Women, Business and the Law is a World Bank report that presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees, in part drawing on laws contained in the Gender Law Library. Both resources can inform research and policy discussions on how to improve women's economic opportunities and outcomes.
Women, Business and the Law 2012: Removing Barriers to Economic Inclusion finds that while 36 economies reduced legal differences between men and women, 103 out of 141 economies studied still impose legal differences on the basis of gender in at least one of the report’s key indicators. The report also identifies 41 law and regulatory reforms enacted between June 2009 and March 2011 that could enhance women’s economic opportunities.
Globally, women represent 49.6 percent of the population but only 40.8 percent of the workforce in the formal sector. Legal differences between men and women may explain this gap. The report shows that economies with greater legal differentiation between men and women have, on average, lower female participation in the formal labor force.
The report measures such things as a woman’s ability to sign a contract, travel abroad, manage property, and interact with public authorities and the private sector. In all economies, married women face more legal differentiations than unmarried women. In 23 economies, married women cannot legally choose where to live, and in 29 they cannot be legally recognized as head of household.
Every region includes economies with unequal rules for men and women, although the extent of the inequality varies widely. On average, high-income economies have fewer differences than middle- and low-income economies. The Middle East and North Africa have the most legal differences between men and women, followed by South Asia and Africa. In Africa, a notable exception is Kenya, which leads globally with the most gender-parity reforms during the past two years. Regionally, the most improvements in gender parity occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Central Asia.