Middle East and North Africa Makes Progress on Gender Equality, But Severe Barriers Persist, says WBG Report

September 9, 2015

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2015 – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon have enacted reforms to advance women’s economic advancement, although women in the Middle East and North Africa region face the most hurdles in getting a job or starting a business, says the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law (WBL) 2016 report, released today.

Laws protecting women from domestic violence were issued in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, bringing to 4 – along with Jordan and Malta – the number of economies in the region with legal protections for women against abusive partners. Egypt criminalized sexual harassment in public spaces and introduced a 25 percent quota for women on local councils and 10 percent quota for women in Parliament. Saudi Arabia introduced a 20 percent quota for women on the Shura Council and Tunisia’s new electoral law mandates a 50 percent quota for women on candidate lists. Other reforms in the region include an increase in paternity leave in Lebanon.

The report, published every two years, examines laws that impede women’s employment and entrepreneurship in 173 economies throughout the world. In the Middle East and North Africa region, the report examines 19 economies, with Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Malta and Qatar covered for the first time in the 2016 edition.

It finds that women in the Middle East and North Africa face the most wide-ranging legal constraints to their economic activity. Laws that prohibit married women from becoming head of household, applying for a passport or getting a job without permission from the husband affect their access to economic opportunities. Of the economies in the region, only in Algeria, Djibouti and Malta can a woman confer citizenship to her children and her husband in the same way as a man. And in 18 economies in the region, there are restrictions on which jobs women can do. Restrictions on women’s employment can lead to a higher gender wage gap, relative to men. 

The region is home to 11 of the world’s 15 most restrictive economies, namely Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Syria, Qatar, and Kuwait. Along with Afghanistan, Sudan, Mauritania and Brunei, these are the 15 most restrictive economies in terms of women’s ability to work or establish a business, as measured by the report.

Lower gender legal equality is associated with fewer girls attending secondary schools, fewer women working or running businesses, and a higher gender wage gap. Where laws do not provide protection from domestic violence, women are likely to have shorter life spans.

Maternity leave is available to women in all the economies in the region. But only 8 economies in the region have paternity leave, with durations ranging from1 to 3 days. The exception is Iran, where fathers are entitled to 14 days of paternity leave. Parental leave, which can be shared between the mother and the father, is still rare. Only Malta provides this benefit.

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.

Media Contacts
In Washington
Indira Chand
Tel : +1 (202) 458-0434, +1 (703) 376-7491
For TV/Broadcast
Mehreen Arshad Sheikh
Tel : +1 (202) 458-7336