• Women only have three-quarters of the employment rights of men worldwide.
  • In Middle East and North African women still have half the rights of men.
  • Much remains to be done to deliver equality according to a World Bank report.

In every region of the world, discriminatory laws still prevent women from fulfilling their potential, undermining their economic security by limiting their ability to work and pursue a career.

The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law index reveals wide variations in women’s rights at work. Overall, it says women have only three-quarters of the employment rights that men enjoy.

The nations with a perfect score in the Index are Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Sweden and, joining the list this year, Canada, which recently improved parental leave rights. In these countries, the index shows, women who work are on an equal legal standing with men, measured on indicators including access to jobs and protections on gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Although there have been improvements in many areas, with 40 nations enacting reforms to improve gender equality in the past three years, in the Middle East and North Africa, women workers still have just half the legal rights of their male colleagues.

Results of the Women, Business and Law 2020 Index
The wage gap between men and women is shrinking and their role in the labor force is increasing.
Image: World Bank

But the index shows that countries most in need of improvement are making the fastest progress. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates head the list of most improved nations, having occupied the bottom two places in the global ranking in the 2019 edition.

Equality equals prosperity

The report makes clear that giving equal employment rights and increasing female participation in labour markets has clear economic benefits. Those countries at the top of the equality league table are outperforming those where women have fewer rights.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

France has become the first G20 country to launch a Gender Gap Accelerator, signalling that developed economies are also playing an important role in spearheading this approach to closing the gender gap.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report found that, although there has been progress in some areas, it will be a century before women the world over enjoy equal rights with men.

The global top 10 gender gap index rankings, 2020
The global top 10 gender gap index rankings, 2020
Image: World Economic Forum Gender Gap 2020

The index ranks nations by how close they are to completely closing the gender gap. The top countries are all in the Nordics, led by Iceland followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden. Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen have the largest gender gaps.

“Without the equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent, we will not be able to deliver on the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for all of society, grow our economies for greater shared prosperity or achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” says Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.

“At the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalized world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.”