Around the world 178 countries either have laws that hinder women’s economic inclusion, or lack laws that foster it. That translates to 2.4 billion women of working age who don’t have equal economic opportunities as men.
And while the number of countries that score well in the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law research has risen, on average women globally have just three-quarters of the legal rights of men.
What are the obstacles to achieving economic inclusion for women? And where is progress being made? Tea Trumbic, World Bank Program Manager for the Women, Business and the Law project, joins the Development Podcast with the latest.
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[00:00] Raka Banerjee: Hello, and welcome to The Development Podcast from the World Bank Group in Washington, DC and around the globe. I'm Raka Banerjee.
Paul Blake: And I'm Paul Blake on today's show, gender equality.
Raka Banerjee: We're digging into the latest edition of women, business and the law. Examining laws around the world that help and hinder women's economic opportunity.
Tea Trumbic: Well it is shocking to me that in 2022 we are still seeing so many discriminatory laws that hold women back from working and starting businesses.
Paul Blake: We're asking what are the main obstacles standing in the way of women's economic empowerment around the world and where progress is being made.
Tea Trumbic: Now this is really a wasted opportunity, not only for women but also for the growth of their economies and societies.
[01:13] Raka Banerjee: All that and more over the next few minutes. But first let's get some background on the 2022 Women, Business and the Law Report.
Paul Blake: So here we are again our yearly update for Women, Business and the Law and how women are faring around the world. But there's so many different ways, Raka, to understand gender equality. Can you remind me of what we're talking about specifically here in this report? How does Women, Business and the Law define things? What categories does the report look at in its data? What exactly is it sort of measuring?
Raka Banerjee: Great question. So in this case, Women, Business and the Law is looking at, not surprisingly, the laws and regulations that affect women's participation in the economy. So to do that it collects data on eight categories. We're looking at mobility, the workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pension. It collects that data across 190 countries every year, which is a pretty impressive overview of progress towards gender equality.
Paul Blake: That's quite the scope. Yeah. How are things looking this year? How many countries are actually gotten to the point of being legally equal, perhaps maybe in terms of what's on the books rather than in practice, but legally equal according to the report?
Raka Banerjee: What's your guess?
Paul Blake: I know we did an episode on this year or two ago and I can't off the top of my head remember the exact number, but I'm guessing it's somewhere like 5 to 10 countries.
Raka Banerjee: You're very close. Actually last year it was 10 and this year it's 12. So some progress there a little bit, and they're all OECD countries, meaning relatively developed and wealthier. But that means that out of 190 countries being reviewed for the report 178 of them still have laws on the books that prevent women from participating fully in the economy. That translates to about 2.4 billion women of working age, working age between 15 to 64 years, 2.4 billion women of working age around the world who lack the same legal rights as men. Globally if we're looking at averages, the global index score for 2021 is 76.5 out of 100. So basically that means that women only have three quarters of the legal rights available to men on average.
Paul Blake: So still long way to go. Can you give me a sense of how this three quarters figure breaks down for the different categories?
Raka Banerjee: Absolutely. So parenthood had the lowest scores out of the eight categories on average. So only 31 out of 190 countries met all five parenthood criteria to get a score of 100. And that include things like do countries have laws requiring 14 weeks of paid maternal leave, paid leave for fathers and laws preventing the dismissal of pregnant workers. And the next lowest was pay, 86 countries still restrict women's work in at least one of three ways, women either aren't legally able to work at night, they aren't able to work in jobs that are considered dangerous and they aren't able to work in industrial jobs. And that's legally they're not allowed. And only half of the countries surveyed required equal pay for equal work.
Paul Blake: Yeah. I mean, that's pretty disappointing only half. What is that, half of 190 is 95 countries.
Raka Banerjee: 95. Yeah.
Paul Blake: Yeah. Have equal pay for equal work on the book, that has to translate to, I'm assuming, I'm guessing that this is possible to kind of make the comparison, to like a huge difference in earning potential for women versus men around the world.
Raka Banerjee: Yeah. Especially when you stretch that out across the years when you're looking at how much women and men are earning across their lifetimes the World Bank estimates that globally, the difference between women and men's lifetime earnings is a staggering $172.3 trillion. So just to give you a sense of the magnitude that's equivalent to twice the world's GDP. I don't even know how to make sense of that.
Paul Blake: Yeah. I'm trying to wrap my head around that a little bit. This is all a bit down in the dumps, give me some good news.
Raka Banerjee: Right, right. Yes. Good news. There is definitely good news. The whole idea behind reports like Women, Business and the Law is to try to incentivize countries towards certain outcomes. In this case to improve women standing in the law when it comes to their economic empowerment. In the past year 23 countries made legal reforms changing almost 40 laws to move towards gender equality. And what's even better, the World Bank is well about boosting shared prosperity, looking at whoever's kind of on the lower end of things. In this case, the lowest scoring region, which is the Middle East and North Africa improved the most with 10 positive data changes more than any other region.
Paul Blake: That's kind of the regional look, did any specific countries really stand out in the mix?
Raka Banerjee: Actually, yes. Gabon made some really comprehensive civil code reforms over a bunch of different areas. Before women couldn't be the head of a household, they had to get permission from their husbands to get a job. They were not legally protected from domestic violence. They didn't have the same rights as men to open bank accounts or to access financial services. And married women were required by law to obey their husbands. All of that has changed and now Gabon's score has gone from 57.5 in 2020 to 82.5 in 2021.
Paul Blake: I mean that's a huge improvement. I didn't even know there are laws that made it legally required for women to obey their husbands, but the progress is certainly reason to cheer.
Raka Banerjee: Yeah. I mean, believe it or not I was really surprised by that too, but according to reports 17 countries still have laws like that on their books regarding women to obey their husbands. So progress, but it's still a long way to go.
[07:29] Paul Blake: Well in a few minutes, we'll talk to Tea Trumbic, the program manager for the Women, Business and the Law report. But first, I want to go to my colleague David Laught who's been looking into one country that has made significant progress towards gender equality.
David Laüght: Thanks, Paul. Gabon, situated along the Atlantic coast in Central Africa has made significant progress towards gender equality in recent years. Of course, there is still plenty of areas for improvement. To learn more about the progress that's been made in Gabon and what needs to be done next, I recently spoke to Mrs. Pepecy Ogouliguende, a leading women's right activist and leader of the Malachie NGO in Gabon. I started by asking her if reforms to laws have translated to real life positive impact for women in Gabon.
Pepecy Ogouliguende (Voice of Interpreter): Yes. I want to say that really, we have taken a giant step. It's almost 40 years in advance in terms of women's rights. And so there are practical ways in which you can see how the advances have created an impact on the daily life of women, whether in terms of family rights, but also in terms of economic rights.
David Laüght: So I'd be interested to know a bit more about the areas you've seen the most significant progress.
Pepecy Ogouliguende (Voice of Interpreter): We were just speaking about family rights. We think that for a woman to be able to move freely in the public sphere, it is necessary that she in the private sphere can effectively have equality in terms of rights. So at the family level, we see that women today have been able to achieve a level of empowerment because they can seize all the opportunities that may come their way, whether in the economic sphere, in the political sphere or in the social sphere.
Pepecy Ogouliguende (Voice of Interpreter): We have seen that more and more women are experiencing financial inclusion. There is a little more access to financing. There is this desire among these women to be banked and to be able to have better financing possibilities to increase their income generating activities, and even get out of the informal sector. We, as the NGOs working on these issues, we have seen that there are more women coming to the NGO and benefiting from more empowerment programs. It is these women who are then undertaking the work on the ground.
David Laüght: If we look at the 2022 Women, Business and the Law Report, one area that could still be improved is that of laws affecting women wages. In your opinion, why do you think Gabon is still lagging behind on this subject and what should be put in place to address this?
Pepecy Ogouliguende (Voice of Interpreter): We are in the process, which will be vast. We have already taken a big step that allowed us these gains in terms of family rights and economic opportunities. For instance, in the civil service, there are no disparities for equal skills. Women and men have the same salaries. When it comes to the private sector, there are certainly some disparities. You cannot imagine how difficult it was to pass these rights concerning the family. In particular, to remove a provision which gave much more predominance to men, particularly the removal of the provision in the legal text that said that the man was the head of the family. That was really hard work. Really a lot of lobbying, advocacy, awareness, and explanation that had to be done.
Paul Blake: Now let's dig further into the 2022 edition of Women, Business and the Law.
Raka Banerjee: Joining us now is Tea Trumbic the program manager for the report.
[11:07] Paul Blake: So Tea thanks so much and welcome back to The Development Podcast. We spoke last year about how women had on average just three quarters of the economic rights of men. Just looking at the latest update it doesn't look like much has changed.
Tea Trumbic: Thank you, Paul. Well, it is shocking to me that in 2022, we are still seeing so many discriminatory laws that hold women back from working and starting businesses. Our latest report finds that women still have only three quarters of the legal rights as men, as you mentioned, as we did last year. Now, this is really a wasted opportunity not only for women but also for the growth of their economies societies. This year, we find that 12 countries in the world have a score of 100 out of 100, meaning that women and men are equal legal standing. But that means that 178 countries, the remaining sample, in these countries women face legal gaps impacting their opportunities for 2.4 billion women.
Tea Trumbic: Now, we did see 23 countries doing something about this. There were reforms across the world and we saw most reforms happening exactly where they're most needed, in the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa region. We also seen the reforms happening in the areas of the law that need it the most and that's pay and parenthood. But we've seen that with COVID-19 pandemic the need for reform is even more urgent. We are seeing that women are dropping out of the workforce faster than men. The gender pay gap has also widened and women are resigning from their positions to care for children. This is why it's even more important to reform these laws now, so that women aren't left behind as we recover from the pandemic.
[12:40] Paul Blake: Two quick follow ups on that. The figure 12 countries where there's legal equality between men and women, I presume that there's a difference between kind of legal equality and equality and practice, what women in these countries actually experience. Is that the case?
Tea Trumbic: Yes, that's true. We believe that the law is the foundational first step for gender equality, but there is a lot more that needs to be done for it to be seen in practice. This year the report is actually introducing some new measures on how to look at implementation of laws so that we're not only tracking laws and equal pay for example, but we're actually seeing whether women are receiving equal pay in real life.
Paul Blake: That figure 12 has that changed much in recent years?
Tea Trumbic: Well, we have seen a study increase every year. Last year we had 10, the year before we had 8. So every year we have a couple of new countries joining those ranks. This year it's Spain and Greece, which have joined the group with 100 by introducing laws on parental leave and paternity leave.
Paul Blake: Raka.
[13:32] Raka Banerjee: So one thing that's exciting about this report is this year you've conducted new research about childcare, right? Can you just share why is that such an important indicator?
Tea Trumbic: Well, it's always been important, but I think the pandemic has heightened the importance of childcare as not only something that affects women, but that affect both men and women, especially as our home and work lives have merged. This year what we're looking at is really policies that target not just availability of childcare but also affordability and quality of childcare. This is important not only so women can join and stay in the workforce, but there are also benefits to children's development and together this can boost economic growth, it can provide more jobs as people join childcare service providers as employees, but also diversify the workforce and offer substantial employment opportunities.
Paul Blake: Can you explain that childcare indicator, what exactly are you looking at when it comes to, what is the laws that you're looking for? What are the laws that you're looking for?
Tea Trumbic: Yeah, so far we've done some background research and we've collected data in 95 countries as a pilot and we're looking at the laws that mandate the provision of childcare and whether that's mandating the public or the private sector to provide childcare. But we're also looking at whether there are any financial incentives for both childcare providers, parents, or companies to uptake these services. And finally, we're looking at the equality of these childcare services, whether they're incentives for provision of high quality services, which would, of course, impact parents decision to put their children in these childcare centers.
[15:03] Raka Banerjee: So how are you seeing the provision of child varying from country to country in your research?
Tea Trumbic: Well, we see a large variation in the laws that mandate childcare provision, both variation but also a lack of laws overall. We don't see enough adequate laws that govern quality childcare around the world. Now, public provision of childcare, for example, is mostly seen in advanced economies and Europe and Central Asia regions. But when we looked at the Middle East and South Asia, it was not the case. Here we saw the law regulating childcare to be provided by the private sector or employers only. So to give you an example in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, if you're a company that employs a certain number of women employees you're obligated by law to provide childcare, either directly on their premises or nearby with financial assistance. Now, the IFC has been promoting successful models of employer provided childcare through its Tackling Childcare Project for several years, they make the case for investing in childcare to boost productivity and profits, not just as the right thing to do.
Tea Trumbic: But besides looking at availability provided by the public or the private sector, we've also been looking at affordability. In the majority of countries, even when the childcare is provided by the public sector, it's not free. So parents have to pay be for their children to attend these services. And it's very important when designing these policies that governments also look at some financial support or preferential tax treatment for parents or providers that childcare services are sort of thought together with this and would incentivize more people to take them up.
[16:43] Raka Banerjee: I'm just wondering for these kind where the private sector is mandated to provide childcare, is there any way to ensure quality? I would imagine it would vary across countries and companies.
Tea Trumbic: Yeah. Quality really matters too. And here we really found a lack of policies and also large variations. We looked at whether there are teacher to child ratios or maximum group sizes and these are often provided for private childcare centers but not for public ones, especially in advanced economies in Africa. We also looked at whether there are any training requirements for teachers. Now, some requirements and continuous trainings exist, but again mostly on private sector providers. We didn't find any international standard follow here so what we're doing now is just mapping out what exists in these 95 countries before we can actually say, what are the good or better practices.
Tea Trumbic: When we looked at private providers of childcare, what we found is that there's a lot of requirements for them to obtain licenses or some form of authorization to operate. This is the case for public provider as well. So by setting minimum standards of quality governments can ensure that providers offer high quality care, but there needs to be a balance because if these requirements are too burdensome, then it might actually dis-incentivize childcare providers from operating. So we need to find the right balance there between quality that is not burdensome, but ensures that children are safe.
[18:05] Paul Blake: On that, I'm curious and I realize we're slightly off script here, but what are some of the obstacles to childcare? So some of the countries that maybe don't have that as a provision within the law, is it cost? Is it just lack of realization that this is important? Why wouldn't a country necessarily have some of these provisions on the books?
Tea Trumbic: I think generally in many countries there is a culture in society that plays a role here, and this is not seen as something that the public should be providing. It's seen as something that either the families provide themselves through caretakers that are family members or women often themselves staying home and taking care of children. But often in countries that where large cities where it's expensive it can be expensive to be a childcare provider. Rent is expensive and then hiring a high quality labor force that's educated can also be a disincentive. And this is why we're so sort of looking at it together with both availability. So when we look at that it's not just whether it's mandated by law, but are there any incentives for it to be close to where women are working or where people are working. Often there could be childcare centers but they're on the outskirts of the city and that's not convenient. So it's important to look at these childcare centers and make sure they are accessible as well as high quality and affordable.
[19:26] Raka Banerjee: In all the research you've done have you found anything that would be the model of childcare provision? Or are there certain targets like care to child ratios, things like that you're at that's ideal?
Tea Trumbic: Well, this is a very good question. And unfortunately we don't know enough yet. And from what we have seen, this will depend a lot on the country context. So we cannot say that there is a one model that fits all, it will depend on where that country is in terms of its labor force participation of women, as well as where women workers are concentrated. We need more evidence on really what constitutes good quality and what aspects of quality might be important for parental uptake of services. What we're doing is starting to ask the question and map what laws are doing. But in addition to this, we'll have to look at practice as well and look at some countries that have had good outcomes.
Tea Trumbic: What we do know is that parents care about the quality of childcare and they care about how expensive it is as well. Those two are really important factors for them to take this up as an option.
[20:30] Paul Blake: So Tea, your report looks at a whole lot more than just childcare and it takes this sort of comprehensive approach. One of the things that stood out to me is it shows that Sub-Sahara Africa has made real progress this past year across a number of indicators. How would you characterize the regional scorecard for Sub-Saharan in Africa?
Tea Trumbic: Yeah, that's a very good observation. Women in Africa have less than three quarters of the legal rights of men. So the regional average score is 71.5, it's lower than the global average. But there's a great variation across the continent. We have countries like Mauritius and South Africa that score among the top 50 countries globally, but we also have countries like Sudan that score only 29.5, meaning that women in Sudan have less than one third of the legal rights of men. Economies in Africa region perform very well in the areas, mobility and workplace and pension. This means that laws related to freedom of movement and security as well as laws that guarantee women's non-discrimination in the workplace are more favorable. This can help women enter into the workforce.
Tea Trumbic: Now, laws related to women's pension are also fairly equal in Africa, and that means that women and retire the same age as men and this is important because women tend to live longer than men. And when they work for shorter amounts of time and with lower pay they can end up with less money in old age. But the most challenging area we find globally as well, and is the same for Africa is related to parenthood. Here the regional average for Africa is just 45 out of 100, no country in Africa grants parental leave for example, to be shared by both parents. While many countries are starting to introduce paternity leave, the amount of leave is very limited.
Tea Trumbic: Now, Africa's women deserve equality in the chance to contribute fully to their economies, and opening opportunities for women in Africa to work in high paying and star businesses could open new opportunities for the entire continent. But to end this in a positive note, there has been great progress, as you mentioned, in the Africa region. Despite being one of the regions the furthest behind of the index Sub-Saharan Africa recorded one of the largest improvements. I hope that this reform momentum really spreads across the continent. There have been, as I mentioned, 23 economies that have prioritized gender equality globally, and five of them are in Africa.
Tea Trumbic: We saw some countries that implemented really large scale reforms, like Gabon, that introduced comprehensive reforms to its civil code and enacted a law, the elimination of violence against women. And thanks to this reform effort Gabon's average score has increased from 57.5 to 82.5 on the WBL index. But besides Gabon, there were four other countries that we saw reform, this is Angola, Benin, Burundi, and Sierra Leone. And these countries implemented a range of reforms that improved women's opportunities to work and start businesses. For example, Angola criminalized, sexual harassment in the workplace, Bindin removed job restrictions for women, so now women in Bindin can work in any job, including in construction. Burundi introduced laws mandating the equal compensation for work of equal value. and finally, Sierra Leone now prohibits discrimination and access to financial services. But there are almost 500 laws across the African continent that could still be improved towards gender equality.
Tea Trumbic: So we are encouraged to see that countries are reforming these laws, but I hope that either countries in the region can look to their neighbors and introduce more comprehensive reforms like the ones that we saw in Gabon to their labor codes, but also to the family codes to empower women both of the workplace and at home.
[24:03] Raka Banerjee: So it's really great to hear about all of these reforms that are happening, but I want to wrap this up with a million dollar question or actually the $172 trillion question, which is that's the expected gap in lifetime earnings between men and women. The title of this podcast is Will Working Women Ever Have Equal Opportunities, are you willing to make a forecast?
Tea Trumbic: Well, yes, I am optimistic and I believe that women will eventually have equal opportunities. I only hope that we can get there faster than we have so far. But for that we need political will, we need strong demand from citizens and the private sector, we need reliable data and evidence, and we need to change social norms and attitudes. The Women Business and the Law Report can be an important tool for governments looking to prioritize gender equality in their policy making, but also for anyone else that wants to use this data to advocate for gender equality in their country. So I would encourage your listeners to visit our website, wbl.WorldBank.org, download the report, read this evidence and look up which laws in your country are holding women back. And I hope that next year we have more stories of progress like we have in Gabon this year.
[25:07] Paul Blake: Tea Trumbic, thank you so much for taking the time to tell us about the Women Business and the Law Report.
Tea Trumbic: Thank you Paul. I really hope that policy makers can do something about this and that next year we have more stories of progress.
Raka Banerjee: Thanks so much. Thanks for being here.
Paul Blake: Tea Trumbic is the program manager for Women Business and the Law, she joined us down the line from her home in Washington, DC.
Raka Banerjee: That's it for this edition of The Development Podcast.
Paul Blake: As always we welcome your mail, drop us line using firstname.lastname@example.org.
Raka Banerjee: And a quick reminder, the World Bank Group IMF spring meetings are just around the corner, so please join us for a week of live events, covering the biggest priorities in international development.
Paul Blake: You can find the full details in the coming days at live.worldbank.org.
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