Women, Business and the Law

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Quick on the heels of International Women's Day last week, the World Bank Group has released a new report aimed at redressing some of the worst inequities faced by women around the world. Women, Business and the Law is the first attempt to quantify the legal barriers faced by women in opening and operating a business or in participating in the labor force. The report's headline finding is unsettling: out of 128 economies around the world, only 20 have equal rights for women and men in 9 areas measured by the report.

In developed countries, women still face a glass ceiling in reaching the top echelon of the corporate world. At an event held at the World Bank yesterday to launch the report, Zainab Salbi (pictured below), the co-founder and CEO of Women for Women International, argued that in many of the countries she has worked the obstacles facing women are more akin to trying to break through a brick ceiling.


And this matters not simply for the sake of women. Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, and Melanne Verveer, the United States Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women's Issues, also spoke at the event, and both emphasized the notion that investing in women is smart economics. While this idea has a lot of intuitive appeal and some empirical support—for example, women appear to spend more on their children than men—the data in this new report will finally allow for a systematic assessment of this claim.

In honor of International Women's Day, the Economist ran a series of articles last week on women, including a leader on Gendercide. Again, an unsettling statistic: some 100 million or more baby girls are missing due to gender preferences. The article concludes with a call to fix this with a number of measures, including abolishing laws that prevent women from inheriting property.

But I would argue this is just a start. If economics teaches us anything, it is that incentives matter. Women who are not permitted to exercise the same rights as men—particularly rights associated with generating an income—simply won't be valued as highly as men. Hopefully, Women, Business and the Law (and the large dataset that supports it) will help make it a bit easier for women around the world to break through that brick ceiling.

(N.B. I would be remiss not to mention that one of the report's authors, Sarah Iqbal, is an occasional contributor to the PSD blog. Congrats!)


Ryan Hahn

Operations Officer

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