Women Lack Equal Economic Opportunity  

Women Lack Equal Economic Opportunity

Around 2.4 billion women of working age across the world do not get equal economic opportunity and 178 countries maintain legal barriers that prevent their full economic participation, said the World Banks Women, Business and the Law 2022 report.

The report points out that women in about 86 countries face some form of job restriction and 95 countries do not guarantee equal pay for equal work.


The World Bank Report mentioned that women still have only three quarters of the legal rights afforded to men, an aggregate score of 76.5 out of a possible 100, which denotes complete legal parity. However, despite the disproportionate effect on women’s lives and livelihood from the global pandemic, 23 countries reformed their laws in 2021 to take much-needed steps towards advancing women’s economic inclusion, according to the report.

The most persistent gaps remain in the areas of Pay and Parenthood, demonstrating that many economies have yet to remove restrictions or introduce the good-practice legal rights and benefits identified. Meanwhile, World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships Mari Pangestu said; “While progress has been made, the gap between men’s and women’s expected lifetime earnings globally is US$172 trillion – nearly two times the world’s annual GDP. As we move forward to achieve green, resilient and inclusive development, governments need to accelerate the pace of legal reforms so that women can realize their full potential and benefit fully and equally.”

The report looks into the laws and regulations across 190 countries in eight areas impacting women’s economic participation – mobility, workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pensions. The data offer objective and measurable benchmarks for global progress toward gender equality. Just 12 countries, all part of the OECD, have legal gender parity.


The World Bank estimates that differences between men’s and women’s total expected lifetime earnings is $172.3 trillion, equivalent to twice the world gross domestic product. As such, adopting laws that strengthen women’s rights and opportunities is an essential first step toward a more resilient and inclusive world, the report said.

Women continue to face major challenges that threaten to widen gender gaps and entrench existing inequalities. They earn less than men for the same work and face a greater risk of violence in their homes. Coupled with the pandemic’s ongoing nature, the global community is at risk of reversing the progress that has been made to bring women into the workforce.


The Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa regions showed the largest improvements in the Women Business and Law (WBL) Index in 2021, though they continue to lag behind other parts of the world overall.

Globally, the highest number of reforms were made in the Parenthood, Pay, and Workplace indicators. Many reforms focused on protecting against sexual harassment in employment, prohibiting gender discrimination, increasing paid leave for new parents, and removing job restrictions for women. The Pay and Parenthood indicators have the lowest average scores in the index, but they have increased in the last year, rising 0.9 and 0.7 points, respectively, with average scores of 68.7 and 55.6. The gains in the Parenthood indicator have largely been around paternity leave and shared parental leave, but the low score highlights the need to accelerate reforms in this area.

On the report, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank Group Carmen Reinhart said “women cannot achieve equality in the workplace if they are on an unequal footing at home. That means levelling the playing field and ensuring that having children doesn’t mean women are excluded from full participation in the economy and realizing their hopes and ambitions.”


The report mentioned that 118 economies guarantee 14 weeks of paid leave for mothers. More than half (114) of the economies measured mandate paid leave for fathers, but the median duration is just one week.

Hong Kong SAR, China–which previously provided 10 weeks of paid maternity leave-introduced the recommended 14-week minimum duration. Armenia, Switzerland, and Ukraine introduced paid paternity leave. Colombia, Georgia, Greece, and Spain introduced paid parental leave, which offer both parents some form of paid leave to care for a child following birth. Laws promoting paid leave for fathers can reduce discrimination in the workplace and improve work-life balance.

Women, Business and the Law 2022 introduces pilot research behind two new areas: legal environment for childcare services and implementation of laws. A growing number of economies are investing in childcare to enhance children’s skills and recognize unpaid care work by women, who often take on more care giving duties. The pilot research analyzed laws in 95 economies and finds that most OECD high-income and Europe and Central Asia economies regulate public childcare services while in the Middle East and North Africa and South Asia regulations mandate the private sector or employers to provide care services for children of working parents.

To make childcare more affordable and widely used, some countries offer financial support to parents or childcare providers. The research also looked at quality aspects regulated such as teacher-to-child ratio, maximum group sizes, training requirements for teachers, as well as licensing, inspections and reporting requirements for service providers. More evidence is needed on what constitutes good quality and what aspects of quality might determine parental uptake of services.

This edition also explores the operation of Women, Business and the Law indicators in practice in 25 economies. An analysis of the laws implementation schemes reveals a substantial gap between legislation on the books and legal operation Laws alone are not enough to improve gender equality factors play include not only their implementation and enforcement, but also social, cultural and religious norms. These gaps will be further explored in future cycles of Women, Business and the Law reports.


Advanced Economies: Advanced economies continue to make progress on the indicators. Greece, Spain and Switzerland reformed laws in 2021, all focusing on improving paid leave for new parents. Twelve advanced economies are the world’s only economies that score 100 – Belgium, Canada, Denmark) France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

East Asia and the Pacific: The East Asia and the Pacific region continues to reform its legislation towards gender equality, but at a slow pace. Two economies from East Asia reformed last year. Cambodia introduced an old-age pension system that sets equal ages at which women and men can retire with full pension benefits. Vietnam eliminated all restrictions on women’s employment.

Europe and Central Asia: The Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region is the second highest scoring region, with an average score of 84.1. Four economies reformed last year. Armenia and Ukraine introduced paid paternity leave, and Georgia introduced paid parental leave. Ukraine also equalized the ages at which women and men can retire with full pension benefits. Cyprus allowed women to apply for a passport in the same way as men. Important challenges remain in the areas of Pay and Pension which have the lowest average scores in this region. For example, almost half of the economies in ECA do not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value, and the ages for full pension benefits are still unequal in 17 economies.

Latin America and the Caribbean: Women in Latin America and the Caribbean have less than three-quarters of the legal rights of men. Two of the region’s 32 economies enacted reforms in the past year. Argentina explicitly accounted for periods of absence due to childcare in pension benefits. Colombia became the first country in Latin America to introduce paid parental leave, aiming to reduce discrimination against women in the workplace. Only half of the economies in the region guarantee any paid leave for fathers.

Middle East and North Africa: Women in the Middle East and North Africa have, on average, only half of the legal rights that men do. However, the region improved its laws the most due to reforms in five economies. Bahrain mandated equal pay for work of equal value and lifted restrictions on women’s ability to work at night. It also repealed provisions giving the relevant authority the power to prohibit or restrict women from working in certain jobs or industries. Egypt enacted legislation protecting women from domestic violence and made access to credit easier for women by prohibiting gender-based discrimination in financial services. Kuwait prohibited gender discrimination in employment and adopted legislation on sexual harassment in employment. Lebanon enacted legislation criminalizing sexual harassment in employment.

South Asia: Women in South Asia have only two-thirds of the legal rights of men in the region. Only one economy in the region reformed Pakistan lifted restrictions on women’s ability to work at night.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Sub-Saharan Africa has a wide range of performance on the Women, Business and the Law index, ranging from 89.4 in Mauritius to 29.4 in Sudan. The region implemented comprehensive reforms, achieving the second highest improvement in the index last year.


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