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women business and the law

Private sector engagement is key to success on gender equity

Anabel Gonzalez's picture

Photo: Visual News Associates / The World Bank

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, if there is one concept to keep in mind above all others, it’s that gender equity is vital 24-7-365, and not just as a once-a-year observance.

You have heard the argument before and you will hear it again: Economies cannot reach their full potential if half the population is systematically blocked from full participation. This fundamental idea motivates the World Bank Group as it redoubles its efforts to address gaps in gender equality.

Our deepening work to close key gender gaps shows that the issues go far beyond economic inequity. Barriers to women’s full economic participation also impose moral, emotional and at times even physical costs.

We see this in the laws that prevent wives from making autonomous decisions about their careers. We see it in instances of violence against women in the workplace. We see this when harassment occurs at rural border crossings where women traders can encounter threats, and worse, from border guards.

In developing and developed countries alike, women face obstacles to starting and managing a business, to accessing finance, to earning equal pay for equal work, and to owning land or other assets. Many countries maintain laws and regulations that advantage men while discriminating against women, often relegating them to the status of a legal minor.

As Emeritus Professor Linda Scott of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School told us recently, “Women are economically disadvantaged in every country on the planet” and “women’s economic exclusion imposes a significant drag on world economies and societies.”

A key part of the Bank Group’s gender effort revolves around the importance of leveraging the private sector to ensure that reform goes beyond policy statements and creates real economic benefits for women and men. The Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C) has developed an approach to gender equity that focuses on expanding market opportunities, enabling private initiative, and developing dynamic economies.

The work we are doing recognizes the entrenched nature of the obstacles to fuller economic empowerment for women. Achieving results at scale will require sustained commitment. But we also understand the importance of realizing near-term progress to catalyze change, and we recognize how interventions in particular countries can show the way forward elsewhere.

The concept is simple: Good results generate more good results.

Why gender equality in doing business makes good economic sense

Cecile Fruman's picture

Photo Credit: Stephan Bachenheimer / The World Bank

Women today represent about 50 percent of the world’s population and, for the past two decades, about 50 percent of the labor force. Yet there are stark differences in the outcomes they achieve: Women are only half as likely as men to have a full-time wage-earning job. The women who do have paid jobs earn as much as one-third less than men. Fewer women than men are involved in trade or own registered companies. And women are more likely to work in low-productivity activities or informal employment.

There are many reasons for these outcomes, including socio-cultural norms, access to high-quality jobs, the lack of transport and the lack of child-care facilities. In many countries, such differences also continue to be written in the law. 
 
For the first time since it was launched in 2002, the World Bank Group’s annual Doing Business report this year added a gender dimension to its measures, including to the annual ranking on each country's ease of doing business. This is good news, since the report attracts the attention of policymakers worldwide. Global benchmarks and indicators are a powerful tool to raise awareness, motivate policy dialogue and, above all, inspire action by policymakers.
 
Ensuring that women have the same economic opportunities by law and in practice is not only a basic human right, it makes economic sense. A recent study estimates that achieving equality in economic opportunities for women and men could spur $28 trillion in world GDP growth by 2025 – about the equivalent of the size of the Chinese and U.S. economies combined.
 
Looking at gender differences when it comes to starting a business, registering property or enforcing contracts, Doing Business shows that 23 countries impose more procedures for women than men to start a business. Sixteen countries limit women’s ability to own, use and transfer property. And in 17 economies, the civil courts do not value a woman’s testimony the same way as a man’s.

This pattern might give the impression that such legal differences are really only an issue in a selected group of countries.  But Doing Business’ sister publication – Women, Business and the Law  tells us otherwise. The report analyzes gender parity in accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, going to court and, most recently, protecting women from violence. It finds that 90 percent of the 173 countries measured have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities. In 30 economies, there are 10 or more legal differences between men and women, predominantly across the Middle East and North Africa.
 
To counter this, there is ample evidence that those countries that have integrated women more rapidly into the workforce have improved their international competitiveness by developing export-oriented manufacturing industries that tend to favor the employment of women. Legal gender disparities are also associated with lower female school enrollment and labor-force participation.
 
There is some good news. The Women, Business and the Law 2016 report shows that, between 2013 and 2015, 65 economies made 94 reforms increasing gender parity. The World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C) – a joint practice of the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – works across the world to support governments as they design gender-informed and gender-neutral policies, and in many cases implement gender-targeted interventions to improve the business environment and expand market opportunities for women.

Credit for All: Increasing Women's Access to Finance

Nisha Nicole Arekapudi's picture
Financial inclusion is important for accelerating economic growth, reducing income inequality, and decreasing poverty rates. Unfortunately, women face more difficulty than men in access to credit, limiting the development of their full market potential and hindering economic gain and entrepreneurship. Discriminatory practices in the granting of credit may mean that qualified applicants do not have the same opportunity to receive credit simply due to their gender.

Smart Economy = Laws that are Tailored to Women as much as Men

Mohammad Amin's picture

The surest way to empower women, close the gender gap, and ensure women’s participation in the development of their economy is through enabling equal job opportunities and employment for women.  Recent efforts such as the Women, Business and the Law (WBL) project show that labor laws do vary between men and women. As we will see in three studies below, the law has an incredibly significant role in understanding female employment.

Eliminating gender disparity in laws leads to higher levels of female employment

The first study finds that gender disparity in the laws favoring males over females tends to lower the employment level of females relative to males, a result driven by employment in small and medium firms. The study uses a broad measure of gender discrimination in laws across 66 developing countries using the World Bank Group projects: WBL data and the Enterprise Surveys data to measure female employment in the private sector.

When Business Gets Personal: How Laws Affect Women's Economic Opportunities

Yasmin Bin-Humam's picture

12-12-12 marks an auspicious day on which couples are rushing to get married. Globally, many women and men have been waiting for this day to mark as the day they got married. Those who miss it will need to wait 100 years to have another chance like this one again. But depending on where in the world they are, getting married will mean different things for these women, their career and future business opportunities.

In many economies around the world women are legally prevented from conducting basic transactions which are necessary precursors to entrepreneurship and employment. Women, particularly married women, can be barred from actions such as opening bank accounts, determining where to work or live, and having the ability to move freely. In some economies married women need their husbands’ permission to carry out such actions.

Measuring Gender Equality: Why It Matters

“If you believe that talent isn’t determined by gender, race or sexual orientation, but is instead a roll of the genetic dice, then the most productive society will be the perfectly fair one. A society that is blind to gender, race and sexual orientation will choose the best person for the job — not just the best white, straight man,” writes Chrystia Freeland of Reuters.  In other words, fairness is not only a good thing in itself, it also increases productivity.Gender equality can mean a better economy Credit: isafmedia, Flickr Creative Commons

U.S. economists Chang-Tai Hsieh, Erik Hurst, Charles Jones, and Peter Klenow argue that up to 20 percent of the aggregate wage growth in the last 50 years in the U.S. could be explained by expanded opportunities in the labor market for women and African Americans.  The authors of the newly released draft paper "The Allocation of Talent and U.S. Economic Growth” report that in 1960, 94 percent of doctors were white men, as were 96 percent of lawyers and 86 percent of managers. By 2008, these numbers had fallen to 63, 61, and 57 percent, respectively.