Two recent publications by the World Bank: “The Little Data Book on Gender 2019” and “Women, Business and the Law 2020”

Jan 23, 2020



Part A

The Little Data Book on Gender 2019 illustrates the progress towards gender equality for 217 economies around the world. It provides comparable statistics for women and men for the years 2000 and 2017 across a range of indicators covering education, health and related services, economic structure, participation and access to resources, public life and decision making, and agency, enabling readers to readily compare economies.

This edition also features online country tables—to be updated quarterly—making it easier than ever to see how women and men are faring across a range of global indicators and to track progress over time. The data reveal remarkable progress in recent decades towards gender equality, notably in education and health.

The most recent data show global primary school completion rates at 91 percent for boys and 90 percent for girls, with lower secondary completion rates at 76 percent for boys and 77 percent for girls. Gains, however, have been distributed unequally between richer and poorer countries. Gender gaps to the detriment of girls emerge in low-income countries, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, while in some Latin American countries, boys are less likely than girls to complete primary and secondary school.

Both women’s and men’s lifespans have shown marked global improvements: for women, the increase was from 70 years in 2000 to 74 in 2017, compared to an increase from 66 to 70 years for men. In every country in the world, women outlive men. Increases in female life expectancy have been driven in part by a decline in the risk of mortality during childbirth. Globally, there were an estimated 303,000 maternal deaths in 2015, a decline of 31 percent from 2000. Nonetheless, maternal mortality remains high in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the rate stood at 547 per 100,000 live births in 2015.

Data on Greece: page 92 of the printed edition.

Relevant link: .

Part B

The regulatory environment for women’s economic participation has improved over the past two years, with 40 economies enacting 62 reforms that will help women – half the world’s population – realize their potential and contribute to economic growth and development, says a new World Bank study. Still, the results are uneven — women in many countries have only a fraction of the legal rights of men, holding back their economic and social development.

The study, Women, Business and the Law 2020, measures 190 economies, tracking how laws affect women at different stages in their working lives and focusing on those laws applicable in the main business city. It covers reforms in eight areas that are associated with women’s economic empowerment, conducted from June 2017 to September 2019.

The areas of Workplace and Marriage saw many reforms, especially in the enactment of laws that protect women from violence. In the last two years, eight economies enacted legislation on domestic violence for the first time. Seven economies now have new legal protections against sexual harassment in employment.

Twelve economies improved their laws in the area of Pay, removing restrictions on the industries, jobs and hours that women can work. Globally, the most frequent reforms were in areas related to Parenthood, with16 economies enacting positive changes. Reforms included expansion of the amount of paid maternity leave available to mothers, introduction of paid paternity leave and prohibition of dismissal of pregnant employees.

Achieving legal gender equality requires strong political will and a concerted effort by governments, civil society, and international organizations, among others. But legal and regulatory reforms can serve as an important catalyst to improve the lives of women as well as their families and communities.

The WBL index measures only formal laws and the regulations which govern a woman’s ability to work or own businesses– a country’s actual norms and practices are not captured. The global average score was 75.2, which improved slightly from 73.9 two years ago. Clearly, much more work remains as women in many countries have only a fraction of the legal rights of men, holding them back from opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship.

The eight areas covered by the index are structured around women’s interactions with the law through their careers: Mobility, Workplace, Pay, Marriage, Parenthood, Entrepreneurship, Assets, and Pension.

Reforms are urgently needed in the area of Parenthood, which scored just 53.9 on average. In almost half of economies that provide any form of paid maternity leave, the burden falls on the employer, making it more costly to hire women. But paid maternity leave can help to retain female employees, reducing turnover cost and improving productivity.  These longer-term benefits often outweigh the short-term costs to employers, according to the study.  

Of the ten economies that improved the most, six are in the Middle East and North Africa, three are in Sub-Saharan Africa and one is in South Asia. While there was considerable progress, the Middle East and North Africa remains the region with the most room for improvement.  Eight countries now have a score of 100, with Canada joining Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden due to a recent reform in parental leave.

Greece has a high score of 97.5 (page 7 of the printed edition).

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