Despite the financial stakes, most countries still have laws that make it harder for women to work. The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2018 report outlines seven ways in which national laws can impede women’s work.
Limitations on women’s legal capacity weaken their decision-making ability. When women cannot independently decide where they want to go on a daily basis, travel, or live, they may face difficulty getting to work or conducting business transactions.
When women face constraints, including discrimination and limited credit history, in accessing credit, their ability to open formal bank accounts, build reputation collateral for loans, find employment, and start and grow businesses is impeded.
Getting a Job
Legal barriers that affect a woman’s ability to work, including gender-based job restrictions and the lack of workplace protections and leave benefits, inhibit her job prospects, earning potential, career growth, and ability to balance work and family.
Going to Court
Barriers in the justice system prevent women from advocating for their interests and enforcing the law. The cost of litigation can discourage poor women from accessing justice, and unequal treatment in court can undermine women’s legal capacities.
Protecting Women From Violence
Women can function more freely in societies and the business world when not faced with the threat of violence. Violence against women can undermine women’s careers, ability to work, access to financial resources, and the employment climate.
Providing Incentives to Work
Support for mothers—such as tax credits and the availability of childcare for young children—can reduce unequal burdens and provide incentives for women to enter and remain in the workforce, thereby increasing women’s labor force participation.
Access to property benefits women entrepreneurs by increasing their financial security and providing them with the necessary collateral to start businesses. Legal differences in property ownership and inheritance rights can limit women’s economic prospects.
Moving Toward Reform
Governments around the world are beginning to understand the cost of inequality for women in the workplace, and to take action. Between 2015 and 2017, over 110 countries and territories carried out more than 180 reforms that improved women’s economic opportunities. Governments should also do more to implement existing laws and policies that provide for women’s equality.
When women cannot independently decide where they want to go on a daily basis, travel, or live, they may face difficulty getting to work or conducting business transactions.
By the Numbers
37 countries restrict women from applying for a passport in the same way as men.
31 countries restrict women from choosing where to live in the same way as men.
18 countries require women to have their husband’s permission to work outside the home.
17 countries restrict women from traveling without permission.
After the Ethiopian government eliminated the requirement for a woman to get her husband’s consent to work outside the home, considerably more women entered the workforce and obtained full-time, higher-skilled—and therefore better-paying—jobs. Five years later, women in the three regions where the requirement was first eliminated were 28 percent more likely to work outside the home and 33 percent more likely to hold paying jobs than women in regions where the requirement was still in place.
Source: World Bank
When women have greater legal decision-making rights, they are more likely to hold positions of leadership in public life.
Source: World Bank
In 2014, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madame Ngetsi wanted to formalize the small business she was running in Kinshasa, the country’s capital. First, she would need to register her company and open a bank account, and in order to expand her company, she might need to take out a loan. But under the country’s family code that existed at the time, Ngetsi was required to get her husband’s permission to perform any of these activities legally.
Source: World Bank
To protect women’s ability to conduct transactions in the public and private sectors, countries should:
Eliminate any legal restrictions on women’s ability to travel, work, and conduct business without their husband’s permission.
Twenty-eight countries changed laws and processes affecting women’s access to institutions between 2015 and 2017.
No reforms were undertaken between 2015-2017 related to women’s workplace equality.
Increased gender parity
Neutral to gender parity
Decreased gender parity