examples of stiff action against miscreants to reduce the level of incidents, and provide sufficient resources for abused women to seek speedy redress and restitution. I am convinced that steps in this direction will go a long way to help thousands from exploitation and undue suffering. The result will achieve a greater female labor force participation which is the need of the hour and recognized as such by the Government which is CURRENTLY stuck in impotent CATATONIA!
Where are the women of Sri Lanka making this a front and center issue? Is it because the women of substance live well and don’t care about other women in different circumstances in their own Country? In short don’t they care? Sri Lanka is woefully short of women’s advocacy groups, as that does not attract foreign funding like minority rights and human rights attract. Isn’t this just as much a Human Rights issue ALSO?
It is time that the CPA a well-funded organization direct some of their resources to this area, which in today’s context requires far more input than the supposedly sexy minority rights issues that merely keep people in jobs and clover as long as they are NOT resolved.
They are called Center For Policy Alternative for nothing! After all if ever there ever was a Policy Alternative it is to direct their action to the working woman, woman in the workplace, and guarantee workplace security, safety, and advancement. It is the sure way to solve most of our problems, as we are unable to get the men to get off their backsides to take the million jobs that are available. Low women’s participation in the workplace leaves women as the only solution, as at least their work ethic is that much better, and their primary issues of Child Care, Sexual Harassment and Spousal Abuse need solutions.
It is imperative that the Private Sector take an active interest in this as they are the final beneficiaries of this plan if successful and other suggestions in my blog about the provision of safe night public transport merely aid in this objective of releasing a huge pool of labor into the workforce, to BENEFIT SRI LANKA!
As always A Plan, Funding and Successful Execution are the reason for procrastination! Procrastinate death results!