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Barriers to Women’s Economic Advancement Rife in South Asia, With Reform Efforts Lagging, Says WBG Report

September 9, 2015

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2015 – Women in South Asia continue to trail their peers in many other parts of the world, as discriminatory laws thwart their economic advancement, says the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2016 report, released today.

The report, published every two years, examines laws that impede women’s employment and entrepreneurship in 173 economies throughout the world. The 2016 edition expands coverage in South Asia from 5 to 8 economies, adding Afghanistan, Bhutan and the Maldives.

Several economies from the South Asia region are among the most restrictive in the world in the dimensions measured affecting women’s entrepreneurship and employment.  The region as a whole has been lagging in enacting reforms in the areas measured by the report, with only 3 reforms made in 2 economies in the past two years.   

Afghanistan, which is one of the most restrictive economies in the world, imposes more than 20 legal barriers to women’s economic inclusion. The report finds that in Afghanistan, married women cannot choose where to live, apply for a passport, or obtain a national ID card in the same way as married men. Women also cannot work in the same jobs as men.

In India, the region’s largest economy with 612 million women, job restrictions remain widespread, with women not allowed to work in mining or in jobs that require lifting weights above a certain threshold or working with glass. The law also prohibits women from jobs “involving danger to life, health or morals.” In addition, there are no laws to protect women against sexual harassment in public places, protections which exist in 18 other economies around the world.

In the last two years, India undertook one reform in the areas monitored by the report. By introducing a law mandating at least one female member on the board of publicly listed companies, India became the only developing country and one of only nine countries in the world to mandate female inclusion on corporate boards.

In Pakistan, many restrictions on women prevail. In order to register a business, married women need to include their husband’s name, nationality, and address – and they need to do this in the presence of a witness. Women are also barred from working in many jobs, including those in factories and in mining. And there are no laws guaranteeing women equal remuneration for work of equal value and no laws mandating non-discrimination based on gender in hiring.

However, Pakistan issued 2 reforms in the past two years. It set the legal age of marriage for both boys and girls at 18 years and introduced criminal sanctions for men who contract marriage with a minor and anyone who performs, facilitates or permits underage marriage. Pakistan also introduced a 22 percent quota for women in local government.

Legal discrimination, which can affect female labor force participation, is also prevalent in Sri Lanka. Women are prohibited from working in the mining sector and restricted from certain tasks/functions in factories. Moreover, there are no laws against gender-based discrimination in hiring or access to credit.

In Bangladesh women face job restrictions such as working in certain factory jobs or working in certain occupations, such as mining, and in Nepal, women cannot confer citizenship to their children or to their non-national spouse in the same way as men. This limits access to government services for some of the county’s most marginalized children.  And in Bhutan, according to the Companies Act, a woman director of a company must include her husband’s name, address and nationality within the company registry.

The full report and accompanying datasets are available at http://wbl.worldbank.org

About Women, Business and the Law:


Women, Business and the Law 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 operate a business. It analyzes legal differences on the basis of gender in 173 economies, covering seven areas: accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, going to court and protecting women from violence. The report is published every two years.

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