Report

Women, business and the law 2019: a decade of reform

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Women's rights Women economic conditions Sex discrimination Economic development
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Description

At 25 years old, many women are just starting their careers. The decisions they make affect their economic security, career growth and work-life balance. This challenging period is only made more difficult in economies where legal environments do not support a woman’s decision to work.

For instance, a woman cannot effectively look for a job or go on an interview if she cannot leave her home without permission. Even if she can go on an interview, will an employer be willing to hire her? If she is hired, will she need to quit if she gets married or has children? If not, will she have to move to a lower paying job because she must balance work with caring for her family?

And what if the law does not allow her to manage her own assets, affecting her ability to start a business? At the end of her career, she may have to retire earlier than a man, giving her a longer retirement but a smaller pension because she worked for fewer years with lower pay.

Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform examines these questions by building a timeseries measuring gender discrimination across 187 economies over the past ten years.

With the understanding that women’s access to employment and entrepreneurial activity is related to many factors, this study focuses on how women must navigate discriminatory laws and regulations at every point in their careers, limiting their equality of opportunity.

To gain new insight into how women’s employment and entrepreneurship choices are affected by legal gender discrimination, this study examines ten years of Women, Business and the Law data through an index structured around the economic decisions women make as they go through different stages of their working lives.

This perspective yields interesting results. Six economies—Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden—score 100 in the Women, Business and the Law index, meaning they give women and men equal legal rights in the measured areas. A decade ago none of these economies scored 100, indicating they all reformed over the past ten years.

France had the biggest improvement among the top performers, going from a score of 91.88 in the index ten years ago to 100 now by implementing a domestic violence law, providing criminal penalties for workplace sexual harassment and introducing paid parental leave.

The average global score is 74.71, indicating that a typical economy gives women only three-fourths the legal rights of men in the measured areas. However, the average score in the Middle East and North Africa is 47.37, meaning the typical economy in that region gives women less than half the legal rights of men in the measured areas.

Another way to interpret this information is the average economy does not give women equality of opportunity in approximately nine of the 35 data points examined in the index. And in the Middle East and North Africa the average economy does not give women equality of opportunity in approximately 17 of the 35 data points examined.

But there has been significant progress over the past decade. Ten years ago, the global average score was 70.06. Since then, 131 economies have made 274 reforms to laws and regulations increasing gender equality in the areas measured in the index. These reforms led to a 4.65 point increase in the average global score. Another way to interpret this improvement is that on average, two of the 35 data points measured in the index reformed. These reforms include the 35 economies that introduced laws protecting women from sexual harassment at work, protecting nearly two billion more women than a decade ago.

Sub-Saharan Africa had the most reforms promoting gender equality. Six of the top reforming economies are in Sub-Saharan Africa: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe and Zambia. The remaining three top reformers are in East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and South Asia respectively: Samoa, Bolivia and Maldives.

The high number of top reformers from Sub-Saharan Africa is in part due to the large number of economies in the region, but also demonstrates the significant room for improvement these economies had from their baseline. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa had the third highest increase in the index’s average regional score, moving from 64.04 to 69.63 over ten years, an increase of 5.59 points.

South Asia had the biggest improvement in average regional score, moving from 50 to 58.36, an increase of 8.36 points. This was followed by East Asia and the Pacific, which went from 64.80 to 70.73, an increase of 5.93 points.

Most top reformers introduced sexual harassment laws or mandated nondiscrimination in access to credit. One-third of the top reforming economies removed job restrictions on night work or on certain job types.

Reforming economies tend to perform better than non-reformers in other measures of gender equality. The economies that reformed under the Women, Business and the Law index also tended to experience bigger increases in the percentage of women working overall, and in the percentage of women working relative to men.

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