women business and the law
The sun sets this year on the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include the elimination of gender disparities in education at all levels. Even though the number of countries that have achieved gender parity in both primary and secondary education between 2000 and 2015 has increased from 36 to 62, girls continue to face the greatest challenges, especially in access to secondary education.
The negative consequences of lack of education are visible throughout a woman’s life. An uneducated girl is less capable of making her own family planning decisions. A child bride is more likely to face health issues and psychological distress, and her children are more exposed to malnutrition and illiteracy. Education, thus, is fundamental to the development of both aspirations and skills: an educated girl is more capable of managing property and her finances, and has higher chances to have access to credit.
Women’s leadership and access to decision-making positions are also strictly dependent on educational attainment. In the long term, the lack of education affects a girl’s future capacity to seek and get employment and to have an income. Economic independence is reflected not only in a woman’s capacity to spend, save, acquire property and invest, but also in the freedom to get out of abusive domestic relationships, particularly economic violence.
“Maybe in the Middle East … but in our part of the world, there is no gender inequity.” As an Egyptian, I wasn’t surprised to hear such assertions from colleagues when I arrived in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region to deliver a program aimed at creating opportunities for women in the private sector. With its socialist legacy, the region prided itself on gender equality. Women were historically well-represented in the state-run economic systems. I looked at legal frameworks and the Women, Business and the Law indicators and found little evidence of discrimination. Laws on the books were overwhelmingly gender-neutral. I was puzzled.
Then I studied data from the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys: Women’s rates of participation in the private sector told a different story. Women’s status seemed to be collapsing with the state systems and falling as markets started opening. For instance, now, only 36% of firms in the region are owned by women; that is a lower percentage than in East Asia (60%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (40%). Only 19% of companies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have female top managers, compared to 30% in East Asia and 21% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
So I faced the daunting task of delivering a gender program in a region where few believe that there are gender issues to address.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Macedonia, former Yugoslav Republic of
- East Asia and Pacific
- Europe and Central Asia
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Private Sector Development
- gender eqaulity
- women business and the law
- banking on women
- Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises