ISLAMABAD: The Legal and regulatory barriers to women’s economic inclusion have decreased over the past 50 years globally, but many laws still hinder women’s participation in the economy, according to a new World Bank IFC report.
The study finds that laws restricting women’s economic activity are currently most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
The third in a series, Women, Business and the Law 2014: Removing Restrictions to Enhance Gender Equality monitors regulations affecting women
entrepreneurs and employees in 143 economies.
This edition highlights reforms carried out over the past two years, examines the evolution of women’s property rights and legal decision making ability since 1960 and expands coverage to examine legal protections addressing violence against women.
“The ideal of equality before the law and equality of economic opportunity isn’t just wise social policy: It’s smart economic policy,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.
“When women and men participate in economic life on an equal footing, they can contribute their energies to building a more cohesive society and a more resilient economy. The surest way to help enrich the lives of families,
communities and economies is to allow every individual to live up to her or his fullest creative potential,” Kim added
Kim said the latest edition of Women, Business and the Law shows that many societies have made progress, gradually moving to dismantle ingrained forms of discrimination against women, adding yet a great deal remains to be done.”
This report finds 44 economies have made 48 legal changes, thus increasing women’s economic opportunities over the past two years.
The report finds economies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have the most extensive lists of jobs women cannot do.
“Progress on gender equality under the law is accelerating,” said Augusto Lopez-Claros, Director, Global Indicators and Analysis, World Bank Group.
“Our data shows that over the past 50 years countries everywhere have started removing long-standing restrictions on women’s ability to participate more fully in the economy. Although the progress has been uneven across the world, there is widespread recognition that the economic empowerment of women is crucial for competitiveness and prosperity,” Augusto added.
Between 1960 and 2010, more than half the restrictions on women’s property rights and ability to conduct legal transactions were removed in the 100 economies examined.
Restrictions in three regions – Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and East Asia and the Pacific – were cut in half, while some
restrictions were removed in South Asia and in the Middle East and North Africa, these two regions reformed the least.
Another major innovation in the report is new data on the existence and scope of laws on two areas of violence against women: sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Covering 100 economies, the data show that prohibitions against sexual
harassment in the workplace are widespread – 78 economies have legislation and over half of these criminalize the behavior.
Legislation on domestic violence is also widespread -76 economies have laws prohibiting domestic violence while the region with the fewest laws on domestic violence is the Middle East and North Africa.
The report shows lower gender legal parity is associated with fewer women participating in firm ownership, while policies encouraging women to join and remain in the labor force are associated with greater income equality.
Even though the report offers signs of improvement for women’s economic opportunities globally, it shows economies can do more to ensure women’s participation in economic life.