Bulgaria, an EU member-state with a population of 7.1 million, is among the highest performing economies in women’s legal rights affecting work, according to a new index presented by the World Bank today.
The index, introduced in the study Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform, looks at milestones in a woman’s working life, from starting a job through to getting a pension, and legal protections associated with each of these stages. The data spans a ten-year period where 187 countries are scored according to eight indicators.
Bulgaria has come a long way in ensuring that a person’s ability determines the job you get, not your gender. This is reflected in the index, with Bulgaria scoring 93.75. It is one of six economies that removed all job restrictions on women over the ten-year period.
Globally, women are accorded only three-quarters of the legal rights that men enjoy according to the index. This is constraining their ability to get jobs or start businesses and make economic decisions that are best for them and their families.
“If women have equal opportunities to reach their full potential, the world would not only be fairer, it would be more prosperous as well,” said World Bank Group Interim President Kristalina Georgieva. “Change is happening, but not fast enough, and 2.7 billion women are still legally barred from having the same choice of jobs as men. It is paramount that we remove the barriers that hold women back, and with this report we aim to demonstrate that reforms are possible, and to accelerate change.”
“Proud to serve a country with one of the best legal environment for women. We have a lot of female politicians who contribute for reaching balanced and pragmatic decisions – the President of our Parliament, the Mayor of our capital city, and two deputy prime ministers are women, said Ekaterina Zaharieva, Deputy prime minister for judicial reform and minister of foreign affairs. “Bulgarian government is committed to continue creating equal opportunities for women and men. Recent data shows that women are more flexible and adaptable to the needs of the labor market than men – only 39.7% among the jobless Bulgarians are women. We hold the first place in the EU of women in the IT sector – 30%. Nearly one-third of Bulgarian businesses are owned by women entrepreneurs.”
Progress over the last ten years in the areas measured by the index has been significant. During this time, the global average has risen from 70 to 75. 131 economies have made 274 reforms to laws and regulations that improve women’s economic inclusion. 35 countries implemented legal protections against sexual harassment at work, protecting nearly two billion more women than a decade ago. 22 economies, including Bulgaria removed restrictions on women’s work, reducing the likelihood that women are kept out of working in certain sectors of the economy. And 13 economies introduced laws mandating equal remuneration for work of equal value.
Six economies – Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Sweden – now hold perfect scores of 100, meaning they give women and men equal legal rights in the measured areas. A decade ago, no economy could make that claim. Under this index, economies that conducted reforms experienced bigger increases in the percentage of women working overall, leading to women’s economic empowerment.
Despite these efforts, women in many parts of the world still face discriminatory laws and regulations at every point in their working life. Fifty-six countries – spanning all regions and income levels – enacted no reforms at all to improve women’s equality of opportunity over the ten-year period. The pace of reform was the slowest in the category of managing assets – examining gender differences in property rights.
The study develops new insight into how women’s employment and entrepreneurship are affected by legal discrimination, and in turn how this affects economic outcomes such as women’s participation in the labor market. The new index aims to lay a roadmap for progress over time and identify potential areas where more work is needed, to inspire reforms that benefit gender equality.
East Asia and Pacific had the second highest increase in the index, rising to 70.73 from 64.80 and second highest percentage of economies enacting reforms, with 84 percent. There were 38 reforms in the region. Nine economies in the region reformed in the category of getting married by introducing domestic violence legislation. China, Singapore, and Vietnam were among eight economies of the region that introduced paid paternity leave.
There were 47 reforms in Europe and Central Asia over the ten-year period. Most of these were in the category of getting a pension. Nine economies, including Kazakhstan and Ukraine, are equalizing the ages at which men and women can retire with full pension benefits. The index for the region rose to 84.70 from 80.13, the highest regional average mark outside the advanced Organisation for Economic-Cooperation economies. Bulgaria and Turkey were among the six economies that introduced paid paternity leave.
The index for economies in Latin America and the Caribbean rose to 79.09 from 75.40 over the ten-year period, the second-highest level among emerging and developing economies. Economies of the region put in place 39 reforms over the ten-year period. A number of reforms in the region extended maternity leave. Bolivia, which allows women to get jobs in the same way as men and prohibits sexual harassment in employment posted the second biggest jump in score of any country in the world. Mexico prohibited the dismissal of pregnant workers.
Economies in the Middle East and North Africa enacted 19 reforms. The region had the lowest average global score for gender equality with 47.37, and the lowest increase in regional average score. The category of getting married was a focus of change, as four economies—Algeria, Bahrain, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia—introduced domestic violence laws captured by this indicator. Jordan introduced pension credits for periods of employment interruption due to childcare.
South Asia had the biggest improvement in average regional score, rising to 58.36 from 50, and the highest percentage of reforming economies at 88 percent. Six economies in South Asia reformed in the category of starting a job by introducing laws on workplace sexual harassment, including India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Maldives banned sexual harassment at work and introduced accompanying civil remedies, introduced domestic violence legislation, introduced paid paternity leave and prohibited discrimination by creditors on the basis of gender.
Sub-Saharan Africa had the most reforms of any region with 71 over the past decade. Though this is in part due to the large number of economies in the region, it is also an indication of improvement from the baseline. More than half the reforms in Sub-Saharan Africa were in the areas of starting a job and getting married. Within each of these indicators, the biggest areas of improvement were on laws affecting gender-based violence. Five economies introduced laws on workplace sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Herat, the fire’s bride
The olive eyes of Shaista peep between the bandages covering her burnt body, for she, like so many other Afghan women from the city of Herat, decided to escape her life by way of fire.
Shaista arrived at the hospital burning between wisps of hair and fabric, and her 19-year-old body is now a landscape of lava.
Tears seep between the gauze and the passageways of her blistered skin. Compassion is the closest thing to love that she will experience, and the hands of the man who changed her bandages are amongst the few that didn’t strike her.
She set herself on fire for a crime she didn’t commit, one that doesn’t exist, or one that everyone else appears to see except her. Her crime was being born a woman.
According to Oxfam, 8 out of every 10 Afghan women suffer either physical, sexual or psychological violence.
In 2015, the Independent Afghan Commission for Human Rights registered 5,132 gender crimes and between April and June 2016 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported 600, but many go unreported.
The women who go to the police are at risk of being raped before being returned to their families. Those who escape for more than 48 hours face accusations of adultery, the punishment for which is either facial mutilation or death. Passed between relatives, offered to others to pay debts or settle disputes, raped and subjected to acid attacks in the streets; these women lose their mental stability and take their own lives in the most brutal way.
They usually come from lower social groups and as they don’t have access to guns or money to buy barbiturates, they drink rat poison, hang themselves, jump into rivers or set themselves on fire.
Although the families declare a ‘domestic accident’, it is easy to identify a suicide, as the majority are aged between 14-21 years old and are soaked in kerosene, when in fact most people use firewood or gas to do the cooking at home.
85% of Afghan women are unable to read or write and thus out of ignorance believe that they will die quickly. But instead they suffer for days before dying. Many pour boiling oil over themselves or drizzle it over their abdomen in order to raise attention to their plight, but sometimes the flames envelop them.
One of the most influential thinkers and leading Afghan practitioners in the field, Dr. Djawed Sangdel says: “Education is a key. This country needs a thorough horizontalisation of education for all.”
80% of those who arrive in hospital perish because of a lack of means to treat them, and if they do survive, they suffer lifelong consequences, for it is difficult to follow a course of treatment whilst carrying water and looking after numerous children.
Almost 40 years of war brought with it misery, poor health and lack of governance, under which the patriarchal system flourished; a system which made Afghanistan an open-air prison for women, causing them irreparable psychological damage.
The country’s laws tolerate tribal codes and 60% of girls under the age of 15 are forced to marry men double their age, according to the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan.
Studies from the UN Fund for the Development of Women reveal that the majority of widows sell their bodies or turn to begging in order to survive, and 65% of them see suicide as the only solution to their misery.
Herat, once known as the Pearl of Khorasan, is today a ghost town, with a horizon dotted with adobe houses, obsolete war munitions and faces hidden from the world behind the grille of a burka.
After a week in hospital, Shaista’s mother-in-law escaped with her to hide her at home, as her son simply didn’t deserve the shame of a suicidal wife.
Almost a month after the fire, she returned with wounds all over her body and without any feeling in her arms due to large necrotic areas. She did, however, survive – one of life’s cruel jokes.
Now with the same fears as before, scars from the fire on her skin and with only one arm to carry her daughter, Shaista is back in the place that she so wanted to flee.
The Modern Tragedy of Child Marriage
Authors: Pooja Shah & Russell Whitehouse
“And just like that, my mother was married to the village chaiwala when she was 14!” I distinctly recall my grandmother saying as we sat together on the front porch, warmed by the mid-summer breeze.“14? She’s a child!” I gasped out of horror. “How can she be married? Her parents allowed it?” I ignorantly continued.
It was July 2011. I was visiting my now-late grandmother in Ahmedabad, Gujarat after a two-month writing excursion through Mussoorie. The first few days of my stay were filled with pleasantries and questions about school and life in “Amreeka”, quickly followed by the incessant questioning of when I would get married and if I found a suitable companion yet… Of course, to a 19-year old college sophomore student barely at the cusp of adulthood, marriage felt like an intangible figment of my imagination, as it did for most of my peers back home who were too occupied by finalizing our majors and what party to attend next weekend. However, as my grandmother spoke, summoning stories of her own mother, it became dauntingly obvious that not only marriage was the traditional norm, but marrying early was the expectation in the era she grew up in.
12% of girls in the developing world will be married off before the age of 15; in many of the world’s poorest countries, like Bangladesh, over half of girls will be married off before the age of 18. According to the IWWC, over 400M women aged under 50 years old are survivors of child marriage. .Western countries aren’t exempt from this scourge: over 200k girls have been married in this current century in the US.
Although theoretically child marriage is outlawed in India, in many rural areas, impoverished families will often “give away” their children in exchange for fleeting economic security. Rooted deeply in religious, traditional and cultural norms, and often motivated by economic factors, many families view child marriages as a means to end their economic suffering.
My grandmother confided in me that her mother, a child herself, gave birth at the age of 16 with a husband who was nine years her senior. Dadi dismissed my shocking reaction and confirmed, once again, that this was not atypical. I began to realize over the course of our conversation the very limited rights and personal choices these children, particularly young girls, have. Their lives are a mere transaction: exchanging their livelihood and existence for a few rupees on their families behalf, all while being forced to forego their educations, childhood, hobbies, and sense of independence.
This commodification of the lives of girls reinforces a culture of deep misogyny. Being married off while school-age tends to end a girl’s education; less than half of child brides have completed primary (let alone higher) education. This can create economic shackles for a girl in a marriage; without even a basic education, a girl or young woman is unlikely to find a job that can create any level of financial freedom. Being saddled with a child from a young age also impedes a girl’s ability to leave the house to find work. With this reality in mind, it’s no shock that child brides are 9% more likely to experience physical or sexual abuse (generally by a husband or parent in-law) than women. A young lady with little education is less likely to be aware of legal options to end this suffering, like filing a domestic abuse complaint with the police or filing for divorce.
Such a culture is likely to continue other degrading practices, like female genital mutilation and widow ostracizing, as well as create whole generations of traumatized girls and young women. The systemic rape of young girls inevitably moves the social Overton window, making the rape of women, men and boys seem less important or even noteworthy. Growing up in a household featuring such disparate power dynamics is liable to create a twisted sense of self-esteem and justice among children of child brides. Mothers are one of the primary sources of the pedagogy of a child. Thus, girls who were taken from their schools to get married would be less well equipped to contribute to their children’s education. This would be especially apparent in terms of sexual education; a culture of child brides is intrinsically less able to teach its children about health topics like STDs and birth control, to say nothing of ethical issues like consent.
My dadi also revealed how her own mother suffered multiple miscarriages throughout her youth, as her body was not fully equipped to bear pregnancy. This is unsurprising; young girls aren’t biologically ready to go through the physical traumas of pregnancy and giving birth. Pregnant girls under 15 have quintuple the maternal mortality rate of women; 88% of them suffer obstetric fistulae, which often lead to permanent disability. Girls are also disproportionately likely to receive cervical lacerations during intercourse, which can lead to cervical cancer down the line. The children resulting from these underage marriages suffer similar hazards. Babies born to child brides are 28% more likely to die within their first 5 years of life than babies born to women.
When confronted by my bachelorette status (as I often was when I visited India), I remember I would always counter with “I have to finish school first”, acknowledging the privilege I had to control my education and career aspirations. When it comes to these child brides, often times marrying at a young age will likely mean an end to their education, and in turn, will hinder their ability to obtain the skills and knowledge that is vital for income-generating employment.
That day I was enraged by the fact that child marriage continues to exist in the 21st century, as well as my personal lack of awareness on the issue. It has been over eight years since that enlightening conversation, and thankfully due to the tireless efforts of activists, legislators, and advocates there has been movement towards ending child marriage. In fact, UNICEF and Indian Wedding Buzz joined forces earlier this year on Valentines’ Day to #EndChildMarriage, demonstrating that one of the most crucial steps in eradicating this humans right issue is to stand against it. By utilizing their global social media platform and influential magazine, the #EndChildMarriage initiative was aimed at raising awareness of the implications of child marriage and more importantly, how we, collectively, can help put a stop to it. The campaign further empowered young girls in many South Asian and African countries (i.e. Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, among nine others) with the information and resources to understand the implications of what they are being forced into. Furthermore, the program continued to develop national strategies with the efforts of government investments, religious leaders, and of course our community. This social media sensation, backed by Indian Wedding Buzz, demonstrated their respective commitment to being part of the change, so that we as South Asians, as Americans and as humans can follow suit to be part of this revolutionary movement. After all, there is strength in numbers.
Marcia Andrade Braga: A ‘stellar example’ of why more women are needed in UN peacekeeping
Training gender advisors and focal points in the Central African Republic (CAR) has earned a Brazilian United Nations peacekeeper a special gender advocate award, it was announced on Tuesday.
Secretary-General António Guterres will bestow naval officer, Lieutenant Commander Marcia Andrade Braga, with the UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award during the 2019 Peacekeeping Ministerial conference due to be held at UN Headquarters in New York this Friday.
“UN Missions need more women peacekeepers so local women can talk more freely about the issues that affect their lives”, said Lt. Cdr. Braga.
“I am so proud to be selected”, she said, upon receiving news of her award, also expressing gratitude to her colleagues in the UN Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).
Serving as the Military Gender Advisor at MINUSCA Headquarters since April 2018, Lt. Cdr. Braga has helped to build a network of trained gender advisors and focal points among the Mission’s military units and promoted mixed teams of men and women to conduct community-based patrols around the country.
These “Engagement Teams” were able to gather critical information to help the Mission understand the unique protection needs of men, women, boys and girls, which in turn helped develop community projects to support vulnerable communities.
Projects include the installation of water pumps close to villages, solar-powered lighting and the development of community gardens to cut down the distances women have to travel, to tend their crops.
Lt. Cdr. Braga is also a driving force behind MINUSCA leadership’s engagement with local women leaders, making sure that the voice of Central African women is heard throughout the ongoing peace process.
Moreover, as a former teacher she has also helped train and raise awareness among her peers on gender dynamics within the Mission.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who heads the UN Department of Peace Operations, spelled out: “Marcia Andrade Braga is a stellar example of why we need more women in peacekeeping: Peacekeeping works effectively when women play meaningful roles and when women in the host communities are directly engaged”.
Created in 2016, the UN award recognizes the dedication and effort of an individual peacekeeper in promoting the principles of UN Security Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security, which underscores the “3 Ps”, to prevent conflict; protect women and their rights during and after conflict; and to increase the numbers of women participating in all mechanisms, to prevent and resolve conflict.
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