For too long women have suffered from this type of violence that has negative consequences on their voice and agency as well as their capacity to fully participate in the economy and society. But sexual harassment also has negative effects on women’s economic opportunities. For example, if no recourse is available to protect them, instead of reporting the problem, women facing sexual harassment in the workplace often say that they have no other choice but to quit. This may mean starting over, missing out on pay raises, career growth opportunities, and earning potential.
Every two years, the World Bank publishes data on these and other laws protecting women from violence as part of its Women, Business and the Law series of reports. The 2018 report and accompanying detailed country level data have just been published.
It finds that This potentially affects over 500 million women around the globe. Simple correlations suggest that where women are protected from sexual harassment at work, women are more likely to own businesses. This type of correlation does not imply causality, but points to the possibility of impacts that are worth investigating in more detailed research.
Sexual harassment may also occur in other spheres, including education, where the lack of appropriate laws, as well as inadequate enforcement when laws do exist, can have dramatic consequences for adolescent girls. In some areas, the fear for girls to be harassed or assaulted on their way to school or experiencing it in schools is mentioned by parents as one of the reasons why girls drop out of school without completing their secondary education. The trauma from harassment, and the exclusion that may result from pregnancies outside of marriage in the case of assault can be devastating for adolescent girls, endangering their whole future and opportunities in life. In some cases, the fear of sexual harassment and abuse in school may contribute not only to girls dropping out, but also to child marriage, and lead to all the negative consequences that marrying at an early age entail.
The analysis relies on data from 2013 to 2017 on binding laws and regulations applicable in a subset of 141 countries of the 189 economies examined by the Women, Business and the Law dataset. While legal protection for women and girls has improved over the last four years, the analysis on trends shows that globally, estimates on the number of women lacking legal protection against sexual harassment has not dropped dramatically. , while the percentage of women and girls not protected against sexual harassment in education dropped even less, from 57.5% to 55%, over the last four years for the same pilot set of 141 countries, resulting in 1.5 billion women not protected (for comparability purposes, statistics are based on the population of women aged 15 and above). Estimates are higher when based on the lack of criminal penalties for perpetrators.
Having adequate laws is important to provide women with legal protection against sexual harassment and signal commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal target of ending all forms of violence and harmful practices against women and girls by 2030.