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World Bank: Legal Barriers to Economic Equality for Women Still Exist

(Oct. 17, 2013) A report issued by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on September 24, 2013, found that in most of the countries of the world there are still legal barriers that block women’s economic success. (Sung Un Kim, Women Still Subject to Legal Inequalities: Report, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Sept. 25, 2013).) The IFC is a member of the World Bank Group and is designed to help the growth of the private sector in developing countries. (About IFC, IFC website (last visited Sept. 30, 2013).)

The report, which is based on a survey of 143 economies, states that in about 90% of them there was at least one legal disparity in the treatment of women. Of those economies studied, Saudi Arabia had the most legal barriers, with over 25 in place. These differences varied from country to country, but included barriers to travel, conclusion of contracts, financial management, and employment. According to Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank Group, equal opportunity is “smart economic policy” and women can contribute to a “more cohesive society and a more resilient economy.” (Sung Un Kim, supra.)

The countries found to have no significant gender difference in their laws that would impact participation in the economy are: Armenia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kosovo, Mexico, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Puerto Rico (the U.S.), the Slovak Republic, South Africa, and Spain. (WOMEN, BUSINESS AND THE LAW 2014: REMOVING RESTRICTIONS TO ENHANCE GENDER EQUALITY, KEY FINDINGS [hereinafter KEY FINDINGS], World Bank website (2013).)

Aspects of Remaining Legal Differences

The report noted that in 28 economies there are ten or more legal differences, based on gender, related to economic opportunity; 25 of these economies are in the Middle East or Africa. World-wide the study found 21 kinds of legal differences for unmarried women and 26 for married women. Among these legal blocks is the fact that in 15 countries, husbands who object to their wives taking a job can prevent them from doing so. Restrictions on the types of work women can perform are more commonly foundin 79 economies, largely in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In addition, in places in which legally mandated benefits for maternity and parental leave are high, sometimes the rate of participation in the workforce by women is lower. (Id.)

On the topics of domestic violence and sexual harassment, which also affect how women can participate in the economy and in society, 76 of the places studies had explicit legislation on the topic of domestic violence, but many fewer had provisions on sexual harassment. Such harassment in schools is specifically addressed in legislation in 32 economies, but harassment in public spaces is addressed in the laws of only eight of 100 economies reviewed. (Id.)

Areas of Progress

The report was not totally negative in its assessments. In general, about half the barriers for women in the economy that existed in 1960 have been removed. (Sandrine Rastello, World Bank Sees Improvement in Removing Gender Equality Barriers, BLOOMBERG.COM (Sept. 24, 2013).) One example noted by the World Bank is that improvements over the past 50 years in women’s ability to access financial institutions and use property were found in the economies of the Caribbean, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. (KEY FINDINGS, supra.)

Sarah Iqbal, the lead author of the Report, speaking about West Africa, particularly noted progress in the Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Togo. She stated, “[t]hat’s three countries in this region, that to me signifies that there is a trend and momentum moving in this direction, … we have come a long way but there’s a lot that remains to be done.” (Rastello, supra.)

The Women, Business and the Law project, in comparing the legal differences in gender of economies world-wide, covers six topical areas: accessing institutions, using property, securing employment, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court. The data on protecting women from violence, is a pilot seventh area, covering 100 economies. Women, Business, and the Law 2014, in 192 pages, is the third in the project’s series of reports, with significant expansion in the depth of data covered; the data it includes is current as of April 2013.