OPINION

Understand the Adversities for females!

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There are some good reforms taking place but there is a huge mismatch between the text of the statute and its practical application in most of the countries.

By: Dr.Firdous Ahmad Malik and Dr.Shahid Amin Trali

About 2.4 billion women of working age lack equal economic opportunities, according to the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law 2022 report. There are 86 countries that restrict women’s employment, while 95 countries do not guarantee equal pay for equal effort. At 76.5 out of 100, women have less legal rights than men globally. Deplorable as it is, the report notes that 23 countries updated their legislation in 2021 to further women’s economic involvement.While there are signs of progress, the global wage disparity between men and women is  high. As we move toward a more resilient and inclusive future, governments must speed up legal reforms to ensure that women can fully participate and profit equally.

The Women Business and Law (WBL) Index improved the greatest in 2021, yet the Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa still lag behind other global regions. Notable is civil code reforms and a statute forbidding violence against women in Gabon. Gabon’s score rose from 57.5 to 82.5 in 2021. Reforms occurred most frequently in the areas of parenting, pay, and the workplace. Numerous reforms addressed workplace sexual harassment, gender discrimination, paid parental leave, and female job limits. Pay and Parenthood have the lowest average scores in the index but have risen 0.9 and 0.7 points in the last year to 68.7 and 55.6. While the Parenthood indicator has improved paternity and shared parental leave, its low score highlights the need to speed up reforms in this area. The World Bank’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart stated, “Women cannot achieve equality at work if they face inequality at home.” “That includes ensuring that having children does not prevent women from fully participating in the economy and realizing their dreams and ambitions.” There are 118 countries that guarantee 14 weeks of paid leave for mothers. A week’s paid leave is required in over half (114) of the economies analyzed. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China recently enacted the proposed 14-week minimum paid maternity leave. Armenia, Switzerland, and Ukraine all have paid paternity leave laws. Colombia, Georgia, Greece, and Spain all have paid parental leave programs that allow both parents to care for their newborns. Paid parental leave legislation may eliminate workplace discrimination and improve work-life balance.

Advanced economies continue to improve. Greece, Spain, and Switzerland all altered their parental leave regulations in 2021. It is a rare achievement for advanced economies. Gender equality law in East Asia and the Pacific is evolving slowly. Last year, two East Asian economies reformed. Cambodia established a pension system with equal retirement ages for men and women. Vietnam removed all female employment barriers. Europe and Central Asia (ECA) have the second-highest average score of 84.1. Last year, four countries made revisions. Armenia, Ukraine, and Georgia all have paid paternity leave. Ukraine also equalized the retirement ages for men and women. In Cyprus, women could apply for passports just as males. Pay and pensions remain significant concerns, with the region’s lowest average scores. For example, nearly half of ECA economies do not demand equal pay for equal work, and in 17 economies, the ages for full pension benefits remain unequal. Women’s legal rights are fewer than half of men in Latin America and the Caribbean. Two of the region’s 32 economies made improvements last year. Argentine pension calculations specifically accounted for childcare absences. Colombia was the first Latin American country to introduce paid parental leave to combat workplace discrimination against women. Only half of the region’s economies provide paid leave for fathers.

Middle Eastern and North African women have half the legal rights as males. Reforms in five economies enhanced the region’s laws the most. For women working at night, Bahrain lifted limitations on equal pay. The country also has eliminated restrictions allowing authorities to ban women’s employment in specific vocations or industries. Egypt enacted legislation safeguarding women against domestic violence and facilitating women’s access to credit by prohibiting gender-based discrimination in financial services. Kuwait banned workplace gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Lebanon approved a law banning workplace sexism. In Oman, women could apply for passports just as males.

Women in South Asia have only 2/3 the legal rights of men. Reform has only occurred in one economy. Women can now work at night in Pakistan. The Women, Business, and the Law Index scores in Sub-Saharan Africa range from 89.4 in Mauritius to 29.4 in Sudan. Last year, the region improved the index by the second greatest margin. Gabon stands out for reforming its civil code and banning violence against women. Married women could no longer be forced to obey their husbands and were permitted to be head of household in the same manner men are taking care. During the marriage, Gabon gave spouses equal rights to movable property and wealth management. Gabon has also passed legislation to prohibit domestic abuse. Less discrimination against women in financial services was forbidden by Gabon’s reforms. Angola has also passed legislation criminalizing workplace sexual harassment. For the first time in Benin, women can work in construction alongside males. Burundi codified equal pay for equal work. Sierra Leone made credit more accessible to women by banning gender discrimination in finance. Togo’s new law permits employers to fire pregnant employees, limiting women’s economic options.

There are some good reforms taking place but there is a huge mismatch between the text of the statute and its practical application in most of the countries. Laws alone will not increase gender equality; implementation and enforcement, as well as social, cultural, and religious values, must be considered. There is a need to understand the female adversities and how it affects the prosperity and the betterment of the societies. There is a need for quality research to be undertaken in this direction.

Dr.Firdous Ahmad Malik is Senior Research Associate, Jindal center for Global South and can be mailed at malikfirdouscrc@gmail.com

Dr.Shahid Amin Trali is an Associate Professor in the School of Management, ITM University Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh and can be reached at dr.shahidamin15@gmail.com

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