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Women, Business and the Law: Measuring Legal Gender Equality
March 23, 2023

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A guest blog by Women, Business and the Law, a World Bank group project.

Do you think women hold the same legal rights as men at home and at work? The latest Women, Business and the Law 2023 report by the World Bank provides some insights: on average, women have only three-quarters of the legal rights of men, and nearly 2.4 billion women of working age still do not have the same legal rights as men. 

Achieving gender equality requires concerted efforts of governments, international organizations, civil society organizations and the private sector. The Women, Business and the Law project provides objective and measurable benchmarks of how laws and regulations affect women’s economic opportunities. It identifies barriers to women’s economic participation and encourages the reform of discriminatory laws. The index is structured around eight different milestones of a woman’s working life and is composed of 35 questions. The eight areas covered in the research are mobility, workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets and pensions.  

The Women, Business and the Law index indicates women, on average, enjoy barely 77 percent of the legal rights that men do. Only 14 countries, all in The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) high income, score 100 — which means that women are on an equal legal standing with men across all eight areas measured. When it comes to the variation within regions, the largest gap is in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the Sub-Saharan Africa regions.

In 2022, only 34 gender-related legal reforms were recorded across 18 countries—the lowest number of reforms in 20 years. Most reforms focused on:

  • Increasing paid leave for parents and fathers
  • Removing restrictions to women’s work
  • Mandating equal pay

The Women, Business and the Law analysis shows that positive changes are happening. We have recorded almost 2,000 reforms toward gender equality introduced by economies globally over the last five decades. However, it will take another 1,500 reforms and a half-century at the current pace of reforms to close the legal gender gap worldwide. 

Where are the gaps and opportunities to achieve legal gender equality? 

Despite the ongoing reform efforts across the globe, the Women, Business and the Law 2023 report finds that there are still alarming disparities in women’s rights that exist in all regions today, particularly in the areas of equal pay and leave policies. Nearly half of countries worldwide do not pay women equal remuneration for work of equal value, and some countries are even reversing hard-won rights. 

While significant progress has been made in women’s rights over the last 50 years, more data and action are necessary to ensure equal opportunities for women. With women constituting half of the population, a change is needed urgently, as women cannot wait another 50 years to reach equality, and neither can the global economy. Overcoming legal gender barriers benefits all of society—not just women.

Women, Business and the Law report cover page.
Women, Business and the Law 2023 report cover.

Take action: 

  • Read our latest Women, Business and the Law 2023 report and download data 
  • Contribute your expertise to the report by filling out or sharing our surveys with legal experts in your communities  
  • Speak up about women’s rights and gender equality to spread awareness and break down barriers  

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Are you interested in learning more about women’s empowerment and gender equality? Visit our Africa4Her page for more tools and resources.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.