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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.

How countries and communities are taking on gender-based violence

Sweta Shrestha's picture
The stat is appalling: 1 in 3 women worldwide have or will experience intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

Although it may take the form of domestic violence, gender-based violence is not merely a personal or family matter. Associated with certain societies' social norms and many other risk factors, such violence leads to severe social and economic consequences that can contribute to ongoing poverty in developing and developed countries alike.

Because violence affects everyone, it takes us all—from individuals to communities, and from cities to countries—to tackle the pandemic of violence against our women and girls.

On Day 15 of the global #16Days campaign, let’s take a look at a few examples of how community groups, civil society organizations, and national governments around the world are making informed efforts to prevent and respond to various forms of gender-based violence.

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.

Caring about employer-supported childcare: Good for business, good for development

Carmen Niethammer's picture

It is not often that I get to reflect on my own early childhood experience: Some 40 years ago, I attended a public kindergarten in a small town in Germany. My mother would take me there on her blue bike at 7 a.m., I would spend the morning with eight other children my age, and at around 1 p.m., she would pick me up. Many of my friends and colleagues had similar early childhood experiences.
 
Considering that the potential benefits from supporting early childhood development range from healthy development to greater capacity to learn while in school and increased productivity in adulthood, I consider myself very lucky. Across the world, nearly half of all three- to six-year-olds (159 million children) are deprived of access to pre-primary education (UIS, 2012). Evidence from both developed and developing countries suggests that an additional dollar invested in high-quality preschool programs will yield a return of anywhere between US$6 and US$17.
 
More broadly speaking, a new study by ITUC shows that investment in the care economy of 2 percent of GDP in just seven developed countries would create more than 21 million jobs and help countries overcome the twin challenges of aging populations and economic stagnation.  So the development case for investing in childcare is clear. What about the business case?

Remnants of the Soviet past: Restrictions on women's employment in the Commonwealth of Independent States

Alena Sakhonchik's picture


My father is a long-distance trucker based in Belarus. As a young girl, I spent long hours on the road with him. I loved traveling to neighboring and faraway cities and—even though I could barely reach the pedals at the time—dreamed of becoming a truck driver myself one day. Life ended up taking me on another path, but it wasn’t until I was older that I learned that the option of being a truck driver was never open to me to begin with.

Why?

Because my native country prohibits women from being truck drivers, one of the 182 professions out of bounds for women.

Can paternity leave benefit working women in developing countries?

Asif Islam's picture
In recent years, a spate of articles came out proclaiming the benefits of paternity leave. One article by the New York Times cited a study in Sweden that stated that mother’s future earnings increased on an average of 7 percent for every month of leave the father took. The same article cited another study in the U.S.

Education as a vehicle to end violence against women

Isabel Santagostino's picture
Photo: Scott Wallace/World Bank

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.
 

Equality of opportunity as an engine of prosperity

Augusto Lopez-Claros's picture

We have learned much over the past several decades about the connection between gender inequality and economic growth, particularly when we talk about inequalities in education and employment. Inequalities in education, for instance, artificially reduce the pool of talent which societies can draw from; by excluding qualified girls from the educational stream and promoting less qualified boys, the average amount of human capital in a country will be reduced and this will have an adverse impact on economic performance. We also know that the promotion of female education leads to lower births per women, not only because educated women will have greater knowledge about family planning but also because education creates greater opportunities for women that may be more attractive than childbearing.

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.

Moving Toward Gender Equity: It Takes Strategy and Opportunity

Sammar Essmat's picture



“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.


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