Legal Barriers to Women’s Economic Participation: Progress and Challenges

Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Women trainees during a Female Dump Truck Driver Programme training session held by the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), in Tharparkar, Pakistan. September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
Sarah Iqbal

Program Manager of the Women, Business, and the Law Project, World Bank Group


Senior Fellow, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

Despite the relationship between women’s labor force participation and growth, legal barriers continue to inhibit women’s economic potential around the world. According to the World Bank’s 2018 Women, Business, and the Law report, 2.7 billion women globally are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men. World Bank legal expert and 2018 report author Sarah Iqbal explores the most comprehensive data set on legal barriers women face worldwide and discusses how to level the legal playing field for women. This meeting is generously supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 



BIGIO: Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you.

My name is Jamille Bigio. I’m a senior fellow with the Council’s Women and Foreign Policy Program. Our program has worked with leading scholars for 15 years to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign policy and national security interests.

I want to take a moment before we begin to thank our advisory council members who are here with us today as well as the Gates Foundation for its generous support of today’s discussion. I also want to remind everyone that the presentation discussion and question-and-answer period will be on the record.

So right now you have, hopefully, heard the estimate that $28 trillion could be added to global annual GDP simply by leveling the playing field between women and men at work. But despite these financial stakes, most countries still have laws and policies on the books that make it harder for women to work.

The World Bank is helping countries understand the effect of these discriminatory laws. The Women, Business, and the Law report, now in its fifth iteration, examines how the legal and regulatory environment affects women’s ability to get jobs and to start businesses. They’ve just launched their latest research with some sobering findings.

Here are just a few—that 2.7 billion women globally are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men; 104 economies still have laws preventing women from working in specific jobs; and, in the context of the #MeToo movement, as we look at workplace discrimination, 59 economies have no laws on sexual harassment in the workplace.

But the Bank also found that there’s reason for hope. Governments are starting to take notice and are undertaking legal reforms that are helping to make the environment more equal for women to work and to pursue economic opportunities.

I’m thrilled that we are joined today by World Bank legal expert and the 2018 report author, Sarah Iqbal. She comes to this role with a rich background in the law, on issues of financial inclusion, and on women’s rights. We’re so lucky to be able to hear from her about the World Bank’s latest research.

Sarah, before we dive into what the research has actually found, can you talk to us a little bit about how this report came about? Why has the World Bank undertaken this massive research effort to document the legal rights of women around the world?

IQBAL: Thank you so much, Jamille. And I’d like to thank all of you for coming here this morning.

It’s really an honor and a privilege for me to be here, and I wanted to explain a little bit how we came about doing this research. It’s the tenth year now and the fifth edition of the report, and I have to say the reason we started doing this was almost accidental.

Some of you who work on women’s rights might realize this and we started this because about 10—actually, 11 years ago, the World Bank’s board, which is composed of all of the member states of the World Bank, asked another project that we work on—the Doing Business project—to look at how the legal and regulatory environment for entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises actually affects women.

So the idea is there’s a legal and regulatory environment. It should function the same for women and for men just because it’s general neutral. But so we started asking survey respondents, mainly lawyers, judges, people who work in setting up sort of enterprises, how is this different for men and women and what we got was a series of answers that, basically, told us we didn’t know what we didn’t know and we were asking the wrong questions.

So, basically, what these people from 190 countries around the world told us is, you’re asking about up here, but the barriers—the legal barriers—for women are actually down here. So you’re missing all these barriers to entry—things like sort of do you need your husband’s permission to, you know, leave your home—do you need your husband’s permission to actually sign a contract or register a business.

If you’re already looking at sort of operating in the business environment, you’re not focusing on unequal property rights, unequal inheritance, job restrictions on women—all of these things that we now understand you need a gender lens to look at sort of things that prevent women from doing the same thing as everybody else. We just assumed that women could do the same things as men and we didn’t realize we weren’t actually looking in the right way.

So, basically, after that first year of realizing the mistake that we made, we took a step back and we started to do more research to understand better what are the particular obstacles to women because they are women, and we came up with this set of seven indicators: accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, going to court, and protecting women from violence.

And I think it’s really important to understand that when you’re looking at women’s issues you need to look with a gender lens, because I see it a lot with my colleagues who work on these issues. I see it with other organizations as well. We just don’t know what we don’t know and we assume a lot things, and the problem is if you don’t look with a gender lens you miss things.

And I tell this story a lot just because people feel like, oh, the World Bank should know what it’s doing on gender and I can tell you it really didn’t 10 years ago. We’ve come a long way since then and I would say the international community has as well. So that gives us reason to hope. But the results of the 2018 report are also sort of a good cautionary tale about the long way we still need to go.

BIGIO: Well, on that note, what did you all find in this latest report? What have been some of the most striking findings for you, in terms of the extent of the discriminatory laws? And have we seen the legal environment get better for women since the 10 years that you started doing this research?

IQBAL: So starting with the first part, I do think there’s quite pervasive legal restrictions that prevent women from reaching their economic potential. So, for example, a third of the economies in the data set—68 economies—actually still have at least one form of legal restriction that prevents women’s freedom of movement or voice or agency, and this is really basic things like, you know, needing your husband’s permission to leave your house or leave the country or needing an extra signature or your husband’s name or his permission to get a passport or a national ID card or signing a contract—some of these really basic things that we assume that everyone has the ability to do.

So, for example, I’m based in D.C., right. So yesterday I came to New York. I actually, you knew, flew because that was easier after work. I needed to show my driver’s license to get on that plane. Well, if I needed my husband’s permission to get that national ID card, that driver’s license, maybe I wouldn’t be here speaking with you—all of these really basic things, right, and these are mostly economies in sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East and North Africa that have these type of restrictions.

However, as Jamille mentioned, there’s 104 economies that still have at least one form of job restriction on women. I mean, that, to me, was stunning because I knew there was a lot of job restrictions—I didn’t assume that it was, you know, over half of all economies, and this is something like in the Russian Federation there’s a regulation whereby women can’t do 456 specific jobs because they are women.

You know, these are things like being a captain on a ship, being a train driver, driving a certain type of tractor, being a plumber, electrician. All of these are actually sort of low-skill high-wage jobs, right, and that makes a difference because, you know, women want to be able to earn more and they can’t because they’re women, and this is for nonpregnant women, non-nursing mothers, so just sort of a woman who shouldn’t have any sort of constraints in terms of what she can and cannot do.

And a lot of these are well intentioned, and by that I mean they’re meant to protect women. A lot of them are tied to demographic concerns. Most of them are, basically, leftover legacy legislation.

So in the Russian Federation it’s a holdover law from the Soviet Union. You see similar types of restrictions throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It’s actually very pervasive in that region. Some economies don’t permit women to work in jobs that are immoral. What does that mean? I don't know. I think sort of it’s very discretionary and that can prevent women from working in certain industries.

In Argentina, women can’t work in distilleries. You know, in France there’s a weightlifting requirement whereby women can’t actually work in jobs that require them to lift weights above a certain threshold. In Madagascar, they can’t work with certain types of sort of printed material. In Guinea, they can’t use certain types of hammers. They’re all very strange pieces of legislation.

You see in a lot of commonwealth countries holdovers of things like the Factories Act. So women can’t work on certain type of machinery, and you see the same laws in South Asia and exactly the same laws in the Caribbean and that’s because they’re holdovers from old British law.

And so one of the things that we work on with our colleagues is trying to remove these restrictions because it’s about the choice of jobs, right. So women should be able to determine what they want to do and don’t want to do by themselves. It shouldn’t be legislation that prevents them from doing this type of thing.

And one other thing I wanted to point out is the importance of the #MeToo and the Time’s Up movement, which really started, you know, based on sexual harassment, based on sexual assault, but has also shifted into other workplace issues like the gender pay gap.

Well, one of the things that we find is a lot of the gender pay gap comes from things like occupational segregation, and occupational segregation is exacerbated when you have these type of job restrictions. So we did some research and we find there’s a larger gender pay gap in countries that have at least one job restriction because women get sorted into jobs that pay less.

And in terms of sexual harassment itself, you know, 59 economies have no laws on sexual harassment in employment, but we find where countries do such—have such laws actually more women owned firms. And that’s the other thing—we did a lot of analysis looking at what is the effect—what is the economic effect of these type of legal restrictions and we found, you know, on things like women’s ownership and leadership of firms, women’s leadership in the political environment, both in parliamentary positions but also in ministerial positions, the more legal restrictions you have, the less women in leadership.

And it’s because, you know, if you don’t have women entering the labor market—if you don’t have women working in firms, they don’t rise up. If you don’t have women entering the government, you know, you’re never going to have them at those leadership positions because they’re stopped at the door. They’re stopped from leaving their home. They’re stopped from getting on that plane and coming and making a presentation.

BIGIO: So you talked a little bit about what the implications are for women’s economic participation, for their leadership, when countries have these kinds of discriminatory laws. How does that then connect to economic growth for countries?

IQBAL: I mean, basically, if you’re locking out a certain proportion of your labor force—of your work force—your economy is not growing as much as it could have. So there’s a lot of research from McKinsey and others showing the cost of sort of legal exclusion. The IMF has done a lot of research on this as well, and the idea is, you know, sort of what are the economic gains that could be had if you let women into the labor market—if you let them into the jobs of their choices—if you let them have the entrepreneurial sort of ability.

And, actually, there are some impact evaluations that are also showing the specific consequences of reforming certain laws, right, because a lot of the analysis that we do is global and aggregate, and you mentioned the McKinsey—the McKinsey report and what are the economic gains globally. But, for example—you see in India, for example, they reformed the Hindu Succession Act and they reformed it to allow women to inherit joint family property in the same way as men, and they did it at the state level first. Now it’s throughout India, but because they did it at the state level were able to sort of estimate, basically, the gains from this reform

And there are papers that look at this showing that, you know, the outcomes for women after this reform, and you see more women having bank accounts. You see more sort of women having sanitary latrines in the home, the gains for girls’ education, especially the second-generation gains are much higher, and it’s a reflection of preferences, right.

So if I, as a woman, have greater access to financial resources because I’m able to inherit in the same way as men, maybe my preferences are taken into greater account in the home, right. So my bargaining power is greater and then I can say to my husband, OK, I want to send my daughter to school as well as my son—OK, it’s important for me to have my own bank account—yes, I want a sanitary latrine in my home instead of going out into the field.

There was another impact evaluation done in Ethiopia. So they reformed the family law in Ethiopia also at the state level first and then they did it nationally and, basically, that showed it removed things like sort of—it used to be the case that you needed your husband’s permission to work. Now that’s no longer the case. They introduced joint titling as well and there you see more women also working outside the home, more women working in higher value-added sectors.

And one of the things that you asked earlier, which I forgot to answer, is sort of gains over time, right, and sort of we’ve been looking at this data over the past 10 years, but a few years ago we did a 50-year data set. So we looked in both property rights and sort of legal capacity issues over 50 years for a hundred countries and we found actually tremendous gains, right.

So half of the restrictions in sub-Saharan Africa were removed in this period, basically, from decolonization to 2010, and sort of this was interesting for a variety of sort of analysis, both in showing what are the drivers of reform but also showing the pace of reform. In this round of the report, we found that 65 economies had made 87 positive changes, and actually taking it back even further, if we look in countries like the U.K., if we look in the United States at the state level, it wasn’t that long ago—it was in the last hundred years that women started getting property rights.

You know, there was—it used to be the case in all common law countries married women didn’t have the same property rights as single women. When you got married, you gave up your property rights to your husband, and there was a series of acts introduced in the U.K. and also in U.S. states in the last hundred to a hundred and fifty years called the Married Women’s Property Act, and the basis for these was actually giving married women the same property rights of single women, and you see some sort of analysis—economic analysis—of the consequences of giving these property rights to married women.

You know, more women started taking out patents in U.S. states where they equalized the law. More women started opening businesses. You started seeing greater investment in things like children’s health.

So, you know, there are sort of trends in terms of going forward. I do think, even now, the trend is a positive one over time. But the problem is the pace, right. So things are getting better but not fast enough, and I think sort of this year, last year, the #MeToo movement, the Time’s Up movement, all of these sort of awareness-raising campaigns, the fact that we’re concentrating on these issues, actually presents an opportune time to actually improve the pace, to get the reform moving faster.

BIGIO: As you pointed to with the research, there’s certainly evidence that would, hopefully, drive countries to undertake these legal reforms, whether to help them realize the economic gains of having more women in the workforce or the benefits to families.

How are countries undertaking these reforms? And we also know, of course, that just changing the law on the books doesn’t always translate into changes in practice or in the everyday lives of women. So how do you look at the implementation mechanisms as well?

IQBAL: So in terms of how countries are undertaking these changes, I think part of it is just highlighting the laws that exist, right, and a lot of the countries that we work in, which are developing countries, often policymakers aren’t aware that these restrictions are there, right, and it’s because it doesn’t affect them directly.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat across the table from policymakers and said, OK, you know, in your family law there’s XYZ restriction—you know, husbands need to give their wives permission to work, and it’s generally men in the delegation—you know, a large group of men—and they’ll say that’s not the case—I don’t have to give my wife permission.

You know, that’s kind of the standard response, and you show them the law, right, and they say, OK, you know, that’s not the case—it’s not implemented—maybe it’s there. And then, you know, you’ll see kind of one woman in the back and she’s kind of nodding her head because she knows this is an issue and sort of it’s not her voice that comes to the front of the table.

We do a lot of work with civil society organizations in these countries, you know, and we always ask, you know, are these issues that are on the books and are not implemented. I mean, the question is really who are the policymakers. Yes, they don’t need to give their wives permission—yes, they don’t need to give their daughters permission because their wives and daughters are relatively wealthy—they’re relatively well educated.

But if you go and you talk to civil society organizations that work in the rural areas, you know, that work outside of the main business city, these are restrictions that are enforced. And it’s not like the husband takes his wife to court, but it informs the social norms. There’s a whole system in place that, you know, puts it into effect, and the question is who are we trying to help.

It’s not necessarily the empowered, educated, relatively well-off women. It’s one’s who maybe don’t know their rights, who don’t know the avenues, and are encumbered both by the legal restrictions and the social and cultural norms, which reinforce each other. And that actually brings me to the next part of your question, which is, you know, sort of, OK, the law is one thing—what about the implementation and effectiveness of that law.

And I think there’s a push-pull, right. In some countries, society, the social norms, things change and then the law is a holdover and it gets changed later, right, and then it’s actually relatively easier to change because it’s not so much engrained in the identity of a—of a people of a culture.

In other areas—and we’ve seen this in countries, too—the law changes first and it kind of pulls society after it, and the question is how much you want to push with that and also then how do you work on the implementation side, and I’ll give you an example.

So in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it used to have one of the most restrictive family codes that I have personally seen. It was, literally, verbatim based on the French Code Napoleon, which was introduced by the Belgians, basically, and you had similar legislation throughout West Africa. And it used to be the case in France, you know, in a lot of continental Europe and also in West Africa, based on the Code Napoleon, that married women had the legal capacity of, essentially, minors, right.

They couldn’t sign, you know, a contract, open a bank account, register property, initiate court proceedings without their husband’s written permission—you know, I, the husband of Sarah Iqbal, allow her to have this bank account—it goes in your file.

This was removed in continental Europe sort of—you know, I would say, in France in the ’60s and the ’70s they removed the last vestiges of this. In parts of West Africa, sort of there’s been reform over time, but in DRC it was, basically, verbatim, and we did a mapping of this. You could look at the old Code Napoleon and the DRC civil code article by article, word by word. It was the same.

And so the World Bank actually worked with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo for a number of years to show them both the economic consequences of this to build up a constituency around this to show reforms that happened in the region in countries like Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire and others on, you know, why they should be reformed and also explaining, you know, where it was coming from, how it was introduced—how it wasn’t, you know, sort of intrinsic to the culture of DRC but, rather, was something that was introduced.

And so this has been reformed. But in terms of the implementation, you know, a lot of the implementing authorities—and by this I mean, like, you know, land registrars, you know, business registrars, banks, others—don’t really know, right. They’re not aware. Women themselves might not be fully aware.

So there’s another project looking at the enforcement and implementation, and a large part of it is training—training for people on the front lines like the registrars, you know, sort of like judges, people working at the municipal and administrative levels and also just an awareness-raising campaign with civil society organizations about, you know, what women’s new legal rights are, and this takes time. You know, implementing any law takes time. It takes an effective administrative framework and it takes financial resources.

BIGIO: It’s powerful to hear that the benefit of creating this comprehensive data set isn’t just for the ability to compare between countries and to look at what’s the status of women globally but also to have the country-level data—to be able to do the advocacy with a specific country that these are the barriers here and make sure that people are aware and that policymakers are, hopefully, undertaking the reform that you’ve talked about.

Looking at how countries do compare to one another, one of the things that you all have done for the first time in this report is to actually score specific indicators, and I know that there’s some thinking around whether you transition this into actually ranking countries and having the ability to compare in that way between how countries are faring in terms of the legal environments for women.

Can you talk a little bit about what that process has been to score these for the first time and what the benefits and challenges are of doing a gender ranking?

IQBAL: Sure. So previous to this edition of the report, we presented what we call raw data, right. So, essentially, you know, we had a series of questions and answers, laying out the legal environment for women in 189 economies. But it was a little bit hard to understand at the country level what to focus on.

Our own colleagues told us this. Our stakeholders, counterparts, civil society organizations, and governments also said, you know, what do I do with this, right. So there are all these yeses and noes—what is the thing that I should be focusing on. So one of the things that we did in this edition is introduce scoring. So we took the set of information that we were looking at and we refined it into scored indicators for the sort of seven areas.

So you can see now for a country, say, Pakistan, you know, what is the score on accessing institutions, what is the score on protecting women from violence, and it’s a number from zero to a hundred—zero being the worst, a hundred being the best—and it’s easy to see at a glance, OK, how is Pakistan doing, you know, relative to Bangladesh, relative to Sri Lanka.

You know, so that actually really helps policymakers hone in. And we’ve started to get a lot of feedback from a variety of people, including governments, saying, OK, why is my score on this indicator not as good as my neighbor—basically, what can I do to improve, or saying no, you’re wrong—I should have a higher score, and it engage—it’s allowed a lot of country dialogue—a lot of engagement.

In the past two months since the launch of the report, we’ve gotten a lot of requests, a lot of what we call data challenges where governments are saying, you know, you’re wrong, and it generates a lot of dialogue.

One of the things that we were thinking about and we haven’t done and we’re still sort of trying to figure out if it’s something that we should be doing, going forward, is whether or not we want to introduce an economy ranking. The project that we spun out of—the one that I was talking about earlier, Doing Business—has a country ranking.

So it ranks countries on the business and regulatory environment in its indicators and this has generated a lot of engagement for the Bank, a lot of reform in countries, to improve the legal environment for entrepreneurship, and it’s a controversial thing to have a ranking.

So the pros are really the amount of reform, the amount of dialogue, the amount of engagement that it takes, and I would say the cons are, basically, the controversy for the—for an organization like the World Bank. We need to sort of make sure that we are doing all of our homework in terms of is this the right set of things to be looking at—you know, what does the econometric analysis tell us, and then there’s also a very strong consultative process and, you know, discussions with our shareholders that we need to go into and do. So whether or not we do a ranking I would say is a question for my management and the management of the World Bank.

But I do know, you know, sitting next to the Doing Business project, that having a ranking actually generates a lot of high-level attention and reform. I know when the last Doing Business report launched, India, I believe, went up in the ranking. And then, on Prime Minister Modi’s Facebook page, they were talking about, you know, how great it was that India went up in the Doing Business ranking. It’s a priority for many of the BRICS economies. I mean, it gets a lot of high-level engagement.

BIGIO: And you’ve highlighted, as you’ve looked at this latest research, that the problem has been the pace, so to look at whether it’s this avenue or what are other avenues there are to help speed up the pace of legal reform to make sure that women and men actually have an equal playing field when it comes to engaging in the workforce.

With that we’re going to open to the question-answer period. Please raise your placard if you would like to speak. When I call on you, please introduce yourself.


Q: Thank you for making the trip from Washington. This is wonderfully interesting.

I wondered if you could expand on a couple of things; first, your discussion about the work that the Bank is doing with civil society. I mean, it’s long argued that the most effective route to reform in country is with the engagement of women’s movements on the ground. And you mentioned that. And I know that that’s a big change for the Bank. So I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more.

And secondly—and I’m not sure how directly this relates, but I’ve been intrigued to hear more about what the impact has been of the fund that was announced with much fanfare last year by Ivanka Trump and the Saudi Arabian prince of $100 million to advance women’s entrepreneurship. You mentioned that the Bank is working on that. And I gather that’s being managed by the Bank. So if you could tell us more specifically about that.

So I have something I can say positive, if there is something to say positive, or negative if not.

IQBAL: Great. So in terms of the question on civil society, I agree with you. I think working with civil-society organizations is crucially important when you work on women’s legal rights. I will say the Bank does more work on civil society than it used to. It certainly doesn’t have a reputation for working with civil-society organizations.

I will say, from the inside, there’s a lot more work going on. We actually have a team that focuses on civil-society organizations and trying to build up those linkages. In terms of what the work the Women, Business, and the Law project does in particular is we work with civil-society organizations, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, to help them understand and use the data, the idea being that we are data producers. So we produce primary data and then we sort of do a lot of outreach with different audiences to help them use, understand that data, and also to hear from them, you know, what we should be collecting. Is the data accessible? Are we presenting it in the right way?

I will say the World Bank is made up of economists, and economists look at data maybe in a slightly different way than sort of non-economists do. And I say this as a non-economist, right. So my background is as a lawyer. I’ve been working with economists quite heavily for the past 10 years, and a lot of the World Bank data is not so accessible for civil-society organizations. So we work to try and make it more accessible, usable, because ultimately they’re the ones on the ground. They’re the advocates. They’re—especially in this space, they’re the ones who are working with government to try and get them to change these things.

And we try and make our information more usable. So we’ve had a series of workshops, I think, in about 10 or 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We have a two-year program at work that’s about to initiate to do more. And we work a lot with organizations like the Femmes Juristes, organizations of women judges in Africa; sort of WiLDAF, which is an organization of women that works on law and development in West Africa.

And what we try and do is build linkages between these civil-society organizations on the ground and the World Bank country office on the ground, because, you know, we sit in D.C., but the World Bank country office, you know, sitting, say, in Burkina Faso or in Ghana or what have you, manages the relationship with the government, right. So if we build that linkage, then a lot of the gender work actually gets included into the portfolio of that country office. And so we’re trying to build these linkages better.

Your next question was on We-Fi, the women’s financing fund. I don’t work on that specifically, but I can certainly give you sort of some of the things that I’ve seen. So in terms of the impact of the fund, I’m actually more familiar with—there’s a portion of it that looks at the regulatory environment, right. So there’s a portion of it that’s sort of actually financing women entrepreneurs. That part of it I don’t know that much about.

I do know more about the part of it that is focusing on sort of the regulatory environment. And, at least from my perspective where I sit, I think it’s really a good thing that it’s looked holistically, right, because there’s a lot of research that shows you can’t just give financing to women entrepreneurs but not look at other issues, you know, whether they be sort of legal barriers like the ones I was describing earlier, mentoring, other things. You actually need to look at it holistically, right.

So I actually think the way that they’ve set up the fund, they’re looking at financing, which is a big issue for women entrepreneurs, but other constraints; you know, binding constraints as well. I think that’s actually really important and a big step forward. I’ve seen other funds that just focus on the financing part. And I think that’s important, but it’s not looking at the whole. And these are issues that are inextricably intertwined, right. So you can’t just look at one piece of it.

BIGIO: Yeah.

Q: OK, thank you. I’m Angelika Mendes-Lowney from Women’s World Banking. Thank you very much for the overview; very interesting.

I have two questions. One is more general; if you could speak about which countries have made the most progress and if you can see a direct link to how that improves women’s economic participation. I don’t know if you’ve tracked that or how you track it.

And the other question is a little more specific. We’ve been looking into—it’s about the building-credit aspect. We’ve been looking into how movable collateral registries can be used to—really how their potential can be unlocked to benefit women entrepreneurs. And we’ve seen—you know, you talked a little bit about the missing link between what happens at the legal level and then to the actual key actors.

So we’ve seen the same, that in some countries the movable collateral registries are in place, but then the financial-service providers are not necessarily aware of them. So I’m curious whether you have been looking into that in the building-credit component and what you found. Thank you.

IQBAL: Great. Thank you.

In terms of which countries have made progress and how that improves economic outcomes, I mean, I think there’s—you know, I talked about the two impact evaluations earlier. And there’s a time lag, right. And then how do you measure at the country level sort of the outcomes. What are the outcomes that you’re looking at? And then you need to give it enough time to actually filter through the economy.

So, you know, those are actually the two best sort of tested examples that we’ve seen, although a lot of what we do is look at aggregate, right. So what we’re looking at is certain laws and policies, and then we’re looking at how it influences aggregate outcomes, the idea being that, you know, it sort of belies something that’s easy and in the control of policymakers, whereas outcomes like growth or labor-force participation—I mean, it’s very hard for policymakers to actually influence that directly unless it’s through an avenue like the law.

So, you know, I can tell you, for example, in this round of the report which are the countries that made the most progress sort of quantitatively. DRC is one of them. I was talking about that earlier. You know, a country like Kenya, which introduced its first domestic-violence law, has also made a tremendous amount of progress. Zambia introduced a gender-equality act that includes actually some of the things in building credit, including, I believe, nondiscrimination in sort of financial transactions on the basis of gender.

Iraq, actually, and Afghanistan both are fragile countries that have made a lot of steps forward. In Afghanistan, for example, they introduced a lot of steps on sort of legal provisions on violence against women. The question is, you know, what was their base, right. So perhaps they were coming from a lower base than certain other economies. But relative to themselves, they’ve improved a lot.

What are the precise economic consequences of that? You know, it’s too early to say. We need to kind of give it time to both be effectively implemented and understood. But at the aggregate, I can tell you sort of legal reforms lead to better outcomes in a variety of areas, including sort of one of the things that you’re probably more familiar with, which is sort of women’s financial inclusion.

One of the main outcome data sets that we look at is the Findex, the Global Financial Inclusion Index. They recently launched their third round last month, and what they found is the gender gap in financial inclusion is exactly the same as it was four years ago, as it was eight years ago. So there are a lot of things that basically are not being done.

And the question is, you know, how do we improve sort of financial inclusion for women? How do we close that gap? Because the levels of financial inclusion are rising, meaning more people are being included in the financial system, but the gaps are the same, meaning that it’s not necessarily helping women as much as it should.

And, you know, personally, I think that one of the things that we should be looking at is the legal and regulatory environment. That takes me to actually the second part of your question, which is movable collateral frameworks. And the argument there is, you know, women have less access to real property, right. They have less access to land. Sort of part of that is due to legal restrictions on things like inheritance. Part of it is just women have less titled land in their name, maybe due to social and cultural norms. It may be due to a lack of joint titling. You know, there’s different reasons in different countries.

And so the question is how do you help women get access to credit where they lack access to real property, especially in developing economies, where banks basically require real property as collateral. You need land. You need housing under your name, and you just don’t have that.

And so there are different ways of doing that. One way is to incorporate reputation collateral, right; so successful repayment histories to, you know, things like retailers, utilities, microfinance institutions, looking at the forms of collateral that women have and figuring out systems to incorporate that, right.

So in the building-credit indicator, we do have sort of whether aspects of reputational collateral are considered. What we don’t have is movable collateral registries. And the idea there—and the Bank does a lot on collateral frameworks—is, you know, if there is not—you know, women have access to movables, right. It may be accounts receivable. It may be other things, you know, sort of warehouse receipts and others. But if there’s no framework to register and consider movable collateral, then you’re losing an opportunity to include elements that women and others also have.

And there are—there is some research that I’m familiar with—I think you probably are much more familiar with this—I think movable collateral registry in Ghana. And I believe that the Bank worked on one in China as well that showed an increase in sort of women’s registration of movable collateral. It’s not something we include, although it is something that we have been discussing with our colleagues for a while. And I do think it is actually critically important for women’s access to credit.

Another thing that’s interesting and we do look at is nondiscrimination, right; nondiscrimination on the basis of gender and also marital status and financial transactions. It used to be the case not that long ago in this country that you couldn’t, as a married woman, have a credit history of your own. It was kind of wrapped up with your husband. Also you couldn’t get a credit card and other things.

Now we have nondiscrimination both on the basis of gender and marital status, but also on other elements. And the question is, you know, do other countries have this? Sort of are there nondiscrimination provisions sort of that help women gain access?

BIGIO: Thank you. Right here. Yeah.

Q: Agnes (sp)—(off mic).

IQBAL: Thanks. I mean, as far as I’m aware, all of the research that I’ve seen is there isn’t really an effect on men’s employment. And I think the IMF has actually done more research. And I can point you to some papers. The idea is not so much if you’re giving women jobs, you’re taking away jobs from men. And I think that’s really basically what people are afraid of, right. So policymakers feel like, OK, if you open up these sectors to women, you’re going to be taking away jobs from men, right. And that’s the argument.

But sort of based on the research that I’ve seen, that doesn’t seem to be the case that, you know, the pie is this big, and if you give a slice to women, you’re taking away slices from men. It’s generally sort of seen as if you’re opening these jobs up for women, if you have more women entrepreneurs, you’re actually creating more jobs, so the pie gets bigger and there’s more space.

But I actually think the fund has done that much more work on this.

BIGIO: That’s great. Thank you.

Q: Jamille and Sarah, thank you very much for an excellent and very powerful presentation. I’m Natalie Hahn. I worked at the U.N. for many years, mostly in Africa.

Does the World Bank make a conditionality for their loans that the laws have to change, they have to be implemented? Number one.

Number two, when I look at this powerful report, it would be extraordinarily important for law faculties and law students to know about this. And you mentioned that you had the workshops in West Africa, for instance. But I could envision women lawyers in many of those countries taking the lead on this, and particularly students, and also hopefully this report to be introduced to American faculties of law.

I found one of the best groups to work with is IDLO in Rome, which was founded by Ibrahim Shihata, former legal counsel to the International Development Law Organization, because they’re so well placed within these countries. And I’m wondering if you had an opportunity to work with them.

IQBAL: In terms of your first question on conditionality, the answer to that is no. I don’t think the World Bank believes in conditionality. You know, really, in general, we try and encourage and influence governments to reform their laws, but not as a part of conditionality for loans.

However, I do know, you know, we’ve seen, for example, the MCC, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, picked up part of this data as their Gender and the Economy scorecard. They’ve actually expanded it to include other things this year. And we see a lot of requests coming in from low-income countries on how can they improve in this element, because basically they want to get access to MCC grants.

And the reason the MCC did this is, I believe, because of Lesotho. So many years ago they had an MCC grant in Lesotho before they had this Gender in the Economy as part of their scorecard. And they went in and they realized in Lesotho legally women had basically the same status as legal minors. There were all these things that women couldn’t do.

So I think they worked with the government of Lesotho to reform this, but they didn’t want to be caught in that situation again. So they realized they needed to include sort of more gender-relevant data. As I understand it, the inclusion of that scorecard was relatively good, and they decided to expand it this year. So they’ve included more questions, including on things like child marriage.

In terms of working with law schools, law faculties, law students, we try to do this. You know, we work, for example, with the International Association of Women Judges. I have a colleague who was just at their annual conference in Argentina; the idea being that we’re trying to disseminate to as many people as possible, including law schools and law faculties. But it’s a little bit difficult.

We do work with the IDLO, and they actually have very strong gender programming and this is a priority for them. We also work a lot with U.N. Women, both on the SDG framework, so we’re working with U.N. Women and the OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index, along with strong consultations with the CEDAW committee, to build an SDG monitoring indicator on whether or not legal frameworks discriminate against women in law and practice. That’s the—I think basically the paraphrase of the indicator that was selected.

And the idea is to work on as many levels as possible. But we’re a relatively small team and we can’t be everywhere. So I would encourage all of you to go out and talk about this data set.

BIGIO: Right here.

Q: Hi, Sarah. Sarah O’Hagan from the Fuller Project for International Reporting.

I wanted to build on that. You talk about the ministers of certain countries really contesting their rankings or that the existence of a number was suddenly a very focusing device. So is there kind of an unspoken conditionality, or will there be follow-on effects that will be beneficial or not?

And a separate question, but related, that I wanted to ask you—it’s very early to talk about the prognosis or the impact of either Me Too or Time’s Up. Even though Me Too seems to be the umbrella phrase, they’re really very separate movements. And what you’re really working on is sort of the Time’s Up piece of this.

And I just wondered if you might return to your earlier comments about whether legal frameworks change or social norms drive change faster, because the Time’s Up movement is clearly—in this country, we’re in a social-norms moment. And I just wondered if we might just get a little bit more from you on that kind of dialectic.

IQBAL: Of course. In terms of the unspoken-conditionality part of your question, I don’t think so. I actually think it’s more of a question of competition, right. I think countries like to either be on par or better than their peers. So it wouldn’t be—for example, you know, in general, say, countries from the Middle East and North Africa wouldn’t necessarily be comparing themselves to, say, Nordic countries, but they would want to know, you know, why their score indicator maybe looks, you know, less good than Morocco or Algeria or what have you, because there’s—in any kind of scoring system, there’s implicit competitiveness; like, you know, why is my number less than the number of my neighbor? You know, I beat them in soccer or something like that, right.

You see a lot of competition coming out of that. And it’s actually that peer competition that encourages countries to move. You see this in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report. You see this in the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings. I don’t think it’s a conditionality issue.

In terms of social norms versus legal frameworks, I think the answer is it really depends. It depends in terms of where a particular country is. Like you said, in this one, you know, it’s a social-norm change that we’re talking about, because the legal frameworks—there are gaps, such as, you know, the gap of paid maternity and parental leave, which is, you know, quite a big gap. But in other areas, it does relatively well relative to its peers. And by this I mean high-income OECD countries. But a lot of the implementation, the discussion around things like sexual harassment, sexual assault, hasn’t been there. Now it is.

In other countries, you know, that’s not the case. You know, it may be that legal frameworks really aren’t at the place that they need to be. And oftentimes it’s civil-society organizations, advocates on the ground, who’ve been advocating for this reform, for these reforms, for a long time.

I know, in the case of DRC, there was a lot of reform advocacy going on by civil-society organizations for decades. But, you know, oftentimes this doesn’t rise to the level of interest of policymakers. And I think you have to—you know, there’s a lot going on. And maybe gender issues aren’t the most important issue in the portfolio of the minister of finance or the minister of justice. You know, they’re going to deal with whatever’s in front of them. And maybe women’s issues are kind of not seen as important.

And I think the awareness, the spotlight, really kind of changes the dynamic. And, you know, we see these movements, these hashtags, going on in Latin America, in the Middle East, in North Africa, in West Africa. You can see it in every region of the world. It’s kind of spread like wildfire. And I think that’s great, because these are issues that need to be discussed. And, you know, whatever the issue is going on on that ground, in that region, in that country, maybe it’s the social-norm issue. Maybe it’s a legal issue. But ultimately this is an umbrella, and it sort of talks to, you know, whatever is going on on the ground.

And for this data set, I do think the data is an inch deep and a mile wide, right. So it compares countries to each other, but it should never be the substitute—and perhaps I should have started with this—it should never be the substitute for country-level data, for an understanding of what is going on on the ground in each country, because that is the most important determining factor of, you know, where the discussion needs to go.

Q: Leah Pedersen Thomas. Thank you to both of you for your very important work; appreciate your time here, Sarah.

I actually serve on the board of a maternal fetal not-for-profit in Ethiopia, where we see women who are victims of underage marriage and certainly having children at a very young age and kind of surviving through the consequences of that.

My question is around enforcement by advocacy, a little bit about what you just spoke on, kind of the positive—the knock-on effects of positive peer pressure. Are you finding that local advocacy groups are erupting to really hold the government to the stated laws or the change in laws?

So, for example, we see a number of women who were betrothed in marriage under the age of 18 in Ethiopia. And although Ethiopian law would suggest that getting married, believe it or not, under the age of 18 is against the law, a number of orthodox clerics continue to perform services. So we’re seeing a number of victims actually approach those clerics and say I wouldn’t be in the position I am today if you hadn’t broken the law.

So I’m just curious if you’re seeing that level of advocacy, kind of that positive peer pressure, and how we can successfully harness it to really create enforcement.

IQBAL: Thank you. I mean, the answer is it depends, right. So we see it in some places. And it really depends on the strength of civil society at the country level, right. And I’m actually a little bit surprised sort of by your example, just because I know in Ethiopia generally, you know, I mean, there’s a lot of issues with civil society and, you know, how that gets funded and how the government feels about it.

But in terms of the specific question that you’re asking about, it’s actually really interesting. We look at, you know, age-of-marriage laws, legal age of marriage. What is the minimum age of marriage, and what are the exceptions? So often there are, you know, parental consent or judicial consent. So the age is maybe 18, but girls can get married, you know, as young as 14 if they get permission from some kind of authority.

And then we also look at basically what are sanctions, right. So is there a sanction for a cleric or a judge who performs this in contravention of the law? The idea being, you know, how do you—who do you hold to account and how do you hold them to account? And if there is a sanction, you know, and it is enforced maybe through this positive peer pressure, maybe through young girls actually trying to hold, you know, people who officiated their marriage to account, maybe that would stop the cleric from doing it the next time, right. There’s sort of a detrimental effect.

But again, that takes a certain level of empowerment for the girls and for their advocates to even do that. I mean, it takes a lot of, I would say, strength and bravery to be able to hold an orthodox cleric to account.

BIGIO: Back to—(off mic).

Q: Congratulations. I mean, that sounds like an amazing program.

BIGIO: Last question.

Q: (Off mic.) Thank you—(off mic).

IQBAL: Thank you. I think, if I’m not mistaken, that those are two different numbers, right. So the 155, that’s looking at a different measure. That’s at least one legal restriction. And the 104 is just on job restrictions. So one is the sample size, but it’s also just looking at kind of an overarching measure, including job restrictions, but including other restrictions as well. So it’s a little bit like comparing apples and oranges. And I would say there has been improvement, but not quite that much.

BIGIO: Well, thank you.

Please join me in thanking Sarah. (Applause.) And thank you all.


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