World Bank Report Scores Countries’ Progress Towards Gender Equality
Peter Luethi, Biovision Foundation
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A report by the World Bank explores how legislation affects women’s access to jobs, property, justice and credit, and showcases progress on gender legal parity around the world.

The DRC Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia are among the economies that have implemented the most reforms.

29 March 2018: The World Bank launched a report finding that, in 104 economies, at least one law or regulation prevents women from working in specific jobs, and 65 economies have implemented at least one reform that advances gender equality. The publication titled, ‘Women, Business and the Law 2018,’ is the fifth in a series of biennial reports that measure gender discrimination in legal treatment and its economic consequences.

The 2018 report focuses on seven indicators of gender equality and women’s economic participation: getting a job; providing incentives to work; accessing institutions; going to court; using property; building credit; and protecting women from violence. For the first time, the report provides scores for each indicator. The “getting a job” indicator had the highest number of reforms (28 economies) followed by the indicator on “building credit” (24 economies). The indicator on “using property” had the fewest number of reforms, with only Ecuador showing positive reform.

The UK, New Zealand and Spain each scored in the top 20 economies across all seven indicators. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) high-income countries tend to have the highest average scores across the indicators, while economies in the Middle East and North Africa generally have the lowest average scores across most indicators, the authors note.

Over 2.7 billion women around the world are legally restricted from having the same job choices as men.

According to the report, over 2.7 billion women around the world are legally restricted from having the same job choices as men. On access to jobs, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working in 18 economies. In Bhutan, Guinea-Bissau, Pakistan and Suriname, women cannot register a business. The report describes how “legacy legislation” contributes to certain job restrictions that reflect outdated safety standards. For example, almost half of Commonwealth economies limits women’s jobs, with these restrictions dating back to the UK’s Mines and Collieries Act 1842. Similarly, eight out of nine Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) restrict women’s jobs, stemming from a 1932 Soviet Union Law, and 75% of Francophone Africa economies restrict women’s employment as a remnant of a 1954 French West African ordinance.

On protecting women from violence, 59 economies lack laws on sexual harassment in the workplace. In the Middle East and North Africa, 35% of the economies received a score of zero on the indicator, meaning that there are no laws or regulations that protect women from violence. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 19% of economies scored zero on the indicator. In addition, Haiti, the Federated States of Micronesia, Myanmar, the Russian Federation and Uzbekistan also received a zero.

More than one-third of economies still restrict women’s agency and freedom of movement. Such restrictions cover applying for a passport or national identity card, choosing where to live, being the head of a household, or traveling outside the home or country, among others.

Over the last two years, there have been 87 changes towards legal gender equality across 65 economies. Four out of the five economies implementing the most reforms are in Sub-Saharan Africa: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. The DRC reformed its family code, allowing married women to get jobs, sign contracts, open bank accounts and register businesses in the same way as married men. The DRC also removed restrictions on women’s ability to work at night, and removed the obligation for a married woman to obey her husband. Kenya enacted its first domestic violence law, and has improved access to credit information. Bulgaria, Kiribati and Poland eliminated all restrictions on women’s employment. Colombia’s Constitutional Court found labor code prohibitions on women’s work in mining and other “arduous” or “hazardous” jobs to be discriminatory.

The report features a case study on women’s financial inclusion that examines how legal and regulatory environments influence women’s demand for financial services. [Publication: Women, Business and the Law 2018] [Report Launch Webpage] [Key Findings]

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