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Substantial Progress, Despite Barriers, to Women’s Economic Advancement in East Asia and Pacific, Says WBG Report

September 9, 2015

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2015 – The East Asia and Pacific region continued to make substantial gains towards women’s economic inclusion, despite barriers in some countries, says the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2016 report, released today.

The biennial report finds that every economy in the region with the exception of Taiwan, China, has at least one law that makes it harder for women to get a job or start a business. Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia are among the most restrictive economies in the region, with each having more than 10 restrictions for women making it harder for them to pursue economic opportunities.

The latest edition of the report covers 173 economies throughout the world. In the East Asia and Pacific region, it expands coverage to 18 economies, with the addition of Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar, Timor-Leste and Tonga.

The report finds a reversal in the move towards women’s economic advancement: in Lao PDR, the country’s labor code no longer mandates equal remuneration for work of equal value, as was previously the case.

Elsewhere in the region, certain jobs are out of bounds for women in China, Fiji, Mongolia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Vietnam. Some of these restrictions are across entire industries, as in the case of mining in Papua New Guinea, while others are specific job-related tasks, such as driving certain kinds of agricultural tractors in Vietnam.

Only 16 of the 173 economies covered by the report have tax provisions that directly favor men, and seven of these are in the East Asia and Pacific region. They are Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Despite these disparities and setbacks, the report finds that the region has made substantial progress towards equalizing the field between men and women in the past two years. Examples of progress include Tonga, which recently enacted its first law providing protections to women against domestic violence. This leaves Myanmar as the only economy measured in the region which does not have legislation against domestic violence.

In the area of parental benefits Lao PDR introduced paid paternity leave and increased the length of paid maternity leave. Singapore introduced one week of paid parental leave and one week of paid paternity leave. Papua New Guinea and Tonga are the only economies in the region – and two of just four economies worldwide – that do not legally provide for any form of paid leave for women upon the birth of a child.

Economies in region also show innovative policies to support women’s economic opportunities. Singapore, for example, is one of only three economies in the world providing a specific tax credit or deduction to women. And, of 46 economies in the world that mandate nondiscrimination in access to credit on the basis of gender, four (Hong Kong SAR, China; Mongolia; the Philippines; and Vietnam) are in East Asia and the Pacific region.

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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