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Women, Business and the Law’s new pilot data reveals gaps in enforcing laws on equal pay and parental leave

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Women employees at BCEL Bank in Vientiane. © Stanislas Fradelizi/ World Bank Women employees at BCEL Bank in Vientiane. © Stanislas Fradelizi/ World Bank

The data shared in this blog is part of the pilot “Measuring the law in practice” dataset, and was collected between October 2, 2021, and October 1, 2022. Based on the lessons learned from the pilot, the team refined its approach, including the methodology and questions. The new methodology and data will be presented in the 2024 edition of the Women, Business and the Law report, to be published in March 2024.

Around the world, weak enforcement of laws prevents women from fully enjoying their rights. The legal experts with which Women, Business and the Law engages as well as a substantive body of research indicate that countries must meaningfully implement and enforce laws guaranteeing equal opportunity for women to actually thrive in the workforce and beyond.

To fill this implementation gap, in 2021, Women, Business and the Law began to collect data on measures and processes — such as policy instruments and practices — that support the implementation or enforcement of laws and regulations in the Women, Business and the Law legal index. Findings from the 2023 Women, Business and the Law 55-economy pilot data set reveal that countries have a long way to go before women can realize their theoretical rights and opportunities under the law.  (see the blog)

Women, Business and the Law developed supportive frameworks indicators to measure the existence (or absence) of key policy instruments and practices that support implementing laws.  When looking at these supportive framework indicators, it is remarkable that the areas of Pay and Parenthood score the lowest, 21.8 and 32.4, respectively, where a score of 100 indicates a high performance in the areas measured (being the highest possible score) and 0, the lowest. Some of the largest gaps between the average scores of legal and supportive frameworks are measured also in these two areas, with a 45.5-point gap in Pay, and 27.2-point gap in Parenthood.


According to the Women, Business and the Law 2023 55-economy pilot data set, less than 50 percent of economies have legal frameworks in place mandating equal remuneration for work of equal value. However, even fewer economies have supportive frameworks aimed at achieving equal pay in practice. For example, in the area of Pay, Kosovo scores 100 on the Women, Business and the Law legal index, meaning that legally, women are equal to men regarding occupational segregation and the gender wage gap. Yet in practice, Kosovo has not introduced wage transparency measures to implement its equal pay law. Moreover, both the wage gap and occupational segregation persist.

Only seven out of 55 pilot economies have taken concrete steps to implement the law through pay transparency measures, such as employer pay gap reporting, equal pay audits, certification programs, and gender-neutral job classification systems. For example, in 2019, France introduced the Freedom to Choose Your Professional Future Act, which requires employers with over 50 employees to calculate and publicly report the results of a national professional equality index using a tool developed by the Ministry of Labor. These employers are required to take and report on corrective actions if their index score drops below 75 points (out of 100), and those that fail to meet this threshold after three years may be subject to a financial penalty.


Large gaps also exist when it comes to policy instruments aimed at rendering effective laws affecting women’s participation in the labor force after having children. This means that the implementation of laws related to maternity, paternity, and parental leave falls particularly short. For example, the Women, Business and the Law 2023 pilot data set finds that almost 93 percent of economies lack incentives to promote fathers’ leave uptake. The International Labour Organization 2009 International Labour Conference Resolution calls for governments to develop leave policies to encourage more equal sharing of family responsibilities between women and men. Research also suggests that paternity leave can reduce the gender wage gap within households. Portugal is one of the four economies out of 55 in the pilot that incentivizes fathers to take leave. Article 40 of the country’s Labor Code awards 30 bonus days of parental leave if the mother and father exclusively take 30 days of shared parental leave. In Spain, Law 35/2006 also encourages mothers and fathers to use their maternity and paternity leave by exempting maternity and paternity benefits from personal income tax.

The pilot data also reveals that while maternity leave of at least 14 weeks is granted in 65 percent of economies (36 economies), only 58 percent of the 55 pilot economies pay at least two-thirds of wages during maternity leave, despite the fact that International Labor Organization Convention 183 recommends that maternity leave cash benefits amount to no less than this threshold. Inadequate cash benefits during maternity leave can threaten mothers’ economic independence and reinforce traditional gender-based division of labor in the household. Additional barriers can weaken the implementation of maternity leave laws. In 41.8 percent of the 55 pilot economies, expectant mothers cannot apply for maternity benefits through a single application or government agency (see Figure 2, below). Evidence suggests that the ease and efficiency of accessing a law’s benefits contributes to the law’s uptake. As such, countries may consider enabling expectant mothers to apply for maternity benefits through a single application or government agency. Figure 2 demonstrates the number of countries in the pilot with such policies to encourage the uptake of maternity and paternity leave.

Overall, the 55-economy pilot data set suggests that countries have more work to implement equal pay laws as well as maternity and paternity leave legislation. Recognizing implementation gaps during policy discussions is a first step to filling them. As such, policy makers, researchers and civil society can use Women, Business and the Law data to move forward on policy and legal reforms to effectively advance women’s economic empowerment. 

Note: More data and information on this 55-economies pilot dataset covering the implementation of laws impacting women’s economic opportunities are available on the WBL website. As the team is continually refining its scope and approach, we would welcome your input and feedback. Support for the work was provided by the Knowledge for Change Program (KCP), State and Peacebuilding Fund (SPF) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).


Alexis Koumjian Cheney

Analyst, Women, Business and the Law, World Bank

Alev Gurbuz Cuneo

Economist, Women, Business and the Law, World Bank

Isabel Santagostino Recavarren

Private Sector Development Specialist

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