Gender Equality Reforms Now At Their Slowest In 20 Years
Despite a good start in the first 10 years, the 2000s have seen gender equality reforms slow down significantly across the world.
A World Bank report shows that the pace of reforms focused on women's equality has fallen to its lowest rate in the past 20 years. This poses a hurdle to economic growth at a time when economies globally are struggling with slowdowns and inflationary pressures
With only 34 gender-related legal reforms recorded across 18 economies, the global average score on the Women, Business and the Law index rose just half a point to 77.1. At this speed, it would take at least 50 years to approach legal gender equality everywhere. In many countries, a woman entering the workforce today will retire before gaining the same rights as men.
The index score indicates that, on average, women enjoy only 77% of the legal rights that men do. Nearly 2.4 billion working women live in economies that do not grant them the equality that they deserve, the report noted.
All countries need to mobilize their full productive capacity to confront the confluence of crises besetting them, said Indermit Gill, chief economist of the World Bank Group and senior vice president for Development Economics.
"Governments can’t afford to sideline as much as half of their population. Denying equal rights to women across much of the world is not just unfair to women; it is a barrier to countries’ ability to promote green, resilient, and inclusive development," Gill said.
The first decade of the 21st century saw a rapid movement toward legal gender equality. More than 600 reforms were introduced between 2000 and 2009. Since then, reform fatigue seems to have set in, particularly in areas that involve long-established norms, such as the rights of women to inherit and own property, the report said.
Today, just 14 economies—all of them developed and high-income—have laws giving women the same rights as men, as progress has been uneven across regions and over time. Worldwide, every economy has implemented at least one reform since 1970; however, 176 economies still have room to improve.
Equality of economic opportunity for women is highest in high-income economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), where the average score on the Women, Business, and the Law index is 95.3 points, and lowest in the Middle East and North Africa region, with an average score of 53.2 points, as shown in the graph above.
While the 1970s were characterised by economies that removed gender barriers to mobility, the 1980s were characterised by isolated breakthroughs, and the 1990s paved the way for women’s legal empowerment.
Economies with historically larger legal gender gaps have been catching up, especially since 2000. The highest growth rates in the WBL Score were observed in Bahrain, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Togo, and the United Arab Emirates.
The catch-up effect in closing the gender gap has been strongest in the laws affecting the workplace, followed by parenthood, pay, and marriage. The catch-up effect, however, has been weakest in laws related to mobility, assets, and entrepreneurship.