the Impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic on Women in Sri Lanka: Findings from the Large Field Survey

Authors: AI4COVID Project Team in Sri Lanka

Monday, 17 October 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact billions of lives globally and has further exacerbated existing inequalities, pushing vulnerable populations deeper into poverty and the hidden fringes of society. Our AI4COVID project aims to develop artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to detect, model, and predict the behaviour of ‘identified diverse groups’ under COVID-19 pandemic containment strategies. Based on generated behaviours and movements, we proposed the use of AIs to conduct contact tracing and socio-economic impact mitigation actions in a more informed, socially conscious, and responsible manner in the event of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases or a different epidemic in the future. 

From 06 November to 10 December 2021, our research team conducted a survey of 3,000 households in 20 Districts, 89 Divisional Secretariats, and 200 Grama Niladhari Divisions (the smallest administrative division) in Sri Lanka using the multi-stage clustering sampling technique. On average, four members were selected for interviews from each household, resulting in 12,000 individuals participating in the survey. A semi-structured questionnaire was used to collect quantitative and qualitative data for the survey and consisted of questions that looked at the social, economic, health, cultural, mental, and socio-political impacts of COVID-19, particularly focusing on women, children, and underprivileged groups in Sri Lanka. Based on the collected results, we would like to highlight several interesting findings about the impacts of COVID-19 on women.

Sri Lankan Women Are Bound by Cultural Norms

Sri Lankan traditional society has ascribed multiple roles to women within a close-knit family structure and kinship group. Women play a variety of roles in the family ranging from wife, mother, leader, administrator, and the manager of family income. In Sri Lanka, there is a strong tradition of both men and women working, however, men focus more on income opportunities and women focus more on the household. One in every four households in Sri Lanka are headed by women, with women’s labour force participation at about 32.5%, which is significantly lower than it is for men (72.4%). According to UN Women (2021), more than 1.7 million women in the country are engaged in informal employment which does not have social protection and employment benefits.

Women Were Impacted by the Pandemic at Almost Every Level

The qualitative findings from our survey show the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women can be seen across almost every sphere from health, economy, and social protection. Here’s what we found out:

  • Women shoulder the responsibility of care in the household: With the COVID-19 pandemic their responsibility to the household increased. Aside from worrying about their family’s health, women who had to continue working from home had to learn how to manage professional responsibilities alongside household chores.  
  • Women shoulder the responsibility of socialising children: The loss of work opportunities for working members of the household resulted in the household’s economic collapse. In turn, this affected the ability for parents to continue sending their children to school and respondents stated that they felt uncertain about their children’s futures and were helpless in the situation..
  • Women are engaged with precarious livelihoods: Most of the women respondents to our survey worked in the garment industry, beauty salons, retail shops, and school canteens, and many of them expressed that the pandemic disproportionately pushed them out of employment, as they all lost their jobs.
  • Women’s skip meals and often went hungry during the pandemic: Household income was impacted by the pandemic which in turn impacted household consumption levels. Women were often the first to skip meals to ensure that their family had enough to eat which meant women often went hungry.
  • Severe socio-economic implications for women: Males suffered a higher mortality rate (62.9%) as a result of the pandemic compared to women (37.1%) resulting in an increase in female-headed households. This potentially increases the responsibility women hold in the household as they are the only remaining provider of the family.

Strengthening Policies to Lessen the Impact of COVID-19 and Other Potential Epidemics on Women  

Armed with these results identifying the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 on women in Sri Lanka, our AI4COVID research team is developing a set of recommendations to aid policymakers in better predicting and managing the spread of the infectious outbreak in the country. We believe that the findings and recommendations can also be relevant beyond Sri Lanka and can be applied to other Global South countries facing similar conditions.

We are pleased to be a part of the Global South AI4COVID Program funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDCR) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).  We would like to thank IDRC and Sida for this unique opportunity that allows policymakers and researchers to solve problems that greatly impact society.

For more information about our project and to stay update on the latest information, please visit our website:

Tags: COVID-19, AI4COVID, Women