New World Bank report slams laws against women

The World Bank this week released a new report on the relationship between women, business and laws; the findings reveal that out of 173 countries surveyed, 155 of them have at least one law that favours men over women.
A woman sells vegetables at the City Market. Rwanda has been lauded for pro-women legislation. (File)
A woman sells vegetables at the City Market. Rwanda has been lauded for pro-women legislation. (File)

The World Bank this week released a new report on the relationship between women, business and laws; the findings reveal that out of 173 countries surveyed, 155 of them have at least one law that favours men over women.

As a result of this discrimination development is impeded, prosperity slowed down and national competitiveness eroded the report found.

“It seems clear from the evidence that while governments are working progressively to provide equality of opportunity for women, there are still laws that differentiate between women and men in ways that affect women’s economic prospects,” said WB’s Chief Economist Kaushik Basu.

The report suggests that the world is far from achieving gender equality after findings indicated that in 100 economies, women face gender-based job restrictions while 46 of the economies covered had no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence.

In at least 18 countries of the total surveyed, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working. Related to this, Rwanda was also mentioned among countries where married women have no say in deciding where to live; it’s a husband’s prerogative.

Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the World Bank’s Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director, in reaction to the report said the findings present an opportunity to policymakers to make a difference.

“They can use the overwhelming evidence that shows the economic benefits of equality by ridding their systems of discriminatory laws that are holding women back,” said Indrawati.

According to Indrawati, previous research shows gender gaps in women’s entrepreneurship and labor force participation account for estimated income losses of 27 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa, 19 per cent in South Asia, 14 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 10 per cent in Europe.

The World Bank’s women, business and laws report has been released once every after two years since 2009 a period during which researchers have collected data about legal restrictions on women’s entrepreneurship and employment.

The 2016 report released under the theme, ‘getting equal’ is the fourth in the series and is, according to the World Bank, aimed at informing policy discussions and promote research on the linkages between the law and women’s economic opportunities.

Africa rankings

The report’s findings were based on data collected from seven indicators including accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work and going to court.

At least 41 of the 173 countries surveyed were from Sub-Saharan Africa and according to the report, although the region has improved a lot in the past two years, there are still a number of countries with discriminatory laws that are impending women economic empowerment.

For instance, of the 30 economies with ten or more gender based legal differences, eight of them are Sub-Saharan Africa 18 in the Middle East and North Africa while East Asia and the Pacific, and South Asia each have two.

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, Democratic Republic of 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 head of household.

Findings also claim that 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; they are Namibia and South Africa.

Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia also got mentions for being amongst the region’s economies with very few barriers in the areas entrepreneurship and employment.

Rwanda’s case

The new report lauded 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 was listed in tenth position out of 173 countries as being among the places with the highest number of female justices in the court system.

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 here cannot choose where to live as it’s solely a prerogative of the husband.

The report makes a case for equality of opportunities among 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.

Olive Uwamaria, a gender activist in Kigali, said in reaction to the report that 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.

She added that 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 specialist, says it’s not entirely about the kind of laws that countries have in place, especially in Rwanda’s case.

“The issue is with the corporate governance structures of companies in the private sector, that’s where we have a problem. Many organizations, especially banks, have rules that don’t favour women,” said Ampulire.

It’s an observation that is backed by the report, which indicated that only nine countries out of those surveyed were found to be having laws where at least one woman has to be a board member of a publicly listed company.

In Ampulire’s view, the civil society organisations and government need to work closely to ensure gender inclusiveness in the private sector and allow women equal opportunities in both private and public sector spaces. Experts say there are benefits to be enjoyed by companies that give women an opportunity to play a greater role in management and leadership.

For instance, a recent multinational survey of 6,500 firms showed that where women had greater representation on boards, those organizations were less likely to be hit by scandals like bribery or fraud.

But to serve in top positions, women need to get the jobs first; however, the report pointed out that in many countries, women are still sexually harassed either as an incentive to get the job or a promotion.

“The link between the fight against poverty and gender equality is strong, which is why we work with many countries to tackle gender-based barriers,” said the World Bank’s Indrawati.


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