Low wages, poor parental leave hinder gender equality: World Bank

The study showed there has been little change overall as women still have on average only three-quarters of the legal rights granted to men. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Countries are making progress towards greater gender equality, but women around the world continue to face regulations that limit their economic opportunities - and the pandemic has created new challenges, the World Bank said Tuesday (Feb 24).

"Reforms to remove obstacles to women's economic inclusion have been slow in many regions and uneven within them," the World Bank said in the latest edition of Women, Business and the Law 2021 report.

The study, which covers September 2019 to October 2020, showed there has been little change overall in recent years as women still have on average only three-quarters of the legal rights granted to men in the 190 countries reviewed.

The number of countries with perfect scores of 100 on the ranking rose to 10 in the latest review, compared to six previously, where men and women have equal legal rights: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal and Sweden.

Another 27 economies enacted reforms to improve equality, while countries such as Yemen, Kuwait and Qatar scored below 30.

"Despite progress in many countries, there have been troubling reversals in a few, including restricting women's travel without the permission of a male guardian," World Bank President David Malpass said in a statement.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated disadvantages for girls and women, including complicating their ability to attend school or maintain jobs, and women are facing an increase in domestic violence, he said.

There are reasons for hope, however, since despite the difficulties of the past year, many countries have made gender equality a priority, said Mari Elka Pangestu, the bank's managing director for development policy.

But the report found that parenthood is the area that still needs the most improvement.

"While it is encouraging that many countries have proactively taken steps to help women navigate the pandemic, it's clear that more work is needed, especially in improving parental leave and equalizing pay," Pangestu said in a statement.

While nearly 40 economies around the world have introduced leave or benefit policies to help parents with childcare, 100 do not have laws requiring men and women to receive equal pay for equal jobs.

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