Advocating women’s needs and rights during economic crisis


The Officer-in-Charge for UN Women Asia and the Pacific Sarah Knibbs during her official visit to Sri Lanka recently, met key partners to reaffirm UN Women’s commitment to ensure that women and girls are not left behind amidst recovery from the ongoing economic crisis.

As Sri Lanka experiences an unprecedented economic crisis – including spiralling inflation and a shortage of basic necessities – women are among the most vulnerable to its impacts. This is particularly true of UN Women’s key stakeholder groups including women heads of households, women affected by conflict, and women who lack access to resources, protection, and opportunities for full economic empowerment.

The prime objective of her visit is to advocate for the equitable prioritisation of women’s needs and rights in all measures taken to respond to and recover from the current crisis, and for their equal participation in developing and implementing the same.

She highlighted that “in line with global analysis, the current economic crisis is very likely to be detrimental to the present status of women and girls, and reverse the limited gains made in relation to their health, wellbeing, rights and opportunities”.

The scarcity of essential food and medicine, along with potential austerity measures resulting from economic recovery processes will have
far-reaching consequences for many Sri Lankans, including many women who are already vulnerable to socio-economic shocks, with limited access to resources or social protection. Cuts to social protection schemes will also deprive many women of the meagre allowances available to them, and will have ripple effects on the wellbeing of their children and other household members.

Additionally, while both women and men are affected by job losses during times of crisis, evidence shows that women are often laid off first. For instance, a new UN Women study ‘Gender Disparities and Labour Market Challenges’; shows that between 2019 and 2020, female employment in Sri Lanka declined by nearly 8 per cent in the 600 firms that were surveyed, driven mainly by the halving of skilled female employment in the hospitality sector by 47 percent. However, following the Covid-19 lockdowns, male employment in the hospitality sector
increased by a considerable 14 per cent.

In meetings with key partners, Knibbs highlighted key priorities to ensure a gender-responsive response to and recovery from the crisis.