Gender equality progress is stagnating, says World Bank report

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With women still banned from many infrastructure roles, a new World Bank report suggests that progress towards equal treatment has slumped to a 20-year low.

In 2022, the global average score on the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law index rose by just half a point to 77.1, indicating that women, on average, enjoy barely 77% of the legal rights that men do.

At the current pace of reform, the report suggests that in many countries a woman entering the workforce today will still retire without gaining the same rights as men. Women also still face a number of restrictions on where and how they are able to work. The range of restrictions are extensive and include significant areas of infrastructure and construction.

In 65 countries, women are even prohibited from certain roles, including:

  • Working on scaffolding over 10 metres high in Thailand.
  • Exploratory drilling of oil and gas wells in Russia.
  • Work underground in mines, quarries and galleries in Cameroon.
  • Railway or road transportation employment and civil aviation in Tajikistan.
  • Work underground or under water – including cable laying, sewerage work and tunnel construction in Turkey.

Indermit Gill, chief economist of the World Bank Group and senior vice president for development, economics, commented: “At a time when global economic growth is slowing, all countries need to mobilise their full productive capacity to confront the confluence of crises besetting them. Governments can’t afford to sideline as much as half of their population. Denying equal rights to women across much of the world is not just unfair to women, it is a barrier to countries’ ability to promote green, resilient and inclusive development.”

Worldwide, nearly 2.4 billion women of working age still do not have the same rights as men. Closing the gender employment gap could raise long-term GDP per capita by nearly 20% on average across countries. Studies estimate global economic gains of $5-6tn if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as men do.

Some countries are still making progress, however – introducing reforms focused on increasing paid leave for parents, removing restrictions to women’s work and mandating equal pay.

Speaking at the report launch event, Hana Brixi, the World Bank’s global director for gender, explained: “There has been some good news. In the last year, 18 economies introduced 34 legal reforms towards gender equality and countries in sub-Saharan Africa account for half of all reforms.”  

Click here to read the full report, Women, Business and the Law 2023