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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.

More than a trend: Africa is becoming better by the year at reforming its business environment

Cemile Hacibeyoglu's picture

"Doing Business 2017: Equal Opportunity For All" was released on October 25, and it marked record progress for the business environment reform agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa. Implementing 80 of the 283 reforms recorded globally, Sub-Saharan Africa once again claims the status of the world's top reforming region. Beyond the record reform count, this year is also marked as the year with the highest number of countries in the region having passed reforms (37 out of 48), confirming that more and more economies in Africa are putting private-sector-led growth at the heart of their development agendas.




There is actual transformation tied to those rankings. For example: It now takes 156 days to build a warehouse in Mauritius, compared to 183 days in France and 222 days in Austria. Rwanda ranks second globally on the Getting Credit indicator, not to mention that, years ago, it used to take 370 days to transfer a property in Kigali, while today it takes only 12 days.
 
But, beyond the figures, a few additional thoughts come to mind.

How has Africa become not only better at reforming, but also become home to some good practice that inspires many to reform?

First, one should mention the unique momentum for reform. Most African countries’ development strategies place the private sector as the engine of their growth, and recognize that creating enabling business environments is a key pre-requisite to attract investments and encourages business expansion. That is a timely move from African governments, especially in the context of the present commodity-price fall, which calls on African countries notably to move away from an exclusive dependence on minerals and to diversify their growth models.
 
Then, Africa countries are simply getting better at reforming. A good sign of this is that reforming today costs less in Sub-Saharan Africa. Recent analysis shows that it costs on average of $310,000 to implement a reform today, versus $730,000 merely four years ago. That is a clear sign of increased efficiency. The capacity-building and hands-on assistance of World Bank Group teams to governments and implementing agencies throughout the region is beginning to bear fruit.

Easy business exit is as important as easy business entry

Simon Bell's picture



How to identify and support fast-growing firms that can take off, create jobs, and yield significant value in a short period of time is one of our biggest dilemmas in nurturing private sector development in emerging markets. 
 
The Sustainable Development Goals (#8) include the need for decent jobs as an important developmental priority, and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) are expected to create most jobs required to absorb the growing global workforce.
 
But many young firms will fail; by some accounts more than half of new firms won’t make it to their second birthday. 
 
However, despite the high rate of firm failure, research from the US and evidence from India, Morocco, Lebanon, Canada and Europe shows that it’s largely young firms that create the bulk of net new jobs (net jobs are jobs created minus jobs lost) and lasting employment opportunities.
 
In addition, even when a firm survives beyond the first two years of operation, there are no assurances it will become a fast-growing firm -- a gazelle. 
 
Although estimates vary widely, the share of gazelles -- fast-growing firms that generate a lot of value-added and jobs -- is thought to be only between 4% to 6% of all SMEs, and, possibly, even less in many emerging countries.
 
All this makes creating favorable conditions for entrepreneurship a priority. 
 
Easing business entry -- the time and cost involved in establishing a new enterprise -- is extremely important.  As the annual Doing Business report shows, many countries have made a lot of progress on this indicator over the past decade.  
 
But business exit is an equally critical piece of the puzzle.

Why Juba?

Jean Lubega-Kyazze's picture
Construction in Juba
 
The World Bank Group continues to engage in South Sudan despite the odds, and for good reason

Tell people you work in Juba – capital of South Sudan and now the newest member of the East African Community – and more often than not they won’t know where to find it on a map. Those of us who know are often met with doubtful stares when we talk about enhancing trade and competitiveness in a country that is struggling to emerge from decades of grueling civil war, not to mention a 98 percent illiteracy rate, inadequate capacity, a maternal mortality rate of 254 for every 100,000 births and a 250 out of 1,000 infant mortality rate.

Fact is, Juba is situated in the heart of Africa, where such challenges, and the daunting figures that go along with them, exist. But look deeper and you see commitment, potential, and signs of the World Bank Group’s positive impact. In short, you see opportunity.

Malaysia’s long race to competitiveness

Laura Altinger's picture
Have you ever felt like you are in a race and each time you pass another competitor, more keep showing up ahead on the race track in an endless marathon? Well, countries striving to be competitive face a similar predicament. No matter how hard they try to improve their competitiveness, cut the red tape and reduce burdensome regulations, other countries are doing the same, but even quicker.

Malaysia is already a very competitive country. Today it ranks 18 out of 189 economies in the World Bank Group’s Doing Business Index. Yet, its ambition is to become more competitive. And it wants to overtake some countries on the way up. Malaysia has long recognized that a concerted cross-ministerial and public-private collaboration is needed to do just that.

Malaysia’s Special Task Force to Facilitate Business (PEMUDAH), was established in 2007 to improve the ease of doing business in Malaysia. Testament to its success was Malaysia’s surge to 6th position in the 2014 Doing Business, up from 12th place in 2013 and 18th in 2012, placing it in the same league as Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States. But since then, Malaysia has been challenged to keep up with the rapid pace of business reforms across the globe.
 

Here are 3 surprising facts about doing business in fragile environments

Alua Kennedy's picture
It’s a secret to no one that getting things done in fragile and conflict-affected (FCS) situations is more difficult than in normal, peaceful environments.

A recent World Bank report “The Small Entrepreneur in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations” looked into the motives and challenges of small entrepreneurs in FCS countries and made a number of interesting discoveries. They found that compared to entrepreneurs elsewhere, entrepreneurs in FCS have different characteristics and face significantly different challenges. FCS enterprises tend to be small, informal and to be engaged in sectors that are trade and service oriented.

Three other things they found are illustrated in the charts below. These findings came as quite a surprise to us. 

1. The primary obstacle for entrepreneurs in FCS countries is poor access to finance 
 


 

Visualizing the world of business regulations

Jomo Tariku's picture


The Doing Business project produces a rich dataset of objective measures of business regulations for local firms in countries around the world. We’ve written about some of the key findings - how starting a business is easier than ever before and produced a dashboard to explore that topic; but the dataset goes much further.

The 2016 edition of the report covers 11 indicator sets or “themes” and 189 economies. These themes range from enforcing contracts and registering property to getting electricity and credit. We’ve produced the dashboard below to help explore this data and let you filter across various dimensions - in general, a lower rank or smaller bar is better but hover over bars to see the details. You can click through the tips at the top of the visual for a tutorial, or just dive right in! 

 

Growth and development: Why openness to trade is necessary but not sufficient

Selina Jackson's picture
Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank


We are experiencing a battle of ideas regarding the state of the global economy and prospects for growth. Larry Summers has been leading the group of economists proclaiming that the world entered an era of secular stagnation since the global financial crisis. On the other end, Standard Chartered Bank and other players have been arguing that we are experiencing an economic super cycle—defined as average growth of around 3.5 percent from 2000-2030—due to strong growth in emerging markets and fueled by a global demographic dividend.

There is not even agreement on the factors that drive global growth and development. While parts of the Americas and Asia just concluded the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and recent World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements on trade facilitation and information technology products show progress is possible, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between the U.S. and the EU remain highly controversial and the upcoming WTO Ministerial in Nairobi will likely underwhelm. 

However, if you look at the facts, the situation is very clear:

The reforms behind the Doing Business rankings

Cecile Fruman's picture



In Mozambique in 2003, it took an entrepreneur 168 days to start a business. Today, it takes only 19 days. That kind of transformation has major implications for ambitious men and women who are seeking to make a mark in business, or, as is often the case in Africa, seeking to move beyond a life in agriculture. In economies with sensible, streamlined regulations, all it takes is a good idea, and a couple of weeks, and an entrepreneur is in business.

This week, the World Bank Group launched its annual Doing Business 2016 report, which benchmarks countries based on their progress undertaking business reforms that make it easier for local businesses to start up and operate.

For the second straight year, Singapore topped the list, with New Zealand, Denmark, the Republic of Korea, and Hong Kong SAR, China, coming in closely behind.

In the developing world, standouts included Kenya and Costa Rica, both of which rose 21 positions; Mauritius, Sub-Saharan Africa’s top-ranked economy; Kazakhstan, which moved up 12 places to rank 41st among all countries; and Bhutan, which topped South Asia’s list of reformers. In the Middle East and North Africa, 11 of the region’s 20 economies achieved 21 reforms despite the challenges caused by a number of civil and interstate conflicts.
 
The reforms tracked by Doing Business are implemented by governments, but the results show up most in the private sector, which is critical to driving a country’s competitiveness and to creating jobs. Ensuring an enabling environment in which the private sector can operate effectively is an important marker of how well an economy is positioned to compete globally. 
 
For those of us working with governments to help improve their investment climates – and to create a policy environment in which business regulatory costs are reasonable, access to finance is open, technology is shared, and trade flows within and across borders – the real work begins long before the Doing Business rankings are published.

In the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C), our mandate is to work with developing countries to unleash the power of their private sector for growth. Much of this work involves reforms in the very areas measured in the Doing Business report: starting a business, dealing with construction formalities, or trading across borders, among other factors.

Our experience working with clients confirms one of this year’s key findings: Regulatory efficiency and quality go hand-in-hand. A good investment climate requires well-designed regulations that protect property rights and facilitate business operations while safeguarding other people’s rights as well as their health, their safety and the environment.

How long does it take to start a business in your country?

Tariq Khokhar's picture
One of the most interesting trends in Doing Business is the reduction in the number of days it takes to start a business across the world. Navigate through the graphic below using the arrows next to the captions and then select any countries or groupings you'd like to see with the dropdown menu at the bottom.
 
 

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