Despite the financial stakes, most countries still have laws that make it harder for women to work. The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2018 report outlines seven ways in which national laws can impede women’s work.
Limitations on women’s legal capacity weaken their decision-making ability. When women cannot independently decide where they want to go on a daily basis, travel, or live, they may face difficulty getting to work or conducting business transactions.
When women face constraints, including discrimination and limited credit history, in accessing credit, their ability to open formal bank accounts, build reputation collateral for loans, find employment, and start and grow businesses is impeded.
Getting a Job
Legal barriers that affect a woman’s ability to work, including gender-based job restrictions and the lack of workplace protections and leave benefits, inhibit her job prospects, earning potential, career growth, and ability to balance work and family.
Going to Court
Barriers in the justice system prevent women from advocating for their interests and enforcing the law. The cost of litigation can discourage poor women from accessing justice, and unequal treatment in court can undermine women’s legal capacities.
Protecting Women From Violence
Women can function more freely in societies and the business world when not faced with the threat of violence. Violence against women can undermine women’s careers, ability to work, access to financial resources, and the employment climate.
Providing Incentives to Work
Support for mothers—such as tax credits and the availability of childcare for young children—can reduce unequal burdens and provide incentives for women to enter and remain in the workforce, thereby increasing women’s labor force participation.
Access to property benefits women entrepreneurs by increasing their financial security and providing them with the necessary collateral to start businesses. Legal differences in property ownership and inheritance rights can limit women’s economic prospects.
Moving Toward Reform
Governments around the world are beginning to understand the cost of inequality for women in the workplace, and to take action. Between 2015 and 2017, over 110 countries and territories carried out more than 180 reforms that improved women’s economic opportunities. Governments should also do more to implement existing laws and policies that provide for women’s equality.
Control of land or housing can provide direct economic benefits to women entrepreneurs. Access to property can both increase women’s financial security and provide them with the necessary collateral to start businesses.
By the Numbers
75 countries have at least one constraint on women’s property rights.
55 countries do not recognize nonmonetary contributions to the household.
39 countries prevent daughters from inheriting in the same ways as sons.
36 countries grant widows fewer inheritance rights than widowers.
Giving women greater access to assets through inheritance can improve finances and education. In India, after two states changed their succession laws in 1994 to grant women the same right to inherit family property as men, women became more likely to open bank accounts; mothers who benefited from the reform spent twice as much on their daughters’ education; and families enjoyed more financial stability.
Source: World Bank
Women’s property rights are positively associated with leadership positions in the private sector. Women are less likely to hold senior positions in the private sector in countries where their legal property rights are constrained.
Source: World Bank
In Zimbabwe, both female and male surviving spouses have the right to inherit property. But in order for the female spouses to do so, they must prove that they were married to the deceased; yet an estimated 70 percent of women living in rural areas are in unregistered customary unions. Deborah is one such woman. After her husband died, her in-laws harassed her and tried to take the land she had cultivated for decades. Deborah’s brother-in-law farmed her fields and tilled her yard up to her doorstep. At fifty-eight, Deborah feels she has nowhere else to go.
Source: Human Rights Watch
Property rights can strengthen women’s financial security and provide them with necessary collateral to start their own businesses. Countries should:
Promote jointly titled property for married couples, which can expand the pool of property women can use as collateral for bank financing.
Enact community—rather than separate—property regimes, meaning that the property of either spouse is considered joint property, regardless of who acquired it.
Recognize a family member’s nonmonetary contributions to the household in divorce cases.
Promote women’s land registration.
Three countries changed laws affecting women’s property rights between 2015 and 2017.
No reforms were undertaken between 2015-2017 related to women’s workplace equality.
Increased gender parity
Neutral to gender parity
Decreased gender parity