In 100 countries around the world, women are barred from doing certain work solely because they are women. More than 150 countries have at least one law that is discriminatory towards women. And only 18 countries are free of any law disadvantaging women.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of legal barriers for women to achieve their full economic potential. New World Bank Group research in the Women, Business and the Law 2016 report shows that in 32 countries women cannot apply for passports in the same way as men and in 18 countries they cannot get a job if their husbands feel it is not in the family’s interest. Jordan and Iran are among them. In 59 countries, there are no laws against sexual harassment at work. Myanmar, Uzbekistan and Armenia are among 46 countries where there is no legal protection against domestic violence. In a nutshell, the research makes for depressing reading when you care about inclusion and ending poverty.
As we mark International Women’s Day, women and girls are better off than just a few decades ago. Boys and girls are going to school in equal numbers in many countries. Women are living longer, healthier lives.
But even with the steady progress we’ve seen over the past few decades, one of our biggest challenges today is to avoid falling prey to a sense of self-satisfaction. We don’t deserve to, not yet.
We need a renewed sense of urgency and a clearer understanding of the remaining obstacles. When it comes to improving the lives of women and girls, we have blind spots. In fact, we know of three shocking inequalities that persist in education, the working world, and women’s very security and safety.
Blind Spot No. 1: Education of Girls.
We have made impressive gains in achieving universal access to education, but what we’re failing to see is that girls who are poor—those who are the most vulnerable—are getting left behind.
While wealthier girls in countries like India and Pakistan may be enrolled in school right alongside boys their age, among the poorest 20 percent of children, girls have on average five years less education than do boys. In Niger, where only one in two girls attends primary school, just one in 10 goes to middle school, and stunningly only one in 50 goes to high school. That’s an outrage.