Published on Let's Talk Development

How can laws that promote women’s economic inclusion be operationalized in practice?

Mujer trabajando en una fábrica textil Mujer trabajando en una fábrica textil

In 2015, Kenya made history by enacting the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act. This landmark legislation, the result of years of advocacy from civil society and committed Members of Parliament, addressed family violence in Kenya for the first time, even establishing reporting mechanisms and protections for victims. What it lacked, however, were comprehensive rules of procedure, which were left by legislators to be defined at a later stage. This omission, though seemingly trivial, meant that judges, prosecutors, and police had no clear guidance on how to actualize the new legislation. In fact, they would not receive it for more than five years, when such rules were finally adopted by the Chief Justice in 2020.

Unfortunately, this example is not an isolated case. All over the world, improper implementation or weak enforcement of laws is a main barrier to the full enjoyment of rights. But just as economic reforms need complementary policies and effective institutions to be successful, so do legal reforms. Thus, the development of implementing regulations and the enforcement of provisions through the justice system is crucial to guarantee rights and protections, particularly for women.

For the last 12 years, Women, Business and the Law has measured progress toward gender equality over time by analyzing the laws and regulations that affect women’s economic inclusion in 190 economies. As it became clear that there is often a gap between laws on the books and actual practice, however, this scope was sometimes widened. Past annual reports, for example, have looked at access to justice as a means of measuring enforcement of the law. A 2019 pilot project also collected data on key support services for victims of gender-based violence, highlighting the importance of multisectoral services, budgetary commitments, action plans, and specialized training as implementation measures that increase the effectiveness of domestic violence legislation. These exercises made clear that in order for women to thrive in the world of work, the laws that guarantee their equality of opportunity must be meaningfully implemented and enforced.

Building on these efforts, this year Women, Business and the Law plans to further explore the implementation gap through a new dual approach. First, the team will research and collect data regarding best practices in the implementation of the eight areas measured by the Women, Business and the Law index, including the existence of implementing regulations, guidelines, and plans, budgetary allocations, and enforcement bodies. The aim of these questions is to determine whether the implementation and enforcement environment for the laws measured by the index is conducive to women’s employment and entrepreneurship – while still maintaining the qualities of Women, Business and the Law that allow for comparability, ease of research and data collection, and economic analysis. The Pay indicator, for example, measures laws and regulations affecting occupational segregation and the gender wage gap. While legislation in this area is the first step, the persistence of wage differentials indicates that by itself, it is not enough to ensure pay equity across industries. As such, the implementation questions under this indicator focus on implementing legislation, institutions, and health and safety guidelines that can ensure women’s rights are implemented and enforced in this area (figure 1).

Figure 1 – Proposed Implementation questions for the Pay indicator

WBL Index

Expert Opinion Statement

Implementation Questions

Does the law mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value?

The principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value is implemented in practice.

  1. Has the economy adopted any implementation and/or enforcement measures to ensure the application of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value?
  2. Do clear and specific laws, regulations, or national policies/guidelines clarify what constitutes work of equal value, for instance by establishing criteria for comparing work performed by women and men, such as skills, responsibility, effort and working conditions?
  3. Has the economy established means of inspection and/or investigation (external to the workplace), including through labor inspectorates or other competent bodies or authorities for cases of pay equity?
  4. If yes, are authorities empowered to take action once a case of pay equity is confirmed?
  5. Has the economy adopted occupational health and safety legislation covering all sectors and requiring employers to implement risk management, preventive and protective measures that expressly address gender differences, including for night workers?
  6. Has the economy established means of occupational health and safety inspection and/or investigation (external to the workplace), including through labor inspectorates, public health authorities, or other competent bodies?

Can a woman work at night in the same way as a man?

There no restrictions on women working at night in practice.

Can a woman work in a job deemed dangerous in the same way as a man?

There are no restrictions on women working in jobs deemed dangerous in practice.

Can a woman work in an industrial job in the same way as a man?

There are no restrictions on women working in the following sectors industries in practice: mining, construction, factories, agriculture, energy, water, transportation, other.

Source: Women, Business and the Law.

Second, the team will complement the research on implementation with an expert opinion survey that assesses the perception of effective implementation of legislation on the ground. Reflecting the 35 questions currently comprising the Women, Business and the Law index, it will present generalized statements asking respondents the extent to which they agree or disagree. This will allow for comparison and analysis between expert opinions and actual Women, Business and the Law scores on both the index and the implementation indicators, providing a valuable perspective of the implementation of the law on the ground as perceived by legal experts themselves.

The pilot will be carried out in a representative subset of the economies currently covered by the project. This research seeks to understand the steps necessary after laws are passed to ensure that women enjoy equal rights under law and that economic inclusion can be achieved. In conjunction with the current Women, Business and the Law indicators, it will allow the team to determine in what areas of the law more work needs to be done, and where there are gaps between the laws on the books and what occurs in practice.

This is just the first step towards incorporating the aspect of implementation more fully into the Women, Business, and the Law dataset, with the objective of offering new insights to researchers and policymakers into what constitutes effective implementation measures for legislation meant to promote gender equality. While the team is at the beginning stages of this research, feedback on both approaches to this work is appreciated. How can we ensure that the laws that promote women’s economic inclusion are operationalized in practice? We look forward to hearing from you, and to learning more about this important component of women’s economic empowerment. With greater understanding of what makes reforms successful, we are certain that women, their communities, and economies will become more resilient.  


Emilia Galiano

Private Sector Development Specialist; Women, Business and the Law

Nisha Arekapudi

Private Sector Specialist; Women, Business and the Law

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