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PRESS RELEASE March 29, 2018

Legal Barriers to Women’s Employment Are Widespread in South Asia, says WBG Report

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2018 – South Asia region saw four legal reforms in the past two years to improve women’s economic inclusion, says the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and Law 2018 report, released today.

However, legal barriers to women being able to work are widespread in the region, finds the biennial report, which monitors laws that impede women’s employment and entrepreneurship in 189 economies across the world, including eight in South Asia.

Now in its 5th edition, the report introduces, for the first time, a scoring system of 0 to 100, to better inform the reform agenda. Scores are assigned to every monitored economy on each of the report’s seven indicators: accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, going to court, building credit, and protecting women from violence.

“South Asian economies have among the world’s lowest rates of female participation in the labor force. Rescinding laws that prevent women from working at night or in certain industries is a first step to improving women’s economic participation, which is essential for growth. We believe that changing the law is the first step towards changing the world,” said Sarah Iqbal, Program Manager of the Women, Business and the Law project.

Highlights of reforms in the region included Afghanistan, where sexual harassment in employment and education are now prohibited and criminal penalties and civil remedies for sexual harassment in employment established.

With this reform, every economy in the region now has laws prohibiting sexual harassment in employment. The region scores an average of 85 on the protecting women against violence indicator, besting even high-income OECD’s average score of 75. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka score a perfect 100 on this indicator, although these laws need to be effectively implemented.

The region performs poorly on the getting a job indicator, with an average score of 39. In the past two years, India increased the length of paid maternity leave from 84 to 182 days. However, as employers bear the full cost of maternity leave, this could have a negative impact on the hiring of women of childbearing age. And in Bangladesh, new restrictions were introduced on the work women can do by prohibiting women from carrying or lifting heavy goods.

Economies in South Asia also bar women from many types of jobs. In almost all of the region’s economies women cannot work the same night hours as men and they also cannot work in mining, jobs deemed hazardous or certain manufacturing jobs in the same way as men. The Maldives is the only economy in the South Asia where there are no job restrictions on women.

The region’s poorest performance is in the area of building credit, with an average score of only nine. The indicator measures women’s access to finance.

The report finds that some economies in South Asia are among the most restrictive in the world in multiple dimensions affecting women’s economic advancement.

Pakistan, for example, has regulations which require married women to go through additional steps in getting passports and renewing identity cards. The country is also one of only 41 economies in the world where women can retire earlier than men, which can result in loss of promotions and earning capacity, negatively impacting pensions and retirement savings.

Similarly, in Afghanistan, women cannot choose where to live, or travel outside the home in the same way as men. In addition, the country offers no legal protections for women against domestic violence.

The full report and accompanying datasets are available at



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