Higher education institutions have come a long way from the time when they only accepted men into their hallowed halls. In fact, many universities actually have a higher percentage of women than men these days. In Sri Lanka, this statistic has recently been studied in conjunction with the presence of women in leadership positions.
Currently, there are more women than men in higher education in Sri Lanka. In 2015, 60 percent of enrollment in state higher education universities was female. Further, 68.5 percent of graduating students from these institutions were female. Most disciplines also produce a higher percentage of women graduates. This comes with exceptions in fields such as engineering, with only 21.5 percent female graduates, and computer science, with only 41.8 percent female graduates.
Despite this increased percentage of women graduating in Sri Lanka, indeed greater than that of men, universities remain places of gender inequality. The growth in female undergraduates is not consistent with the amount of women in leadership positions in universities and government.
Women’s representation in Parliament in Sri Lanka is only 5 percent, and this is the highest percentage throughout all the levels of government. Similarly, the presence of women in leadership positions at universities is small.
The reason for this disparity cannot be determined merely by statistics, but the attitude towards women at the university level. Though more women are entering academia, they are not receiving leadership positions in this sphere. In 2013, women only represented half of the probationary lecturers, and less than a quarter of the senior professors. This huge disparity is highly disproportionate to the amount of women completing higher education.
All members of the University Grants Commission, which manages the state universities, are men. In the 20 standing committees, which include Deans and Vice Chancellors of universities, only a few of the members are women. This trend actually indicates regression from years ago, when the UGC used to have a policy that assured gender balance in university councils.
There are many factors that could be contributing to the disparity between the percentage of women graduating from higher education and the percentage of women in leadership roles at these institutions. Generally, women are often appointed as secretaries and treasurers. This leaves a significant lack of female figures in roles of leadership.
Further, women are still depended upon to fulfill domestic roles. Because of this, they may be finding it difficult to devote the time and energy needed to pursue careers in academia. If female candidates are unable to leave the country to pursue graduate degrees because of their roles as primary caregivers, they will have a smaller chance of advancing in their careers in academia.
Finally, the rigid perception of gender roles has yet to be completely broken, which means that men and women may still perceive women’s roles as primarily those of teachers and nothing higher.
The main problem in this disparity comes from the perception of gender roles in the household and in workplace. If women and men were taught to believe that the responsibilities in the household should be shared and that women can achieve more than the position of a teacher, this lack in female leaders can begin to decrease. The role of perception and expectations with regards to gender roles are the first things that need to change if we are to reach equality.
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