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Challenges, Opportunities, and Urgent Calls for Gender Reform

March 5, 2024 hr-observer-theworldbankgroup-genderdisparity

Although laws on the books imply that women enjoy roughly two-thirds of the rights of men, many countries on average have established less than 40% of the systems needed for full implementation of these rights, said the World Bank Group in a report.

The latest edition of the Women, Business, and the Law report paints a comprehensive picture of the challenges women encounter in entering the global workforce that affects themselves, their families, and their communities. 

“Women have the power to turbocharge the sputtering global economy,” said Indermit Gill, Chief Economist of the World Bank Group and Senior Vice President for Development Economics. 

“Yet, all over the world, discriminatory laws and practices prevent women from working or starting businesses on an equal footing with men. Closing this gap could raise global gross domestic product by more than 20% – essentially doubling the global growth rate over the next decade—but reforms have slowed to a crawl. WBL 2024 identifies what governments can do to accelerate progress toward gender equality in business and the law.”

The report reveals that the global gender gap for women in the workplace is wider than previously believed. When accounting for legal differences related to violence and childcare, women enjoy fewer than two-thirds of the rights afforded to men. The report explains that no country provides equal opportunity for women, not even the wealthiest economies.

The bank said in a statement that 98 economies have enacted legislation mandating equal pay for women for work of equal value; however, only 35 economies—fewer than one out of every five—have adopted pay transparency measures or enforcement mechanisms to address the pay gap. 

The implementation of the gap measures is an evidence that more work lies ahead even for countries that have been instituting equal-opportunity laws. 

Togo, as an example, has been a standout among Sub-Saharan economies, enacting laws that give women roughly 77% of the rights available to men. However, Togo has established only 27% of the systems necessary for full implementation. This rate is average for Sub-Saharan economies.

The report explains that in 2023, governments made strides in advancing legal reforms in pay, parental rights, and workplace protections. However, access to childcare and women’s safety remain critical areas needing improvement. For instance, women spend an average of 2.4 more hours a day on unpaid care work than men—much of it on the care of children. Expanding access to childcare tends to increase women’s participation in the labor force by about 1 percentage point initially—and the effect more than doubles within five years. 

The global average score for women’s safety stands at a mere 36, and just 78 economies provide financial or tax support for parents with young children.

“It is more urgent than ever to accelerate efforts to reform laws and enact public policies that empower women to work and start and grow businesses,” said Tea Trumbic, the report’s lead author. 

“Today, barely half of women participate in the global workforce, compared with nearly three out of every four men. This is not just unfair—it’s wasteful. Increasing women’s economic participation is the key to amplifying their voices and shaping decisions that affect them directly. Countries simply cannot afford to sideline half of their population,” Trumbic adds.

The urgency to reform laws and enact policies empowering women to work and thrive in business is more pressing than ever, the report finds. 

With only half of women participating in the global workforce compared to three-quarters of men, the need for increased economic participation is not just a matter of fairness but also an economic necessity.

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