Covid-19 has directly and disproportionately jeopardised women’s social and economic opportunity, despite governments’ initiatives to buffer the pandemic’s effects, a new report says.
The World Bank’s “Women, Business and the Law 2021” report measures the laws and regulations that affect women’s economic opportunities in 190 countries. On average, women have just three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men worldwide, the report finds.
Progress on gender equality has been made, the report states, and since 2019 alone, 27 economies from all regions have enacted reforms increasing gender equality, including New Zealand, Costa Rica, Chile, Senegal, and Kuwait.
Most reforms introduced or amended laws affecting pay and parenthood. However, the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage women, including barriers to maintaining employment.
Overall, the research found many governments have put in place measures to address some of the impacts of the pandemic on working women. Less than one-quarter of all economies surveyed legally guaranteed employed parents time off for childcare before the pandemic.
However, in light of school closures, nearly 40 economies around the world introduced leave or benefit policies to help parents with childcare. Even so, the report found these measures are insufficient to address the challenges many working mothers already face.
Countries need to create a legal environment that enhances women’s economic inclusion
Parenthood is the area that leaves the most room for improvement globally. This includes paid parental leave, whether benefits are administered by the government, and whether the dismissal of pregnant women is prohibited.
The report asserts that greater equality under the law is associated with more women participating in the labour force and that legal equality is associated not only with more female employment, but also with fewer female workers in vulnerable employment.
Reforms are also needed to address the restrictions women face in the type of jobs, tasks, and hours they can work, segregating them into lower-paid jobs.
The report calls on governments to legally mandate employers to provide equal pay for equal work. Today, only 90 economies worldwide have equal pay legislation.
“While it is encouraging that many countries have proactively taken steps to help women navigate the pandemic, it’s clear that more work is needed, especially in improving parental leave and equalising pay,” said Mari Pangestu, managing director of development policy and partnerships.
“Countries need to create a legal environment that enhances women’s economic inclusion, so that they can make the best choices for themselves and their families.”
“Women need to be fully included in economies to achieve better development outcomes,” said David Malpass, president of the World Bank Group.
“Women should have the same access to finance and the same rights to inheritance as men and must be at the centre of our efforts toward an inclusive and resilient recovery from the covid-19 pandemic.”