Gender Equality In Africa: Progress Made, More Needed

Gender Equality In Africa: Progress Made, More Needed

In sub-Saharan Africa, legal restrictions limiting women’s economic participation have been halved since 1960, but there’s still room for improvement, according to a report in TheGuardian.

North Africa is one of three regions that made the least progress in gender equality in the last 50 years with Saudia Arabia topping the list for laws that limit women’s economic potential, the report said.

A World Bank report, “Women, Business and the Law,” examined data from 143 countries from April 2011 to April 2013 including how conditions have changed over the past 50 years on women’s access to institutions and use of property.

While women’s rights worldwide improved significantly, in almost 90 percent of the countries surveyed, at least one law remains on the books to bar women from certain jobs, opening a bank account, accessing capital or making independent decisions.

Twenty-eight countries make 10 or more legal distinctions between the rights of men and women. Half of these countries are in the Middle East and North Africa, followed by 11 in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said.

Most countries have started to remove legal obstacles to women’s economic participation, but the progress has been uneven. In Latin America and the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, legal restrictions have been cut in half since 1960, said Augusto Lopez-Claros, director of global indicators at the World Bank.

The Middle East has shown the least progress, in some cases going backwards. Yemen and Egypt removed from their constitutions bans on gender discrimination. Iran has allowed husbands to prevent their wives from working, placed restrictions on women’s mobility and limited their work in the judicial sector, the report said.

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Sarah Iqbal, programme officer at the World Bank and lead author of the report, said the persistence of legal restrictions remained one of the most discouraging aspects of the report. “We have come a long way but still have a great way to go,” she said.

About 25 percent of countries surveyed have no laws addressing domestic violence and the Middle East and North Africa region has the least protections, the report found.

Algeria and Morocco are the only countries in the region that have laws addressing sexual harassment in the workplace, the report found.

Forty-four countries had improved economic opportunities for women. Ivory Coast and Mali, for instance, no longer allow husbands to forbid their wives from working, the Philippines has removed restrictions on night work for women and Slovakia has increased the wages paid to women during maternity leave.

Reducing barriers to women’s economic opportunities could help reduce world poverty, the report showed: when there is a gender gap in legal rights, fewer women own their businesses and income inequality is greatest.

“When women and men participate in economic life on an equal footing, they can contribute their energies to building a more cohesive society and more resilient economy,” said the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

Kim has set as a World Bank priority ending extreme poverty by 2030. Empowering women is viewed by development experts as crucial to achieving that goal, since women have the primary responsibility for the family.