Lack of Household Durables Aids Low Female LFP – WB
By Paneetha Ameresekere
Low ownership of labour-saving household durables such as washing machines, refrigerators and non-biomass cooking stoves coupled with low access to water such as the non-availability of tap water and other household infrastructure, increase the opportunity cost of women’s time and could constrain their labour force participation (LFP), the World Bank (WB) warned on Wednesday (13).
The WB in a publication titled ‘Sri Lanka Poverty Update’ said that low female LFP, at around 35 per cent, remains a salient feature of Sri Lanka’s labour market. There has been little progress over time, despite rising educational attainment among women. Previous research from other countries suggests that the acquisition of labour-saving household durables helps increase married women’s LFP by significantly reducing their time spent on household chores.
Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, only 22 per cent of households own washing machines and the share drops to below 10 per cent among both the poor and the bottom 40 per cent of the population vis-à-vis their earning levels. “Those households with no access to tap water within the premises likely need to spend time gathering water for cooking, bathing and laundry,” the WB said. Almost half of Sri Lankans don’t have a refrigerator in the household, implying that women likely spend more time cooking than they would otherwise, as meals cannot be stored for long periods, it said.
According to an evaluation of an Asian Development Bank project in Sri Lanka (Third Water Supply and Sanitation Project), 82 per cent of women reported that improvements in the water supply made collecting water easier and more than half increased their incomes because they were able to substitute the time spent collecting water with income-generating activities, the WB said. Moreover, the use of firewood for cooking purposes places a burden on women’s time. The heating of cook stoves relies predominantly on the use of biomass fuel in the form of firewood, especially among the less well-off, it said. The WB further said that only about 20 per cent of the poor report owning a gas, kerosene, or electric cooker in 2016.
Biomass fuel is disproportionately used by poorer households, as richer households are much more likely to use LPG (liquified petroleum gas), it said. The demands on women’s time posed by caring for children and the elderly and performing various household chores are likely to act as significant barriers to women’s participation in the labour market, it added. Additionally, the use of biomass fuel for cooking is detrimental to health.
Smoke from the burning of firewood generates harmful substances such as particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and other carcinogens. The high reliance on wood-burning cooking stoves thus exposes household members to indoor air pollution which has potentially harmful health effects such as respiratory illnesses, the WB warned. The exposure is greatest for those who spend the most time at home – women, children, and the elderly, the latter a rapidly growing population group, the WB said.
Previous studies have found that Sri Lanka faces significant morbidity and mortality risk from indoor air pollution due to the widespread use of biomass fuel, it said. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 4,300 deaths were attributable to indoor air pollution in Sri Lanka in 2004, the WB added. It further said that WHO cites respiratory diseases as the fifth most important cause of neonatal mortality, and also notes that risks of stillbirths increase with exposure to biomass smoke.