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40 Economies Make 62 Legal Reforms to Advance Women’s Economic Participation

MD Staff

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The regulatory environment for women’s economic participation has improved over the past two years, with 40 economies enacting 62 reforms that will help women – half the world’s population – realize their potential and contribute to economic growth and development, says a new World Bank study. Still, the results are uneven — women in many countries have only a fraction of the legal rights of men, holding back their economic and social development.

The study, Women, Business and the Law 2020, measures 190 economies, tracking how laws affect women at different stages in their working lives and focusing on those laws applicable in the main business city. It covers reforms in eight areas that are associated with women’s economic empowerment, conducted from June 2017 to September 2019.

“Legal rights for women are both the right thing to do and good from an economic perspective. When women can move more freely, work outside the home and manage assets, they are more likely to join the workforce and help strengthen their country’s economies,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass. “We stand ready to help until every woman can move through her life without facing legal barriers to her success.”

The areas of Workplace and Marriage saw many reforms, especially in the enactment of laws that protect women from violence. In the last two years, eight economies enacted legislation on domestic violence for the first time. Seven economies now have new legal protections against sexual harassment in employment.

Twelve economies improved their laws in the area of Pay, removing restrictions on the industries, jobs and hours that women can work. Globally, the most frequent reforms were in areas related to Parenthood, with16 economies enacting positive changes. Reforms included expansion of the amount of paid maternity leave available to mothers, introduction of paid paternity leave and prohibition of dismissal of pregnant employees.

Achieving legal gender equality requires strong political will and a concerted effort by governments, civil society, and international organizations, among others. But legal and regulatory reforms can serve as an important catalyst to improve the lives of women as well as their families and communities.

“This study helps us understand where laws facilitate or hinder women’s economic participation. It has incentivized countries to undertake reforms that can eliminate gender imbalances,” said World Bank Group Chief Economist Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg. “Achieving equality will take time, but it is encouraging that all regions have improved. We hope that this research will continue to serve as an important tool to inform policy making and level the playing field for women.”

The WBL index measures only formal laws and the regulations which govern a woman’s ability to work or own businesses– a country’s actual norms and practices are not captured. The global average score was 75.2, which improved slightly from 73.9 two years ago. Clearly, much more work remains as women in many countries have only a fraction of the legal rights of men, holding them back from opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship.

The eight areas covered by the index are structured around women’s interactions with the law through their careers: Mobility, Workplace, Pay, Marriage, Parenthood, Entrepreneurship, Assets, and Pension.

Reforms are urgently needed in the area of Parenthood, which scored just 53.9 on average. In almost half of economies that provide any form of paid maternity leave, the burden falls on the employer, making it more costly to hire women. But paid maternity leave can help to retain female employees, reducing turnover cost and improving productivity.  These longer-term benefits often outweigh the short-term costs to employers, according to the study.  

Of the ten economies that improved the most, six are in the Middle East and North Africa, three are in Sub-Saharan Africa and one is in South Asia. While there was considerable progress, the Middle East and North Africa remains the region with the most room for improvement.  Eight countries now have a score of 100, with Canada joining Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden due to a recent reform in parental leave.

Regional Highlights

Advanced Economies: Advanced economies continue to make progress on the indicators. Of the 40 economies with scores above 90, 27 are OECD high-income economies. The Czech Republic and the United States reformed laws related to paternity and parental leave, giving parents more opportunity to share childcare responsibilities, while Italy and Slovenia equalized pension benefits between men and women.

East Asia and the Pacific: Four economies conducted four reforms in three areas. Thailand introduced a reform in the area of getting paid, and Timor-Leste in the area of getting a pension. Fiji increased the duration of paid maternity leave and introduced paid leave for fathers for the first time.  

Europe and Central Asia: Four economies enacted five reforms in five areas, and two economies changed laws to reduce opportunities. Armenia enacted legislation protecting women from domestic violence. Cyprus introduced paid paternity leave. Georgia adopted legislation to provide for civil remedies in the case of the unfair dismissal of a victim of sexual harassment. Moldova lifted some restrictions on women’s employment by limiting them to pregnant, nursing, and postpartum women.

Latin America and the Caribbean: Four economies made four reforms in four areas. Barbados enacted legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace. Peru and Paraguay received high scores in the 90s. Economies in this region made important strides toward lifting restrictions placed on women in the 1980s and 1990s, but the pace of reforms slowed over the past decade.

Middle East and North Africa: Seven economies enacted 20 reforms in seven areas, although one economy implemented a negative reform. Saudi Arabia made the biggest improvement globally, enacting reforms in six out of eight areas measured including in women’s mobility, sexual harassment, retirement age and economic activity. The United Arab Emirates also reformed in five areas. Djibouti, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia implemented an additional nine reforms.

South Asia: Four economies enacted seven reforms in four areas.Nepal introduced a new labor law that prohibits discrimination in employment, paternity leave and new pensions regulation. Three other countries also enacted reforms: Pakistan and Sri Lanka made progress in the area of Parenthood. In India, the state of Maharashtra eliminated restrictions on women’s jobs.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Eleven economies implemented 16 reforms in seven areas. The Democratic Republic of Congo introduced social insurance maternity benefits and equalized retirement ages. In Côte d’Ivoire, spouses now have equal rights to own and manage property. Mali enacted reforms on non-discrimination in employment. São Tomé and Príncipe adopted a new labor code to meet job market demands and bring laws in compliance with international standards. South Sudan adopted its first labor law since independence.

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New systemic approach needed to tackle global challenges

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The impacts of the coronavirus on people’s health and daily life, stock markets, and businesses illustrate the increasingly interconnected nature of the challenges facing governments around the world. Putting systemic thinking at the centre of policy making will be essential to address these issues in an era of rapid and disruptive change, according to a new joint report by the OECD and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Systemic thinking for policymaking: The potential of systems analysis for addressing global policy challenges in the 21st century aims to highlight to policymakers how systems research can be used to understand the complex issues facing society, anticipate the consequences of our decisions, and build resilience. The authors argue that, to tackle planetary emergencies linked to the environment, the economy, and sociopolitical systems, policymakers need to understand their systemic properties, including tipping points, interconnectedness, and resilience.

“The systems approach can promote cross-sectoral, multidisciplinary collaboration in the process of policy formulation by taking proper account of the crucial linkages between issues generally treated separately within different specialisations and scientific and institutional “silos””, said Gabriela Ramos, Chief of Staff. “The approach provides a methodology to achieve a better understanding of the non-linear behaviour of complex systems and improve the assessment of the consequences of policy interventions. The ultimate objective is to improve the capacity of policies to deliver better outcomes for people.”

“Unless we adopt a systems approach, unless we employ systems thinking, we will fail to understand the world we are living in. This is a world made up of complex systems, systems of systems interacting with each other, and changing each other by that interaction and the links between them. If we are to tackle these issues, governments must change the ways in which they make and implement policies. An acceptance of complexity shifts governments from a top-down siloed culture to an enabling culture where evidence, experimentation, and modeling help to inform and develop stakeholder engagement and buy-in,” concludes IIASA Director General Albert van Jaarsveld.

“The report shows the considerable potential of mainstreaming systemic thinking into policymaking, including within the OECD itself. As part of an agreed work program between the two organizations, the aim is to establish specific bilateral projects in the different areas of policymaking,” explains Acting Chief Operations Officer of IIASA, Jan Marco Müller.

The report highlights the application of systems thinking beyond the fields of analysis, modeling, and the formulation of policy, and that systems thinking has immediate application in developing human capital through education, training, and team building. Perspectives are drawn from a range of disciplines and methodologies including economics, social science, and policymaking, but also from the physical and biological sciences and engineering. The authors show how cross-sectoral, multidisciplinary collaboration can take account of the crucial linkages between issues generally treated within different specializations, and scientific and institutional silos.

Closer trade cooperation in combination with robust land use strategies could, for instance, increase the resilience of global food markets to the impacts of climate change, while an integrated approach to the management of water, energy, and land would provide experts and policymakers with a better understanding of the benefits and challenges of sustainably meeting future demand for resources. Another example cited in the report is the link between education and demographic change, where the authors highlight how lifelong education strategies, starting from early childhood, can promote productive working lives and healthy ageing.

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Uganda Can Create Higher Labor Productivity Jobs by Improving Trade and Business Environment

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Uganda’s economy needs to gradually create more jobs for its fast-growing and youth population. To accelerate economic growth and drive transformation, these jobs will need to bring higher labor productivity, says a new World Bank report launched today.

The report, “Uganda: Jobs Strategy for Inclusive Growth,” identifies ten challenges to achieving this, including slowing trends in economic growth.  Labor force growth is quickening, urbanization is sluggish, as is the transition from non-wage to wage employment, notes the report.

With a median age of just 15.9, Uganda is the world’s second youngest country, whereas around 700,000 young people reach working age every year. This number will rise to an average of a million in the decade from 2030-2040, potentially exacerbating the mismatch between labor demand and supply. While Uganda’s youth are renowned for being highly enterprising, there is not enough demand for all of them to be producing for the domestic market. Fewer than 4 percent of the self-employed are employers (job creators), 52 percent are working for themselves, and 43 percent work as unpaid family workers.

Nearly two thirds of Ugandans remain employed in agriculture, and almost three quarters of young Ugandans enter the workforce on their family farm, according to data from the 2016/17 Uganda National Household Survey. Global experience published in a report by the World Bank Jobs Group titled, “Pathways to Better Jobs in IDA Countries,” suggests waged employment allows economies to grow faster; reduces poverty faster; and brings more reliable earnings and hours. Moreover, as people switch from agriculture they move to urban areas and shift from being self-employed to working for a wage.

The strategy recommends improving trade by investing in initiatives that enable businesses to compete favourably, grow and thrive; attract more foreign direct investment; implement policies that facilitate regional trade; promote urban development through investing in secondary cities; and incentivize commercial agriculture by encouraging collaboration across income-elastic value chains. The strategy also calls on government to realign youth employment programs to prepare graduates for semi-skilled work.

Agribusiness is particularly promising. Demand for food is rising, and as urbanization continues, and incomes rise, the demand for higher value produce; like meats, dairy produce, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits and juices will expand fast.

Agribusiness and agro-processing can create many productive jobs in the food system, from transport, storage, and warehousing, to retail and restaurants. Blessed with good weather and soil, Uganda can be a food basket for Africa while closing the employment gap,” said Tony Thompson, World Bank Country Manager for Uganda.

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First Road Safety Profile Report to Help Save Lives on the Road

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The World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) presented the Guide for Road Safety Opportunities and Challenges: Low- and Middle-income Country Profiles during the 3rd Global High-Level Conference on Road Safety in Stockholm. The guide gives a precise assessment on the magnitude and complexity of road safety challenges faced by low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) and helps policy makers understand the road safety framework in context of their own country systems and performance. The guide also helps countries to build and appreciate the business case for vital road safety investment.

LMICs are facing a major challenge in road safety. Each year, 1.35 million people are killed on the worlds’ roads, and a further 50 million are injured, with the vast majority of these (over 90 percent) occurring in LMICs.

One major barrier to improving this situation is a lack of understanding of the problem due to deficient information. Many vital metrics of road safety performance are not measured effectively in most LMICs, including the actual number of road crash fatalities and serious injuries. Measures of progress such as safety rating of roads, age and safety of vehicles, and safety behaviors such as helmet or seatbelt use are also commonly not known. This limits every aspect of road safety management and delivery, including resource allocation, advocacy, intervention selection, and prioritization of resources.

Information is required to guide progress across all pillars of road safety—management, roads, speed, vehicles, road users, and post-crash care— in order to understand deficiencies and opportunities, set ambitious targets for improvement, monitor progress and develop advocacy and commitment for interventions that work.

The Road Safety Country Profiles present information on all these pillars along with information on the current status for each country and region along with extensive information on key risk factors, issues and opportunities. This report provides a baseline for monitoring progress on vital metrics for road safety. It will be updated to measure progress on evidence-based road safety measures during the current decade.

The report also guides action: Clear advice and references regarding robust policies and other interventions are provided to countries facing specific challenges, allowing them to take direct action on priority issues and opportunities.

“The road safety agenda is critical for development, from building and maintaining human capital, to ensuring long-term growth and poverty reduction prospects. This groundbreaking report responds to the urgent need to collect and document road safety performance data—an important step toward a clear understanding of the problem,” said Makhtar Diop, Vice President for Infrastructure, World Bank. “As the road safety challenge moves into a new decade, this report will help build on achievements at the local, regional and national levels, and strengthen the foundation for a new phase of action.”

The guide was developed by GRSF together with the World Bank, with funding support from UK Aid and the World Bank. GRSF has been a leading global actor for the global road safety agenda and plays a vital role in providing guidance, leadership, and funding to LMICs, international partner organizations, academia, and NGOs via a wide range of research studies, guidance documents and technical support.

The GRSF gratefully acknowledges the many sources employed to calculate various measure. In particular, we thank to the World Health Organization (WHO); the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME); the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP); and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for the significant use we have made of their data.

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