From existing inequalities to the exacerbating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, we find ourselves in a world where women are still considered inferior to men.
More than half of the world’s women have fewer economic rights compared to men, a recent World Bank report on gender equality revealed.
The number, standing at a striking 2.4 billion, as approximated in the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report, consists of the world’s working-age women.
“While progress has been made, the gap between men's and women’s expected lifetime earnings globally is $172 trillion—nearly two times the world’s annual GDP,” the World Bank quotes their Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, Mari Pangestu, as saying.
According to World Bank data, women are faced with job restrictions in 86 countries, and there are 95 countries where equal pay is not guaranteed.
Moreover, 178 countries still have legal barriers that keep women from achieving full economic participation.
“Globally, women still have only three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men,” states the World Bank’s press release on the report, which examined data from 190 countries.
There are, however, global improvements, especially in the organisation’s Parenthood, Pay, and Workplace indicators, which include paid leave rights for both men and women, protective measures in workplaces against sexual harassment, measures against gender discrimination, and the removal of job restrictions.
Paid leave for both men and women is a crucial step towards gender equality—which calls for impartiality in the needs, responsibilities, rights, and opportunities—as it can improve the work-life balance of both parties and slash discrimination.
Currently, 118 economies worldwide grant mothers 14 weeks of paid leave, and 114 of the economies included in World Bank’s examinations provide some paid leave to fathers, although the median duration is only one week.
Regionally, the biggest improvements towards gender equality were observed in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), as well as Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank report. However, these regions were still falling behind compared to the rest of the world.
The report found that, on average, women in the MENA region had “only half of the legal rights that men do,” despite reforms that prevailed in five countries.
Bahrain mandated equal pay and slashed work restrictions for women, Egypt and Kuwait took legislative action against domestic violence, while Egypt prohibited discrimination against women in financial services and Kuwait prohibited it in employment. Lebanon criminalised sexual harassment in the workplace, and Oman made it easier for women to attain passports.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Gabon stood out with its reforms, having carried the country’s score from 57.5 to 82.5 in one year. Angola also took legal action against sexual harassment in the workplace, while Benin, Burundi and Togo improved work conditions for women and Sierra Leone prohibited discrimination against women in financial services.
Still, the region showed a wide range of scores, from Sudan claiming only 29.4 points to the highest score of 89.4 points, attained by Mauritius.
Women in South Asia reportedly have only two-thirds of the legal rights that were granted to men, while women in Latin America and the Caribbean have less than three-quarters of men’s legal rights. In fact, Colombia was the first Latin American country to introduce paid parental leave—and this happened in the last year.
Meanwhile, East Asia and the Pacific continued with legislative reforms aimed at achieving gender equality, but their pace was reportedly slow.
Europe and Central Asia (ECA), on the other hand, had an average score of 84.1 but lacked significant progress in Pay and Pension. Around half of the ECA countries failed to grant women equal pay, and in 17 countries, the full retirement age for men and women showed inequalities.
Only 12 countries exhibited legal gender parity, and they were all part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) high-income region, which scored the highest average among all regions.
The Economist’s glass-ceiling index, which covers the OECD region, showed that Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Norway were respectively the ideal countries for women in the workforce, while Japan and South Korea scored the lowest.
The pandemic takes its toll
A United Nations Women report from December 2021, titled “Women and Girls Left Behind: Glaring Gaps in Pandemic Responses,” showed that women were more affected by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic than men, bearing the “brunt of the pandemic.”
The report found that women’s participation in the workforce was disrupted more than men’s, with women being more likely to lose their jobs and their paid working hours exhibiting a higher decrease. Even their job recovery was found to be slower than men’s.
Working women’s double burden also increased as people retreated to their homes during the pandemic, leaving women with the burden of increased unpaid domestic work, in addition to their professional work. The burden had also increased for women without jobs.
The UN data showed that unpaid work and care at home increased while paid work decreased. In the face of this reality, women also struggled more with their mental health compared to men. Younger women aged 18-24, in particular, experienced more significant mental or emotional stress. Whilst 71 percent of younger women reported struggling, that number was 59 percent for men.
Moreover, a previous UN report had shown that one in two women reported experiencing violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, signalling a considerable increase in domestic violence.
Women’s ability to access basic goods and services were also hit more severely by the onset of the pandemic, as 11 percent more women—compared to men—had trouble in meeting their health needs.
The recent pandemic responses report also showed that women had fewer chances of receiving cash relief or social protection from governments or NGOs, despite previously mentioned data showing that women are in higher need than men.
So, what is the way forward? The point of agreement for both the UN and World Bank reports appears to be that governments need to take stronger, more targeted action.
“As we move forward…governments need to accelerate the pace of legal reforms so that women can realise their full potential and benefit fully and equally,” says World Bank’s Pangestu.