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The rise of the other half of the sky

Women empowerment is making slow progress: a World Bank’s research talks about the importance to intervene on regulations

Women account for about 50% of the world’s population but less than half of them is employed in the formal sector of the labour market. Globally, less than 60% of women between 15 and 64 years old participate in the labour market, in contrast with more than 80% of men. In formal businesses, female employees represent less than a third of total staff. The presence of cultural and traditional habits, levels of development, discriminatory laws, state apparatuses and regulations can economically disempower different segments of the population. Namely, laws that discriminate women influence their engagement into the economic sphere and keep them at the margins. 

Researchers Asif Islam, Silvia Muzi and Mohammad Amin published “Unequal Laws and the Disempowerment of Women in the Labor Market”, which falls within the work of the World Bank’s Global Indicators Group. The report exhaustively covers the legal context that enables gender-based disparities and, in turn, examines how such disparities affect women on the labour market. The research comprises more than 60,000 firms in 104 economic systems and suggests some solutions.

The study shows that, despite major advancements in female managerial positions and firm ownership illustrating positive trends in women’s empowerment, systematic negative correlations between discriminatory gender laws and the role of women on the global labor market still exist. The study further reports the channels used to discourage women from entering the economic realm, citing, for instance, how disparities limit access to funding and, in some cases, urge women to find alternative ways to secure loans. Nevertheless, policymakers have the power to review discriminatory laws, as suggested in the report, to reduce economic losses or the mismanagement stemming from restrictions imposed on women. Increase in financial services and inclusive practices are the milestones established in the study to decrease gender disparities and to provide equal opportunities.

Facing the past
The study builds upon a previous research, published in 2011 and financed by the World Bank and the IFC (International Finance Corporation), titled “Women, Business and the Law”. Through an analysis of the laws, regulations, and institutions of 141 countries, the 2011 report shows that existing legal discrepancies between men and women are likely to influence women’s possibility or will to participate in the labour market as wage labourers or entrepreneurs. It further highlights that through the introduction of new reforms 36 out of 141 countries have reduced legal discrepancies, while 103 countries still have juridical disparities in at least one of the six key areas of the report: property and ownership rights, work incentives, access to institutions, credit, justice and courts.

In October 2011, the researcher Silvia Muzi wrote that “the existence of legal discrepancies between men and women can be partially explained by the persistence of difference in women’s participation in the economic sphere”. She added that the Women, Business and the Law report “shows how economies with discriminatory laws against women are characterised, in average, by lower rates of women’s participation in the formal labour market both in absolute and relative terms compared to male presence on the labour market”.

Different Shades
Major examples of improved legal parity between men and women can be found in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Central Asia. Despite Africa lagging behind, Muzi highlights Kenya’s almost unique performance: “Kenya, the outstanding African exception, […] has introduced a series of reforms over the last years, which have reduced the legal divide between men and women.” Her summary article includes some examples, pointing out how institutional measures, property and ownership rights and access to justice and courts stand out among the reforms introduced. In addition, the new constitution, adopted in August 2010, recognises the right of women to pass on their nationality. It also grants all citizens the right to hold a passport and other identity documents, as well as the right to national and international free movement.”

Six years after the first report, the study of World Bank shows that there is still a lot to do.

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