Around 2.4 billion women of working age are not given equal economic opportunity and 178 countries maintain legal barriers that prevent their full economic participation, says the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report. In 86 countries, women face some form of job restriction and 95 countries do not guarantee equal pay for equal work.
The report has been unveiled a week before the day the world celebrates the International Women’s Day (March 8) to realise their importance in society. In 2022, the day and the related subject of women empowerment both become important, considering the impact of the ongoing pandemic and worsening climate change on the gender. The challenges make it more difficult for them, as they still struggle in the areas of life and livelihood.
Gaps in legal rights and pay
The report says, globally, women still have only three quarters of the legal rights afforded to men – an aggregate score of 76.5 out of a possible 100, which denotes complete legal parity. However, despite the disproportionate effect on women’s lives and livelihood from the global pandemic, 23 countries reformed their laws in 2021 to take much-needed steps towards advancing women’s economic inclusion, says the report.
India scored 74.4 out of 100. The overall score is higher than the regional average observed across South Asia (63.7). Within the South Asia region, the maximum score observed was of Nepal, at 80.6.
“While progress has been made, the gap between men’s and women’s expected lifetime earnings globally is $172 trillion – nearly two times the world’s annual GDP,” said Mari Pangestu, World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships. “As we move forward to achieve green, resilient and inclusive development, governments need to accelerate the pace of legal reforms so that women can realise their full potential and benefit fully and equally.”
The international study measured laws and regulations across 190 countries in eight areas impacting women’s economic participation – mobility, workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets and pensions. The data offer objective and measurable benchmarks for global progress towards gender equality. Just 12 countries, all part of the OECD, have legal gender parity.
This year, a new feature in the study is a 95-country pilot survey of laws governing childcare – a critical area where support is needed for women to succeed in paid employment. A pilot analysis of how laws affecting women’s economic empowerment are implemented is also included, highlighting the difference between laws on the books and the reality experienced by women.
Globally, the highest number of reforms were made in the parenthood, pay and workplace indicators. Many reforms focused on protecting against sexual harassment in employment and gender discrimination, increasing paid leave for new parents and removing job restrictions for women.
“Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace if they are on an unequal footing at home,” said Carmen Reinhart, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank Group, calling for “levelling the playing field and ensuring that having children doesn’t mean women are excluded from full participation in the economy and realising their hopes and ambitions.”
The study introduces pilot research in two new areas: legal environment for childcare services and implementation of laws. A growing number of economies are investing in childcare to enhance children’s skills and recognise unpaid care work by women, who often take on more caregiving duties. The pilot research analysed laws in 95 economies and finds that most OECD high-income and Europe and Central Asia economies regulate public childcare services, while in the Middle East and North Africa and South Asia regulations mandate the private sector or employers to provide care services for children of working parents.
The research also covered quality of regulations such as teacher-to-child ratio, maximum group sizes, training requirements for teachers, and licensing, inspections and reporting requirements for service providers.
No Reforms in South Asia
Women in South Asia have only two-thirds of the legal rights of men in the region. Only one economy in the region reformed. Pakistan lifted restrictions on women’s ability to work at night. The scenario is much different and backward compared to other regions, even Sub-Saharan Africa. The latter implemented comprehensive reforms, achieving the second highest improvement in the index last year.
An outstanding case is Gabon, with comprehensive reforms to its civil code and the enactment of a law on the elimination of violence against women. These reforms gave women the same rights to choose where to live as men, get jobs without permission from their husbands, removed the requirement for married women to obey their husbands and allows women to be head of household in the same way as men. The country granted spouses equal rights to immovable property and equal administrative authority over assets during marriage. Gabon also enacted law to protect women from domestic violence. Its reforms gave women the same rights to open a bank account as men and prohibited gender-based discrimination in financial services.
When it comes to constraints on freedom of movement, laws affecting women’s decisions to work, and constraints related to marriage, India got a perfect score.
In terms of laws affecting women’s pay and work after having children, constraints on women starting and running a business, gender differences in property and inheritance, and laws affecting the size of a woman’s pension, India could consider reforms to improve legal equality for women, says the report. One of the lowest scores for India is on the indicator measuring laws affecting women’s pay, for which the researchers suggest mandating equal remuneration for work of equal value, allowing women to work at night in the same way as men, and allowing women to work in an industrial job in the same way as men.