A new World Bank report has highlighted that while countries are inching toward greater gender equality, women around the world continue to face laws and regulations that restrict their economic opportunity. The covid pandemic has in fact created new challenges to their health, safety and economic security, the report adds.
The report, ‘Women, Business and the Law 2021’ that is based on data on the laws and regulations that affect women’s economic opportunity, says reforms to remove obstacles in women’s economic inclusion have been slow in many regions and uneven within them. On an average, women have just three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men, it says, adding women were already at a disadvantage before the pandemic and government initiatives to buffer some of its effects, while innovative, have been limited in many countries.
“While it is encouraging that many countries have proactively taken steps to help women navigate the pandemic, it’s clear that more work is needed, especially in improving parental leave and equalizing pay,” says Mari Pangestu, Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships at The World Bank. “Countries need to create a legal environment that enhances women’s economic inclusion, so that they can make the best choices for themselves and their families,” says she.
In one of her recent blog posts, she writes: “For the first time in 2 decades, extreme poverty is rising around the world, as covid threatens to erode years of hard-won progress. The World Bank estimates that the economic fallout from the pandemic may add as many as 150 million extreme poor by 2021.”
Despite the adversities of the last year, many economies made gender equality a priority. Every region improved its average score, with economies in the Middle East and North Africa seeing the greatest increase. Globally, several of the changes eliminated job restrictions or aimed to reduce the gender wage gap. Other improvements were good-practice legislation related to marriage and parenthood or to removing constraints to women’s entrepreneurship, according to the report.
Overall, the report finds that many governments have put in place measures to address some of the impacts of the pandemic on working women. For example, less than a quarter of all economies surveyed in the report legally guaranteed employed parents any time off for childcare before the pandemic. Since then, in the light of school closures, nearly an additional 40 economies around the world have introduced leave or benefit policies to help parents with childcare. Even so, these measures are likely insufficient to address the challenges many working mothers already face, or the childcare crisis, it says.
The pandemic has also contributed to a rise in both the severity and frequency of gender-based violence. Preliminary research shows that since early 2020, governments introduced about 120 new measures including hotlines, psychological assistance and shelters to protect women from violence. Some governments also took steps to provide access to justice in several ways, including declaring family cases urgent during lockdown and allowing remote court proceedings for family matters.
“Women need to be fully included in economies in order to achieve better development outcomes,” said David Malpass, World Bank Group President. “Despite progress in many countries, there have been troubling reversals in a few, including restricting women’s travel without the permission of a male guardian. This pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage girls and women,” he added.
Despite the pandemic, 27 economies in all regions and income groups enacted reforms across all areas and increased good practices in legislation in 45 cases during the year covered, the report found. The greatest number of reforms introduced or amended laws affect pay and parenthood.
However, parenthood is also an area that leaves the most room for improvement globally. This includes paid parental leave, whether benefits are administered by the government, and whether the dismissal of pregnant women is prohibited. Reforms are also needed to address the restrictions women face in the type of jobs, tasks, and hours they can work, segregating them into lower paid jobs. And in 100 economies, laws do not mandate that men and women be paid the same for equally valued jobs.
The findings of the report highlights areas such as updating the data and relevant details for 190 economies, considers reforms of laws and regulations that occurred over the last year and presents analysis of new and recurring trends. Over the last 50 years, 3 regions – OECD high income, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa – have seen a record gain in their average scores of more than 30 points.