February 24: Countries are inching toward greater gender equality, but women around the world continue to face laws and regulations that restrict their economic opportunity, according to the World Bank.
A new report published by the World Bank states that the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges to women’s health, safety, and economic security.
Reforms to remove obstacles to women’s economic inclusion have been slow in many regions and uneven within them, according to the report entitled Women, Business and the Law 2021.
On average, women have just three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men, the report further states adding that 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.
“Women need to be fully included in economies in order to achieve better development outcomes,” a statement of World Bank quoted its President David Malpass as saying. “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, including barriers to attend school and maintain jobs.”
Malpass said women are also facing a rise in domestic violence and health and safety challenges. He was of the view that women should have the same access to finance and the same rights to inheritance as men and must be at the center of efforts toward an inclusive and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Women, Business and the Law 2021 measures the laws and regulations across eight areas that affect women’s economic opportunities in 190 countries, covering the period from September 2019-October 2020. From the basics of movement in the community to the challenges of working, parenting, and retiring, the data offers objective and measurable benchmarks for global progress toward gender equality.
Following the outbreak of the pandemic, this report also looks at government responses to the COVID-19 crisis and how the pandemic has impacted women at work and at home, focusing on childcare, access to justice, and health and safety.
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 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.
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 affecting pay and parenthood.
The report states that achieving legal gender equality requires a concerted effort by governments, civil society, and international organizations, among others. But legal and regulatory reforms can serve as an important catalyst to improve the lives of women as well as their families and communities.