Despite Challenges, Sub-Saharan Africa Continues to Remove Barriers to Women’s Advancement: WBG report

September 9, 2015

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2015 – Sub-Saharan Africa is a study in contrasts when it comes to women’s economic advancement, says the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2016 report, released today.

The region hosts almost a third of the world’s 30 most restrictive economies and two of 18 economies where there are no legal barriers to women’s entrepreneurship and employment, as measured by the report.

And the region continues to make progress towards gender equality, with 16 economies making 18 reforms in the past two years. Sub-Saharan Africa was the greatest reformer amongst all regions of the world, in terms of number of economies undertaking reforms, says the biennial report, which examines legal and regulatory barriers to women’s ability to get a job and start a business. The latest edition covers 173 economies across the globe, including 41 in Sub-Saharan Africa, adding Equatorial Guinea; São Tomé and Príncipe; Seychelles; South Sudan; and Swaziland from the region.

The report finds that 18 economies in the world, including Namibia and South Africa, have no legal barriers to women in the areas monitored. Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia are also amongst the region’s economies with very few barriers in the areas monitored by the report.

The economies with the greatest barriers are Sudan, one of 10 most restrictive economies in the world, Mauritania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Guinea, Benin, Swaziland, and Senegal.

In Sudan, women are prohibited from certain jobs, including night work, and there are no legal provisions mandating equal remuneration for work of equal value for men and women or non-discrimination in hiring. Sudanese laws also impose a number of additional restrictions on married women, who are required to obey their husbands, cannot choose where to live or be head of household.

The report finds that 28 of the 41 Sub-Saharan African economies covered by the report continue to maintain restrictions that do not allow women to work in the same jobs as men.

Property rights also remain an impediment to wealth accumulation for women. Of the seven economies in the world that give sole right to the husband to administer joint marital property, six are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Only 8 economies in the region have laws guaranteeing equal remuneration for work of equal value for men and women and nondiscrimination in hiring for jobs.

And, less than half of the economies have legislation to protect women against domestic violence. In the past two years, Mozambique made big strides in protecting women from violence by enacting a new penal code which no longer allows charges for rape to be dropped when the perpetrator marries the victim. The code also incorporates protections against sexual harassment in education.

Progress is being made on other fronts as well in the region. In the past two years, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe established the legal age of marriage as 18 for boys and girls, while Sierra Leone has the highest percentage in the world of female justices on its constitutional court, at 60 percent.

The full report and accompanying datasets are available at

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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