While much progress has been made over the last fifty years, global gender legal equality is not recognised and implemented the same across the world. In the law, gender equality is associated with better development outcomes and when women are offered the same opportunities as men. As per the International Monetary Fund (IMF), women’s economic empowerment benefits the broader economy by reducing income equality and increasing diversity and economic resilience. Ultimately, it’s a win-win situation for all.
But who is leading the progress to this holistic change, and which geographies thrived more than others in equal rights in 2020?
Only ten countries worldwide provide full legal protection for women, new research by the World Bank has revealed. As per the Women, Business and the Law 2021 report, nine European countries and one North American nation are the only ones offering complete legal equal rights for both men and women.
Ten economies – Belgium, France, Denmark, Latvia, Luxembourg, Sweden, Iceland, Canada, Portugal, and Ireland – all received a 100% score for laws concerning freedom of movement, work, equal pay, marriage, child-rearing, business ownership, asset management, and pensions.
Across the pond, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) high-income economies improved their laws the most in 2019-2020. Similarly, three regions – OECD high-income, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa – have seen record gain in their average scores of more than thirty points.
Since 2019, twenty-seven economies from all over the world have enacted reforms increasingly gender equality. Most reforms introduced or amended laws impacted pay and parenthood. Last year, Bahrain, Montenegro, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam eliminated restrictions on women’s employment in jobs previously considered dangerous for women. In comparison, the Marshall Islands, New Zealand, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) welcomed reform that mandated equal remuneration for men and women who perform work of equal value.
The increase in women’s economic rights also directly correlates to their representation in national lawmaking bodies. On average, 25% of seats in national lawmaking bodies are occupied by women, according to data gathered by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Four economies are a positive case study with at least half of legislative seats held by women – Rwanda (61%), Cuba (53%), Bolivia (53%), and the UAE (50%).
Unsurprisingly, the year 2020 witnessed slower progress in many parts of the world due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In twenty economies last year, women continued to have half or fewer of the legal rights of men. These countries are situated primarily in the MENA, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa regions. Although momentum for change is gradually rising, if the rate of change remains the same, the report estimates at minimum, another thirty years will be needed to achieve legal gender parity globally.
No reforms were made addressing the gender differences in property and inheritance since 2019. The World Bank argues that solid property rights can allow women to leverage assets for economic gain, increasing their financial security and providing them with the collateral needed to start a business.
In every region, there are examples of countries whose governments are implementing best practice laws and those that still have room for improvement. Research by Aldashev et. al (2012) suggests that legal reform can possess a magnetic effect, drawing norms in the same positive direction. So, here’s hoping that the ten leading economies offer a sustainable example of ideal female legal reform for other global nations to aim and replicate in the years to come.