Since 2019, economies reformed the most in the areas of women's pay and parenthood


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Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 27 economies in all regions and income groups enacted reforms to remove obstacles to women’s economic inclusion across all areas and increased good practices in legislation since 2019, according to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2021. The greatest number of reforms introduced or amended laws affecting pay and parenthood.

Most reforms were implemented in laws affecting women’s pay

Bahrain, Montenegro, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam eliminated restrictions on women’s employment in jobs previously deemed dangerous for women. Montenegro and Saudi Arabia also eliminated all restrictions on women’s employment in industrial jobs such as mining, construction, manufacturing, and the water sector, setting men and women on equal terms in choice of employment opportunities. Costa Rica and Saudi Arabia lifted bans on women’s night work.

The Marshall Islands, New Zealand, and the United Arab Emirates reformed their laws to introduce legislation mandating equal remuneration for men and women who perform work of equal value.

Reforms related to parental leave and marriage remain high on economies’ agendas

Laws affecting women’s work after having children remained high on the reform agenda. Five economies made reforms in this area, leading to improvements in eight data points. Ethiopia increased paid maternity leave from 90 to 120 days and guaranteed the right to three days of paid paternity leave for the first time.  Suriname, which previously was one of only six economies worldwide without any form of paid leave related to the birth of a child, introduced 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and eight days of paid paternity leave.  Austria also introduced paid paternity leave, while Ireland and the United Arab Emirates introduced paid parental leave as an individual entitlement, giving each employee an equal right to paid leave for the birth of a child.  The United Arab Emirates is now the first and only economy in the Middle East and North Africa to have paid parental leave. 

Despite this progress, the report notes that parenthood is the area that leaves the most room for improvement globally. This includes paid parental leave, whether benefits are administered by the government, and whether the dismissal of pregnant women is prohibited. Reforms are also needed to address the restrictions women face in the type of jobs, tasks, and hours they can work, segregating them into lower-paid jobs. And in 100 economies, laws do not mandate that men and women be paid the same for equally valued jobs. 

Download the Women, Business and the Law 2021 report (pdf) to explore more data. For more insight and analysis, check out the report website.


Shuting Sun and Divyanshi Wadhwa contributed to this blog.