A new standard in measuring women’s rights

Expanding on the metrics to assess women's rights reveals a stark gender gap

The legal gender gap is wider than previously estimated. While no country provides equal economic opportunity for women, some countries are doing a better job at closing the gender gap in terms of legal implementation, the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2024 report finds. Although the laws on the books imply that women enjoy roughly 64% of the rights of men, economies have, on average, established less than 40% of the systems needed for full implementation (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Women have two-thirds of the legal rights of men


Source: Women, Business and the Law database.

Now in its 10th edition, the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law report compares how countries’ laws – or lack thereof – affect economic opportunities in 190 economies across 10 indicators built around a woman’s key interactions with the law.

The report expands its measurement for the 2024 edition in several ways. First, the legal index now assesses critical areas such as women’s safety and access to quality childcare, as well as issues affecting women’s business opportunities.  These new additions reveal deficiencies in the law in most countries. With a global average score of just 36 for ‘safety’, women enjoy barely a third of the legal protections needed from domestic violence, sexual harassment, child marriage and femicide. In relation to improving women’s leadership and business opportunities, only 24 countries mandate quotas for women on corporate boards and only 36 include gender-sensitive criteria in public procurement process.

Figure 2. New questions under the ‘Entrepreneurship’ indicator address gender gaps in business leadership

Source: Women, Business and the Law database.

Second, the report presents data for 190 economies and measures the existence of supportive frameworks needed to implement laws, such as strong enforcement mechanisms, programmes and services that support women and the availability of sex-disaggregated data. For example, 82 economies have a national government strategy focusing on women’s access to financial services. Such strategies can help level the playing field for women entrepreneurs, and enable central banks and governments to offer better financial products and services to women.

Third, the report also presents an analysis of expert opinions of women’s rights in practice. Across the sample of 164 economies, experts perceived a better quality of life in areas such as freedom of movement, access to paid parental leave and rights to immovable property after retirement. However, perceptions on gender-based violence and childcare provisions were strikingly different. More than half of experts indicated that ‘almost no women’ or only ‘some women’ are free from gender-based violence. About half of the experts indicated that ‘almost no women’ or only ‘some women’ have access to affordable, quality childcare services. This perception-based assessment shows where women’s rights are most lacking in practice and where access to economic opportunities is still limited.

What gets measured can be changed

Although it is not easy, change is possible. In 2023, governments across the world were especially assertive in advancing three categories of legal equal opportunity reforms – pay, parental rights and workplace protections. 18 countries in all regions but South Asia made progress toward legal gender equality by enacting reforms in the areas measured. Overall, the economies that improved the most were Sierra Leone, Togo, Jordan, Uzbekistan and Malaysia.

Closing the gender gap in employment and entrepreneurship has the potential to raise the global gross domestic product by more than 20%, and could essentially double the current global growth rate over the next decade.

With the expansion of these measurements, Women, Business and the Law 2024 highlights what governments can do to accelerate progress toward gender equality in business and the law. Policy-makers should not only improve laws related to women’s safety, access to childcare and business opportunities, but also establish frameworks that support their effective implementation. This way, good intentions can encourage a tangible difference to women’s economic opportunities.

Tea Trumbic is Manager of the Women, Business and the Law project at the World Bank. 

This article features in the OMFIF Gender Balance Index 2024, launching 10 April. Register here.

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