World Bank Report Finds “Great Progress” Towards Legal Gender Equality
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The World Bank's yearly report on ‘Women, Business and the Law' finds that the DRC has improved the most, from a score of 42.5 ten years ago to a score of 70 in 2017.

France showed the largest improvement among top performers, by introducing paid parental leave, implementing a domestic violence law and providing criminal penalties for workplace sexual harassment.

However, the average global score is 74.71, which means that, in a typical economy, women have only three fourths the legal rights of men in areas measured on the index.

March 2019: The World Bank’s annual report on Women, Business and the Law (WBL) describes “great progress” towards legal gender equality over the past decade. The report uses ten years of WBL data to examine how legal gender discrimination influences women’s employment and entrepreneurship choice across 187 economies. By the current global average, women have only three fourths the legal rights of men.

The report titled, ‘Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform,’ analyzes the economic decisions women make throughout their working life, from a young woman considering applying for her first job, to a mother balancing work with caring for children, to a woman entering retirement. The study examines how women navigate discriminatory laws and regulations at each point in their working lives to develop an index with eight indicators on: going places; starting a job; getting paid; getting married; having children; running a business; managing assets; and getting a pension.

France achieved the top score by introducing paid parental leave, implementing a domestic violence law, and penalizing workplace sexual harassment.

The report concludes there has been “great progress” towards legal gender equality. Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden score 100 on the WBL index, meaning that these countries give women and men “equal rights in the measured areas.” Ten years ago, none of these countries scored 100, underscoring their recent reforms. France showed the largest improvement among top performers, increasing its score from 91.88 ten years ago to 100 by introducing paid parental leave, implementing a domestic violence law and providing criminal penalties for workplace sexual harassment.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) improved the most, from a score of 42.5 ten years ago to a score of 70 in 2017. The DRC achieved this improvement through reforms allowing married women to get jobs, register businesses, open bank accounts, sign contracts and choose where to live; removing restrictions on women working in specific industries, including construction, manufacturing and mining, and requirements that wives obey their husbands; and introducing reforms on access to credit and non-discrimination in employment. Other top reformers in Sub-Saharan Africa include Guinea, Malawi, Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe and Zambia. Bolivia, the Maldives and Samoa are also top reformers.

The average global score is 74.71, which means that, in a typical economy, women have only three fourths the legal rights of men in areas measured on the index. Globally, average scores have risen from 70 to 75 over the past decade. In the Middle East and North Africa, the average score is 47.37. Overall, there have been 274 reforms to laws and regulations in 131 economies, contributing to an increase in gender equality. In the past ten years, 35 economies implemented laws on workplace sexual harassment.

Despite overall progress, the report cautions that many laws and regulations still prevent women from entering the workplace or starting a business, and it warns that discrimination can have “lasting effects on women’s economic inclusion and labour force participation.” Economies that have not implemented gender equality reforms, for instance, experienced a smaller increase in the percentage of women working overall as well as in the percentage of women working relative to men.

The report also highlights the importance of meaningful implementation of laws, leadership from women and men, changes in cultural norms and attitudes and sustained political will. [WBL Website] [Publication: Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on 2018 WBL Report]

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