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Women and legal rights

Just 14 countries have laws giving women the same rights as men

Just 14 economies—all high income—have laws giving women the same rights as men, the World Bank says in the 2023 report about Women, Business and the Law. “In 2022, the global pace of reforms toward equal treatment of women under the law has slumped to a 20-year low.” 

“This “reform fatigue” is a potential impediment to economic growth and resilience at a critical time for the global economy. As global economic growth is slowing, all countries need to mobilize their full productive capacity to confront the confluence of crises besetting them.”

The 14 countries with same legal rights for women and men are Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.

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At today’s pace, it will take several decades to close the legal gender gap across the world, the World Bank says. “This means that millions of young women entering the workforce today will have to wait until retirement—many even longer—before they get equal rights.”

“Today, nearly 2.4 billion working-age women live in economies that do not grant them the same rights as men. The year 2022 marks a low point in one respect: economies adopted the fewest gender-related reforms in more than two decades.” 

In some economies, moreover, a troubling trend is under way: previously granted rights are being reversed. The report finds that some economies have made legal changes to strip women of existing rights, including the freedom of movement and the ability to get a job. “Some have imposed additional burdens, like the duty of obedience to the husband.”

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The World Bank’s five main takeaways on change since 1970: 

  1. Since 1970, the global average Women, Business and the Law score has improved by about two-thirds, rising from 45.8 to 77.1 points. 
  2. Today, just 14 economies—all high income—have laws giving women the same rights as men, and progress has been uneven across regions and over time. Equality of economic opportunity for women is highest in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) high-income economies, 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, where the average score is 53.2 points. 
  3.  Progress across the areas measured has also been uneven, with most reforms in the areas of Workplace and Parenthood. Across all topic areas, most reforms have been issued to address domestic violence, prohibit gender discrimination in employment, and legislate on sexual harassment.  
  4. Economies with historically larger legal gender gaps have been catching up, especially since 2000. Faster progress is being made in economies that have had historically lower levels of gender equality. This is the case, for instance, in some countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Economies that have the highest growth rates in the Women, Business and the Law score include Bahrain, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Togo, and the United Arab Emirates. 
  5.  The catch-up effect has been happening across all areas covered by Women, Business and the Law, but the pace of progress has been uneven. The catch-up effect in closing the gender gap has been strongest in the laws affecting Workplace, followed by Parenthood, Pay, and Marriage. The catch-up effect has been weakest in laws related to Mobility, Assets, and Entrepreneurship.
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