Only six countries worldwide have equal legal rights for men and women, according to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform report, which examined 35 indicators of legal equality in 187 countries.
The report examined ten years of data, exploring how the economic decisions women make are affected by the law. Indicators covered topics ranging from property ownership and inheritance laws to job protections and pension policies, along with rules governing marriage, movement and travel, pay, and personal safety.
Only six economies – Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden – scored 100 in the index, meaning they give women and men equal legal rights in the measured areas. None of these economies obtained the maximum score a decade ago, indicating they have all reformed in the meantime.
Romania scored 90.63 out of 100 points, with perfect scores for 7 out of 8 indicators: going places, starting a job, getting paid, getting married, having children, running a business, managing assets. However, the country only scored 25 for the “getting a pension” indicator.
“If women have equal opportunities to reach their full potential, the world would not only be fairer, it would be more prosperous as well,” said World Bank Group Interim President Kristalina Georgieva. “Change is happening, but not fast enough, and 2.7 billion women are still legally barred from having the same choice of jobs as men. It is paramount that we remove the barriers that hold women back, and with this report we aim to demonstrate that reforms are possible, and to accelerate change.”
The Sub-Saharan Africa region had the most reforms in the last 10 years, with 71 different laws passed that allowed women to start jobs and provided recourse from workplace harassment and domestic violence. The region’s score went from 64.04 to 69.63 over ten years.
South Asia had the biggest improvement in average regional score, moving from 50 to 58.36, an increase of 8.36 points. This was followed by East Asia and the Pacific, which went from 64.80 to 70.73, an increase of 5.93 points.
In contrast, economies in the Middle East and North Africa have the lowest average global score with 47.37, meaning that the average economy in the Middle East and North Africa is unequal in at least half of the areas measured.
“Equality of opportunity allows women to make the choices that are best for them, their families and their communities. However, equal opportunities in getting a job or starting a business do not exist where legal gender differences are prevalent. Legal restrictions constrain women’s ability to make economic decisions and can have far-reaching consequences. For example, women may decide not to work in economies where the law makes it more difficult for them to do so, or where they may get paid less than men for doing similar jobs,” the World Bank finds.
Of the 39 economies which score 90 or above, 26 are OECD high-income, eight are from Europe and Central Asia, two are from Latin America and the Caribbean (Paraguay and Peru) and the remaining three are from East Asia and the Pacific (Taiwan, China), the Middle East and North Africa (Malta) and Sub-Saharan Africa (Mauritius).
When classified by income level, high-income economies score highest with an average score of 82.86. Upper-middle-income economies have an average score of 75.93. Lower-middle- and low-income economies have very similar average scores of 68.74 and 67.56, respectively, according to the report.