Gender equality is smart economics. Yet, its progress remains slow

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A beneficiary of Nigeria LAPO Bank – largest microfinance investment in Africa
A beneficiary of Nigeria LAPO Bank – largest microfinance investment in Africa. Photo Credit: LAPO

Women, Business and the Law 2022 finds that globally the pace of legal reform for women’s economic inclusion is not moving fast enough. This implies a wasted opportunity, not only for women’s own empowerment but also for the economy and society at large. We are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development (WDR 2012). Its message is as clear and true now as it was then: reducing gender inequalities is smart economics.  Reforming laws for gender equality paves the way for changing social norms and actions. And the result is not only women’s empowerment but also a more resilient economy and stable society.

Women’s unequal position not only limits their progress but also makes them more vulnerable to shocks and crises, as the COVID-19 pandemic has painfully shown. Girls and women have been badly impacted by the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic, especially regarding access to education and participation in the labor force. It may not be surprising, then, that among the many new poor that the pandemic has caused, women are disproportionally affected.

But, as the WDR 2012 concluded, gender equality is not only good for women. The economy has better opportunities to grow and is more resilient to crises if women and men have equal rights.  Discriminatory laws and legal inequality leave the full economic potential of our global and national economies untapped. No country can achieve its full potential without the equal economic participation of women and men. This concern drives our Women, Business and the Law project, whose latest edition was just released.

The global Women, Business and the Law index average is 76.5 out of 100. This means that 2.4 billion women of working age do not have equal economic opportunity and 178 countries maintain legal barriers that prevent women’s full economic participation (figure 1).  Only 12 countries, all in the OECD, score 100 -- which means that women are on an equal legal standing with men across all eight areas measured: mobility, workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pension.

Figure 1. Women, Business and the Law 2022 Index