Between women and economic empowerment are restrictive laws which limit their potential by, for instance, blocking them from competing for certain jobs or acquiring material wealth, according to a new World Bank group report.
Titled “Women, Business and Laws”, the report which was released on Wednesday in Washington D.C is published every two years; it surveyed economies of 173 countries, with 41 of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
The findings were a result of a comparative analysis of the legal differences in the 173 economies on the basis of gender, focusing on seven areas, namely; accessing institutions of learning, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, going to court and protecting women from violence.
It was reported that although countries are making progress, laws in sub-Saharan Africa are still hostile to women economic empowerment after it was found that the region hosts almost a third of the world’s 30 most restrictive economies.
For instance, among the economies with the greatest barriers to women is Sudan, one of 10 most restrictive economies in the world. Others are Mauritania, DR Congo, Cameroon, Guinea, Benin, Swaziland and Senegal.
In Sudan, the report said, women are prohibited from certain jobs, including night work, and there are no legal provisions mandating equal remuneration for work of equal value for men and women or non-discrimination in hiring.
Sudan was also condemned for having laws that impose a number of additional restrictions on married women, who are required to obey their husbands and cannot choose where to live or be heads of households.
The report also says there are only 18 economies in the world with no legal barriers to women in the areas of employment and entrepreneurship; only two of those counties are in Africa – Namibia and South Africa.
Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia also got mentions for being among the region’s economies with few barriers in the areas of entrepreneurship and employment.
Rwanda, which got a number of mentions in the report, has a respected global track record for having some of the more gender inclusive laws and holds the record for having the highest representation of women in Parliament.
The report lauds Rwanda for having revised its property ownership/registration laws in order to make them more gender inclusive.
“In Rwanda, after evidence demonstrated that titling policies were systematically overlooking women in informal unions, land registration forms were revised to be more inclusive of them,” the report noted.
Rwanda also got mentioned among countries with the highest number of female justices in the court system, ranking 10th out of the 173 economies surveyed.
However, the country is also singled out among those where married women cannot perform certain actions in the same way as married men. For instance, according to the report, married women in Rwanda cannot choose where to live as it is solely a prerogative of the husband.
The report makes a case for equality of opportunities among both genders as it allows women to make the choices that are best for them, their families and their communities.
However, the findings claim, opportunities for women are not equal where legal gender differences are prevalent and that such restrictions constrain women’s ability to make economic decisions in a variety of ways, and can have far-reaching consequences.
Reacting to the report, Olive Uwamaria, a gender activist in Kigali, said there is a lot of work to do to get society to harmonise laws for gender equality.
“Legal barriers to women are largely a result of prevalent social-cultural barriers in our societies, we still have a situation where men still dominate the legislative drafting process, such a trend needs to be overturned,” Uwamaria said.
Uwamaria says the Rwanda model of giving women strong representation in Parliament is the right approach to take as it gives them a platform to advocate and influence the quality of laws that are passed.
But Janine Ampulire, a women economic empowerment specialist, says it is not entirely about the kind of laws that countries have in place, citing Rwanda’s case.
“The issue is with the corporate governance structures of companies in the private sector; that is where we have a problem; many organisations have rules that do not favour women,” said Ampulire.
Ampulire wants to see civil society organisations and government working closely to spread gender inclusiveness in the private sector to ensure that women have equal opportunities in both private and public sector spaces.