The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 September 2013
“When women and men participate in economic life on an equal footing, they can contribute their energies to building a more cohesive society and a more resilient economy. The surest way to help enrich the lives of families, communities and economies is to allow every individual to live up to her or his fullest creative potential.”
The World Bank Chief was speaking on Tuesday, 24 September, about the findings of a new World Bank and IFC Report into the legal and regulatory barriers faced by women across many countries, which are preventing them from fulfilling their full economic potential.
Laws restricting women’s economic activity are currently most prevalent in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa; and Sierra Leone and Liberia are amongst some of the worst performers.
The Report – ‘Women, Business and the Law’ is published by Bloomsbury Publishing. It measures how laws, regulations and institutions differentiate between women and men in ways that may affect women’s incentives or capacity to work or to set up and run a business.
It analyzes legal differences on the basis of gender in 143 economies, covering six areas: gaining access to institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court.
The report shows that lower gender legal parity is associated with fewer women participating in firm ownership, while policies encouraging women to join and remain in the labor force are associated with greater income equality.
Even though the report offers signs of improvement for women’s economic opportunities globally, it shows economies can do more to ensure women’s participation in economic life.
It highlight reforms carried out over the past two years; examine the evolution of women’s property rights and legal decision making ability since 1960; and expands coverage to examine legal protections addressing violence against women.
According to the Report findings; “When incentives for women to work are mapped against legal differences in women’s economic opportunities as measured by Women, Business and the Law, economies with the most legal differences tend to provide fewer incentives.”
“Our latest edition of Women, Business and the Law shows that many societies have made progress, gradually moving to dismantle ingrained forms of discrimination against women,” says World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.
“Yet a great deal remains to be done.”
The Report finds 44 economies have made 48 legal changes, thus increasing women’s economic opportunities over the past two years.
Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, the Philippines and the Slovak Republic had the most reforms. Among the reforms, husbands can no longer unilaterally stop their wives from working in Côte d’Ivoire and Mali.
“Progress on gender equality under the law is accelerating,” says Augusto Lopez-Claros, Director, Global Indicators and Analysis, World Bank Group.
“Our data shows that over the past 50 years countries everywhere have started removing long-standing restrictions on women’s ability to participate more fully in the economy. Although the progress has been uneven across the world, there is widespread recognition that the economic empowerment of women is crucial for competitiveness and prosperity.”
Between 1960 and 2010, more than half the restrictions on women’s property rights and ability to conduct legal transactions were removed in the 100 economies examined. Restrictions in three regions – Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and East Asia and the Pacific – were cut in half.
While some restrictions were removed in South Asia and in the Middle East and North Africa, these two regions reformed the least.
Another major innovation in the report is new data on the existence and scope of laws on two areas of violence against women: sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Covering 100 economies, the data show that prohibitions against sexual harassment in the workplace are widespread – 78 economies have legislation and over half of these criminalize the behavior.
Legislation on domestic violence is also widespread –76 economies have laws prohibiting domestic violence. The region with the fewest laws on domestic violence is the Middle East and North Africa.
Restrictions on women’s property rights and their ability to make legal decisions were reduced by more than half from 1960 to 2010.
Over the past two years numerous Sub-Saharan African economies passed reforms promoting gender parity and encouraging women’s economic participation for the report’s six indicators:
In Angola and Mauritius public credit registries now include information from microfinance institutions.
Botswana enacted a new Constitution that prohibits discrimination based on sex.
Côte d’Ivoire amended its Family Code to allow both spouses to choose the family domicile and to pursue their career of choice, taking into account the interests of their family. The code was reformed to eliminate provisions providing childcare benefits only to men for being the head of household. In addition, married women no longer need to provide their marriage certificates to obtain passports.
In Ethiopia the credit reporting system now records loans of any amount.
Ethiopia and Malawi introduced retirement and pensionable ages for women and men.
In Ghana and Kenya private credit registries now include information from microfinance institutions.
Mali enacted a law removing the restriction on married women’s ability to register businesses. Under the law each spouse with a separate profession can act and contract in pursuit of that profession. Mali also enacted a succession law that provides equality between husbands and wives in inheritance.
Togo enacted a new Family Code that allows both spouses to choose the family domicile and to object to each other’s careers if deemed not to be in the family’s interests.
Uganda enacted new procedures for small claims courts in 2012.
Zimbabwe enacted a new Constitution under which customary law is no longer exempt from the constitutional protection against nondiscrimination.
Despite these reforms, the Report found although most of the economies examined have lifted requirements that married women must have their husbands’ permission to initiate judicial proceedings, yet these restrictions still exist in several African countries.
“Under Liberia’s Code of Civil Procedure, a married woman who brings action in court must have her husband joined as a party to the suit. Only if the action is against her husband or she is suing in connection with a business she operates can she file independently”, says the Report.
“Legal gender equality matters for women’s economic opportunities. It matters for women’s access to finance and entrepreneurial activities. And it matters for increasing equality of opportunity in economies.
“Whether by easing restrictions on women’s employment and business activities or by adopting policies increasing women’s ability to take up economic activities, gender equality is smart economics.”