Closing gender gap may boost global economy by 20%, World Bank says

There is no country in the world that provides equal opportunity for women in the workplace, multilateral lender says

Women around the world continue to struggle to get their rights. Reuters
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Closing the gender gap could help raise global gross domestic product by more than 20 per cent, doubling the world's growth rate over the next decade, but there is a long way to go, the World Bank has said.

However, reforms have “slowed to a crawl” and governments need to hasten progress towards achieving gender equality in workplaces and in their regulatory frameworks, the World Bank said in its annual Women, Business and the Law report on Monday.

“Women have the power to turbocharge the sputtering global economy,” said Indermit Gill, chief economist of the World Bank and senior vice president for Development Economics.

“Yet, all over the world, discriminatory laws and practices prevent women from working or starting businesses on an equal footing with men.”

The global gender gap for women in the workplace is far wider than the previous estimate and there is no country in the world that provides equal opportunity for women – not even the wealthiest global economies, the Washington-based multilateral lender said.

Taking safety from violence and access to childcare services into account, women enjoy 64 per cent of the legal protections globally available to men on average, significantly lower than the previous estimate of 77 per cent.

The report, which also assessed the gap between legal reforms and actual outcomes for women in 190 economies across continents, said the gender gap was even wider in practice.

“The analysis reveals a shocking implementation gap,” the report said.

On the books, laws imply that women enjoy about two thirds of the rights men have. However, countries on average have established less than 40 per cent of the systems needed for full implementation.

“For example, 98 economies have enacted legislation mandating equal pay for women for work of equal value. Yet, only 35 economies – fewer than one out of every five – have adopted pay-transparency measures or enforcement mechanisms to address the pay gap,” the report said.

The gender gap continues to persist across various areas, including in education, health, work, wages and labour participation.

While numerous studies have highlighted the economic case, in addition to the basic human rights argument, for gender equality, governments have yet to amend regulatory frameworks and properly enforce existing laws.

In September, the International Monetary Fund said narrowing the gap between the number of working men and women can boost the gross domestic product of emerging and developing economies by about 8 per cent over the next few years.

Boosting the rate of female workforce participation by 5.9 percentage points in these countries can help to drive inclusive growth, the IMF said at the time.

A report by the World Economic Forum in June showed that women will not achieve equality with men globally for another 131 years, with only tepid progress made in closing stubbornly large gender gaps, prompting the urgent need for action.

The World Bank said the implementation gap underpins the hard work that lies ahead, even for countries that have been instituting equal-opportunity laws.

Togo, for example, has been a stand-out among sub-Saharan economies, enacting laws that give women about 77 per cent of the rights available to men – more than any other country on the continent.

“Yet Togo, so far, has established only 27 per cent of systems necessary for full implementation. This rate is average for sub-Saharan economies,” the World Bank said.

Last year, governments advanced in three categories – pay, parental rights and workplace protection.

However, nearly all countries “performed poorly” in the two categories being tracked for the first time – access to childcare and women’s safety.

The weakness is greatest in women’s safety, with a global average score of 36. Although 151 economies have laws in place prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, only 39 have laws prohibiting it in public spaces.

Women also face significant obstacles in areas including entrepreneurship, where only one in every five economies requires gender-sensitive criteria for public procurement processes.

“Women are largely cut out of a $10-trillion-a-year economic opportunity,” the report said.

Women also earn a mere 77 cents for every $1 paid to men, underpinning that the pay disparity and the rights gap extends all the way to retirement.

“It is more urgent than ever to accelerate efforts to reform laws and enact public policies that empower women to work and start and grow businesses,” said Tea Trumbic, the lead author of the World Bank report.

“Increasing women's economic participation is the key to amplifying their voices and shaping decisions that affect them directly. Countries simply cannot afford to sideline half of their population.”

Updated: March 04, 2024, 4:45 PM