The unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed and deepened global inequality. For many women around the world, this could mean not only economic insecurity, but also threats to their health and safety. In times like these, a legal environment that encourages women’s economic inclusion can make them less vulnerable in the face of a crisis.
Yet in difficult moments many women start at a disadvantage. Women, Business and the Law 2021 identifies the laws and regulations that restrict women’s economic opportunity in 190 economies. From the basics of movement in the community to the challenges of working, parenting, and retiring, the data offer objective, measurable benchmarks for global progress toward gender equality. They also emphasize the policy actions that could be taken to improve economic opportunity for women.
This year’s study is the seventh in the series, and again the results are promising. Despite the adversities of the last year, many economies made gender equality a priority. Every region improved its average score, with economies in the Middle East and North Africa seeing the greatest increase. Globally, several of the changes eliminated job restrictions or aimed to reduce the gender wage gap. Other improvements were good-practice legislation related to marriage and parenthood or to removing constraints to women’s entrepreneurship.
Still, many laws continue to inhibit women’s ability to enter the workforce or start a business. On average, women have just three-quarters of the rights of men. New measures may also be necessary to safeguard their economic opportunities during this time of crisis. Women, Business and the Law 2021 presents evidence of the ways in which governments have responded to women’s unique needs throughout the pandemic. Many have implemented innovative solutions, ensuring that women maintain access to childcare, justice systems, and protection from domestic violence, even during widespread shutdowns. The study also introduces two pilot projects on childcare and women’s access to justice, both of which are foundational to women’s success in the labor force.
Gender equality is a fundamental human right. More important, it can boost economic growth and improve development outcomes. There has never been a more important time to ensure women’s economic empowerment. As economies adapt to difficult circumstances, the World Bank Group will continue striving to improve conditions for their most vulnerable populations. By recognizing barriers to success and highlighting solutions, Women, Business and the Law 2021 is an important tool in that effort.