Closing gender gap could lift global GDP more than 20%, World Bank says

FILE PHOTO: People take part in a demonstration to protest against all gender-based violence and femicide, ahead of International Women’s Day, in Istanbul, Turkey March 3, 2024. REUTERS/Dilara Senkaya/File Photo

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ending discriminatory laws and practices that prevent women from working or starting businesses could raise global gross domestic product by more than 20%, which would double the rate of global growth over the next decade, the World Bank said on Monday.

The bank’s 10th annual Women, Business and the Law report showed women on average have just 64% of the legal protections that men do, not the 77% previously estimated, and no country – not even the wealthiest – provides true equal opportunity.

The lower number reflects major deficiencies revealed by the inclusion of two new indicators – safety and childcare – in addition to pay, marriage, parenthood, workplace, mobility, assets, entrepreneurship and pensions.

The report assessed for the first time how 190 countries are implementing existing laws to protect women, finding what it called a “shocking” gap between policy and practice.

“Women have the power to turbocharge the sputtering global economy,” said World Bank chief economist Indermit Gill, noting that reforms to prevent discrimination have slowed to a crawl.

The report said obstacles that women face in entering the global workforce included barriers to starting businesses, persistent pay gaps and bans on working at night or in jobs deemed “dangerous”.

Women have barely a third of needed legal protections against domestic violence, sexual harassment, child marriage and femicide in the 190 countries studied, the report found.

Sexual harassment is banned in the workplace in 151 countries, but only 40 have laws banning it in public places. “How can we expect women to prosper at work when it is dangerous for them just to travel to work,” Gill said.

Women also spend an average of 2.4 more hours a day on unpaid care work than men, much of it caring for children, with only 78 countries having enacted quality standards governing childcare services.

On paper, women had roughly two-thirds the rights of men, but countries lacked the systems needed for full implementation and enforcement, the report also found.

For example, 98 economies have equal pay laws, but only 35 have pay-transparency measures or enforcement mechanisms to address the pay gap, which shows women earning just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

The report includes specific recommendations for governments, including improving laws relating to safety, childcare and business opportunities; enacting reforms that lift restrictions on women’s work; expanding maternity and paternity leave provisions; and setting binding quotas for women on corporate boards of publicly traded companies.

Earlier retirement ages for women, despite women living longer than men, also limit their income.

“Because they receive lower pay while they work, take time off when they have children, and retire earlier, they end up with smaller pension benefits and greater financial insecurity in old age,” it said.

Tea Trumbic, the report’s lead author, said barely half of women participated in the global workforce, compared with nearly three out of every four men.

“This is not just unfair – it’s wasteful. Countries simply cannot afford to sideline half of their population.”


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