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PRESS RELEASE March 29, 2018

Legal Reforms to Improve Women’s Economic Inclusion Continue in Middle East and North Africa, as Daunting Challenges Remain

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2018 – Women in the Middle East and North Africa face widespread barriers that prevent them from getting a job or owning a business, although the region’s governments are taking steps to reform laws that make it harder for women to get jobs or start a business, says the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and Law 2018 report, released today.   

The report records 10 legal reforms in the past two years that help promote women’s economic inclusion, with Iraq carrying out four of the region’s reforms. As a result, Iraq is among only five economies in the world to carry out three of more reforms in the past two years.

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. Overall, the Middle East and North Africa region has the world’s lowest average scores on four indicators.

“Research shows that increased women’s participation in the labor force boosts economic growth, which leads to increased prosperity for all. So, when women win, we all win and a first step in this direction is to remove legal barriers that prevent women from making their own economic choices,” said Sarah Iqbal, Program Manager of the Women, Business and the Law project.

The reforms in Iraq covered the areas of accessing institutions, getting a job, providing incentives to work, and protecting women against violence. In the area of getting a job, Iraq increased the length of paid maternity leave from 72 to 98 days and its new labor code prohibits discrimination based on gender. However, the new labor code also allows employers to terminate workers’ contracts when they reach retirement age, which is lower by five years for women. In fact, 58 percent of the region’s 20 economies have gender-differentiated retirement ages, which can negatively affect women’s lifetime earnings, pension benefits and retirement savings, as well as career growth.

Highlights of other reforms in the region included Algeria and Bahrain, which introduced domestic violence laws, which protect spouses and family members and cover physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence.

West Bank and Gaza introduced a social security system that provides maternity benefits and increased the length of paid maternity leave from 70 to 84 days; and Iran and Tunisia took steps to improve access to finance.

However, widespread barriers against women persist in the region. Along with South Asia, the MENA region places the most restrictions on women’s employment. Sixty-five percent of economies restrict women from working in jobs deemed hazardous, arduous, or morally inappropriate, while more than half bar women from entire industries, or from working at night.

With an average score of 24, the region also has the fewest protections for violence against women. More than one-third of the region’s economies scoring 0 on this indicator, and as many as 70 percent have no legislation on sexual harassment at work.

The full report and accompanying datasets are available at


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