Women, Business and the Law 2014

Women, Business and the Law 2014

Removing Restrictions to Enhance Gender Equality

A report by the World Bank and IFC

In the past 50 years the legal status of women has improved all over the world. But many laws still make it difficult for women to fully participate in economic life, whether by getting jobs or starting businesses.

Discriminatory rules bar women from certain jobs, restrict access to capital for women-owned firms and limit women’s capacity to make legal decisions. Gender differences in laws affect both developing and developed economies, and women in all regions.

Almost 90% of the 143 economies covered by the ‘Women, Business and the Law 2014’ report have at least one legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunities.

Twenty-eight economies have 10 or more legal differences for men and women in the areas covered. Of these 28, 25 are in the Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The 50 Years of Women’s Legal Rights database has made it possible to take two Women, Business and the Law indicators, ‘Accessing institutions’ and ‘Using property’ backward in time for 100 economies for the past 50 years.

The results are striking: more than half of the restrictions in these two indicators in place in 1960 had been removed by 2010.

Over the past 50 years, economies in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean have reformed the most in ‘Accessing Institutions’ and ‘Using property’.

Over the past two years the most reforms have occurred in Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, the Philippines and the Slovak Republic for the six indicators measured by ‘Women, Business and the Law’.

But many restrictions remain. In 15 economies husbands can object to their wives working and prevent them from accepting jobs.

In 79 economies, laws restrict the types of jobs that women can do. The most extensive restrictions on women’s employment are in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. And some benefits, when taken to a certain threshold, can undermine women’s labour force participation. For example, in economies where the cumulative duration of paid maternity and parental leave available for mothers exceeds two years, female labour force participation is lower.

Policies encouraging women to join and remain in the labour force are associated with less income inequality.

Women are more likely to have accounts at formal financial institutions in economies with a default ‘full community of property’ or partial ‘community of property’ marital regime than in economies with a default ‘separation of property’ marital regime.

New data explore legal quotas on the share of women on corporate boards, in parliaments and local governments, and serving as judges on constitutional courts. The data find that six economies have quotas for women on boards of publicly listed companies and 12 have legal quotas for women in parliaments. Among the 123 economies covered by ‘Women, Business and the Law’ that have constitutional courts or court-like bodies, women are represented on all but 19.

Of the economies measured, 76 have established explicit legislation addressing domestic violence but only 32 have specific provisions on sexual harassment in schools. Even less prevalent is legislation on sexual harassment in public spaces – only 8 of the 100 economies examined have enacted such laws.

How common are gender

differences in laws?

‘Women, Business and the Law’ measures restrictions on women’s employment and entrepreneurship as well as incentives for women’s employment in 143 economies. The dataset captures 21 legal differences for unmarried women and 26 for married women that affect women’s economic opportunities, for a total of 47 differences across the five indicators.

Of the 143 economies covered by the report, 128 have at least one difference between women and men according to this simple measure. The 28 economies with 10 or more legal differences are in the Middle East and North Africa (14 economies), Sub-Saharan Africa (11), East Asia and the Pacific (2) and South Asia (1).

The 15 economies with no legal differences between women and men in the areas measured are Armenia, Canada, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kosovo, Mexico, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru and Puerto Rico.



1.      Length of paid maternity leave

2.      Length of paid paternity leave

3.      Ratio of the length of paid paternity to paid maternity leave

4.      Laws penalizing or preventing employers from firing

5.      pregnant women

6.      Laws requiring employers to give the same or an equivalent position to female employees when they return from maternity leaveLaws requiring employers to provide break times for nursing mothers

7.      Tax deductions applicable to women

8.      Legal quotas for women on corporate boards

9.      Legal quotas for women in parliaments

10.    Legal quotas for women in local governments

11.    Laws mandating equal remuneration for women and men for work of equal value

12.    Laws mandating nondiscrimination in hiring practices


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