Economic opportunities for women around the world are hindered by deficiencies in rights, protections and opportunities that male counterparts enjoy, according to a World Bank report published Jan. 14.

While women’s employment rights and prospects have improved overall, significant hindrances remain in many countries, as females are only granted around 75% of the rights males have in the global workforce.

In some regions (such as the Middle East and North Africa), women’s legal rights are only half that of men.

More equal rights and protections result in higher female engagement in the workforce, improved economic outlooks for the nation (such as higher productivity, lower maternal mortality rates, as well as increased investments in healthcare and education), and decreased wage gaps between men and women, among other positive outcomes.

The report used eight indicators to analyze female employment opportunities: mobility, workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets and pension.

Four or five questions were asked for each indicator, which included inquiries such as: “Can a woman choose where to live in the same way as a man?” “Does the law mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value?” and “Does the law prohibit discrimination in access to credit based on gender?”

Scores for 190 economies were calculated based on “yes” or “no” responses to a total of 35 questions, with greater equality and opportunity indicated by “yes” responses resulting in a higher overall score.

While only eight nations – Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden – received a perfect score in the 2020 report, this is up from six nations in last year’s report.

There were 32 nations that scored in the 90s (including the United Kingdom at 97.5 and the United States at 91.3), 47 with scores in the 80s, 48 in the 70s, 18 in the 60s, 17 in the 50s, 11 in the 40s, six in the 30s and three in the 20s.

West Bank and Gaza had the lowest score at 26.3, with Yemen less than a point higher at 26.9.

Women’s labor outlook tended to improve with a nation’s economic level, with low-income nations having an average score of 67.2 and high-income countries an average score of 84.9.

Parenthood indicators revealed the most room for improvement, with just over half of the 190 national economies surveyed having significant protections and provisions for mothers who wish to work.

For example, while the global average for paid maternity leave is 98 days, there are significant differences between regions.

An average of 70 days is provided in the Middle East and North Africa, compared to an average high of 421 days in Europe and central Asia.

In addition, roughly half of the nations that have legal provisions for paid maternity leave require the employer to bear most of the cost.

This can hinder female employment by indirectly discouraging companies from hiring women due to the potential costs providing paid maternity leave.

“Legal rights for women are both the right thing to do and good from an economic perspective. … When women can move more freely, work outside the home and manage assets, they’re more likely to join the workforce and strengthen the economy,” said World Bank President David R. Malpass in the report’s forward.

“Much work remains. We shouldn’t be satisfied until every young girl can move through her life without facing legal barriers to her success.”

The full report is available here.

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