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.
Access to the legal system allows women to advocate for their interests and enforce the law. Legal aid and other services can improve women’s access to justice and reduce their use of social welfare programs and foster care. Similarly, female judges can help reduce barriers to women’s access to legal services, increasing the likelihood that issues that disproportionately affect women—such as domestic violence and forced marriage—are given legal attention.
By the Numbers
96 countries do not have legally mandated antidiscrimination commissions.
16 countries give less evidentiary weight in court to women’s testimony than men’s.
When mothers can secure child and spousal support through civil legal aid, they may not require public benefits. In Ecuador, after three legal aid clinics were established to assist poor women and children, women were 17 percent less likely to suffer domestic violence following a divorce and 10 percent more likely to receive child support.
Source: World Bank
While Saudi women may testify in court, their testimony is, with a few exceptions, valued at half that of a man’s. Saudi judges have considerable discretion over cases and may choose to discount a woman’s testimony. Layla, a Saudi journalist, explained, “If you go to a court in Saudi Arabia . . . you feel like nothing.” Testimony plays a crucial role in the outcome of cases, and Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory laws undermine women’s ability to advocate for their interests. In cases where economic rights are at issue, these laws can also result in a skewed distribution of resources among women and men.
Source: Human Rights Watch
Access to justice allows women to advocate for their interests, while inequality in the court system undermines their legal capacity. Countries should:
Give equal evidentiary weight to women’s testimony as men’s.
Establish an antidiscrimination commission.
Mandate legal aid for women who cannot afford legal representation in family or civil matters.
Twenty-three countries changed laws and processes that affected women’s access to the legal system 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