Article: Why gender equality laws aren't working


Why gender equality laws aren't working

Despite laws advancing women's rights, glaring gaps remain in policies and social systems required to substantiate gender equality and unleash women's full economic potential worldwide.
Why gender equality laws aren't working

Despite decades of progress in enacting laws promoting gender equality, women around the world continue to face systemic barriers to economic opportunity. The ‘implementation gap’ between equal opportunity laws on the books and their full realisation in practice is shockingly wide, according to the World Bank's Women, Business and the Law 2024 report. 

While legal rights suggest women enjoy 64% of those afforded to men, economies have established less than 40% of the systems needed to make those rights real. "The gap is most concerning when it comes to safety and childcare access," explains Tea Trumbic, Manager of the report.

While 98 countries mandate equal pay for equal work, only 35 have transparency measures or enforcement mechanisms to actually close gender pay gaps. "Pay transparency and enabling women to assert their rights are essential," notes Trumbic.

Tea shares some profound insights on the current state of women's empowerment globally in an exclusive interaction with us. Here are the edited excerpts.

Mastufa: It seems like legal changes to give women equal rights aren't really helping them get ahead economically. Where's the disconnect?

Tea: A report by the World Bank looked at 190 countries and found that while the laws seem to give women about 64% of the rights men have, only about 40% of the countries have the systems in place to make those laws work. This year's report delves deeper, examining two key factors hindering women's economic participation: safety and childcare access. 

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The biggest problem is safety.  The average score worldwide is only 36, which means women don't have many laws protecting them from violence at home, at work, or in public.  For example, while most countries have laws against sexual harassment at work, only a few have them for public places like on the bus. This can make women feel unsafe travelling to work.

Childcare is another big issue. Women typically spend much more time taking care of children and the home than men. Affordable, good-quality childcare can make a big difference. Studies show that when childcare is easier to find, more women join the workforce.

Mastufa: Let's delve into a specific issue: pay inequality. Despite existing laws mandating equal pay, the reality often falls short. What specific enforcement methods or transparency measures do you find most effective in closing the actual pay gap?

Tea: While equal pay laws are a positive step, effective implementation requires a strong supporting framework. This includes robust enforcement mechanisms and a system for tracking gender-related pay disparities. 

Currently, only 35 out of 98 countries with equal pay laws have measures like pay transparency registries or enforcement mechanisms. These measures empower women and hold companies accountable, which is key to closing the actual pay gap. 

For instance, in Spain, companies are required to maintain a pay transparency registry. Failure to comply with this regulation may result in sanctions, including inspections and auditing by the Labor Inspectorate.

Mastufa: What concrete steps can governments take to create a more equitable environment for women in the workforce, particularly in light of the evolving job landscape driven by technology?

Tea: Countries should level the playing field for women by reforming discriminatory laws and enacting public policies that empower women to work and start businesses. 

In particular, all countries can improve laws related to women's safety, access to parental leave and childcare, equal pay and business opportunities. 

Laws and policies need to prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, in public spaces, at university and online.  The policies also need to establish frameworks that support the effective implementation of laws promoting gender equality. 

This way women can take advantage of changes in labour market conditions whether they result from technological or other innovations. 

Mastufa: Based on the evidence, in which regions or income groups do you see the most pressing need and the potential for reform to improve women's economic participation over the next few years? 

Tea: The regions the furthest behind when it comes to laws affecting women’s economic opportunity are Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia the Middle East and North Africa.  These are also countries from the low and lower-middle-income groups.  

Analysis of the annual growth rate in the Women, Business and the Law index shows that faster progress is being made in economies with a historically lower level of gender equality in the law. This is the case, for instance, in some countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

There is a substantial variation in legal gender equality across economies at similar levels of economic development. Although high-income economies perform better on average, the gap in scores between the highest- and lowest-scoring economies is most pronounced in the group of high-income economies, reaching a substantial 75 points.  

Mastufa: In light of the challenges identified, how optimistic are you about the global landscape for women's empowerment in 2-3 years? And what message would you give to policymakers working towards this goal?

Tea: Based on the latest data, I am optimistic that change is possible.  In 2023, governments across the world were especially assertive in advancing three categories of legal equal opportunity reforms—pay, parental rights, and workplace protections. 

Women have the power to turbocharge the global economy. Unfortunately, outdated laws and lax enforcement often sideline them. 

In these times of sluggish growth, increasing women's participation in the global workforce could significantly brighten the outlook. Closing the gender gap in employment and entrepreneurship could propel global GDP by over 20 per cent. 

Eliminating the gender gap over the next decade would essentially double the current global growth rate. 

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Topics: Diversity, #BigInterview, #InternationalWomensDay

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