Legal and social barriers to women’s freedom of movement

Women, Business and the Law finds that laws can limit women’s ability to move freely. Married women cannot travel outside the home in the same way as married men in 17 economies, including Afghanistan, Oman and Sudan. In six economies, wives cannot travel outside the country in the same way as their husbands. Further, married women in 32 economies cannot apply for a passport in the same way as their husbands, often encountering additional steps or obstacles in the application process.

In addition to restrictions on women’s ability to travel outside the home or outside the country, some countries place restrictions on women’s ability to confer citizenship to their children. This may impact women’s mobility by preventing women from seeking economic opportunities outside the countries where their children have citizenship. Women, Business and the Law finds that 22 of the economies examined do not allow married mothers to pass citizenship to their children as fathers can, and 44 do not allow married women to pass citizenship to their spouses as married men can. Senegal and Suriname recently amended their laws to allow married women to pass on nationality to their children and non-national spouses in the same way as men can. Niger recently reformed its laws to allow women to pass on citizenship to non-national spouses.

  • How can legal restrictions on freedom of movement limit a woman’s economic empowerment?
  • What successful strategies and reforms have been put in place that have enabled increased mobility for married and unmarried women?
  • Beyond specific legal barriers, what role do social norms and culture play in influencing a woman’s mobility? (e.g. women who must be accompanied by a male relative to travel outside of the home; women who lack or are denied access to transportation, ability to drive, etc.)
  • How might a woman’s lack of mobility impact her leadership and economic potential?
  • For women who are constrained by mobility, what regulatory and other strategies exist at the national and local levels to enhance and support women’s access to economic and leadership opportunities?

  • Catherine Nyoike

    A woman's economic empowerment can be limited by restrictions on freedom of movement. E.g in countries where women are not allowed to walk on their own in the streets except in the company of a male family member or those where women are not allowed to drive vehicles, running successful businesses outside their homes is dependent on a supportive family structure if a woman does not have a supportive family then pursing economic empowerment outside the home environment is not restricted. 

    In some communities in Kenya single mothers have formed support groups to help them handle daily life challenges and successes. They share duties e.g baby sitting when a mother has something to attend to.

    Social norms and culture also play a part in influencing a woman’s mobility because some of the cultural beliefs do not support the idea of women going out of their homes to fend for their families. This is viewed as a man’s role and women who do not adhere to this are ostracised in the community.

    Lack of mobility may negatively impact the leadership potential of a woman as she may not be in a position to exercise her leadership skills outside her home. However Aung San  Suu Kyi has proved that with determination, women can overcome this challenge.

    In Kenya, we are in the process of implementing a law that requires women to be included when leaders are being selected to hold public positions.

  • Nisha Arekapudi

    In many countries, it is more difficult for women to obtain documentation. In Iran, for example, married women cannot travel outside the country without their husbands' permission. Just recently, the captain of the Iranian women's soccer team was denied the opportunity to play with her team in the Asia Women's World Cup. Her husband acted within his legal rights when he denied her permission to travel to Malaysia with her teammates. She was forced stay behind, losing out on an important opportunity in her career. An interesting result of this was an international media frenzy and social media campaign protesting this law. How can social media help us push for change in laws such as these? 

    To read more about this case in Iran, see my colleague Katrin Schulz's amazing blog here!


  • Veronica Ngum Ndi

    The free movement of women with disabilities is also an issue in Cameroon. apart from social barriers we have attitudinal barriers  and physical barriers that greatly limits the free movement of women with disabilities. These women with disabilities just like any woman needs to be empowered, know her rights and entitlement, be equipped with skills to make informed choices and negotiate for their rights and have access to resources for their development

  • Veronica Ngum Ndi

    Very few customs and traditions in Cameroon limit the free movement of women. This limitation is very common only in the Muslim communities in the North and Far North regions of Cameroon, where women are suppose to veil themselves before making any movements. In this communities, mostly the men go out and to an extend do shopping for the families while the women just stay at home.This is very detrimental to the economy because empowering women is critical for poverty eradication.These women need to be aware of their rights and entitlement, equipped with skills to make informed choices and negotiate for their rights and have access to resources for their development


  • Mary Achieng

    Interesting research and a challenging one especially in a Country like  Kenya with the recognition of customary law, Islamic law and the issue of polygamous families not forgetting the single women who are successfully running their own businesses would wish to explore more opportunities outside the country, am a believer in the values and cultural practices in my community though some of these practices do not allow women to give their all in life or grow economically like the belief of women limit set by society on the level they are expected to reach in education, early marriages which has contributed to a growing number of unemployed young women in Kenya. A good example is when job opportunities occur in certain areas in Asia processing documents for men tends to be easy than women because the husband has to sign for and majority of these women tend to be given domestic jobs comp aired to the men counterparts who end up with decent jobs. When a woman is not in a position to drive a car or access one she may not be able to cover allot in a short time, she may not be seen to be managing her time well and may not be taken seriously, affordable mobility cuts down cost of doing business and is essential  for any woman who is a leader can be restricted to act if she cannot be able to move around whenever necessary. Application of locally available means is helping but not in more faster way to catch up and ensure WEE is realized.

  • In our Kenyan constitution everyone has the right to hold dual citizenship and it is not a privilege at all. The biggest challenge to those women who would like to further their studies abroad is them being denied a visa on the ground that they do not have sufficient money flow in their bank accounts. One wonders, how would you expect someone from poor family to raise millions of money as a proof that they will afford to pay their college fees? The most advanced countries need to be in forefront to support women from third world countries by giving them scholarships. For these Scholarships to be given to the right women who deserve it then they need to work with grass-root groups. Also I think women should be exempted from giving bank statements for visa processing since it exposes them to more dangers from male counterparts by giving in to sexual advances so as to get bank statements.

    Women in African setup they are expected to be at home and take care of family and man to go out in search of food like the way our ancestors used to do. Men used to go to wildness to hunt for wild animals for food and women remain at home to take care of what has be brought by their husbands. This is the kind of backward mind set that is still eating away our society by expecting women to stay at home and give birth. Those who go against this societal norm, they are branded as prostitutes who are after other women's husbands in pretense of doing business with them.


  • Njoki (Jacqueline) Gichinga

    How might a woman’s lack of mobility impact her leadership and economic potential - 

    A women's lack of mobility affects her access to opportunity and increases the challenges she has in getting and keeping her job.  It impacts the distance one can travel for a job/multitask, thus limiting the options for opportunity to a small radius (economic potential). If money is not an issue, access to public transportation, taxis, and now Uber in Kenya makes a huge difference.  Often though, there are other social  barriers to compound the issue of lack of mobility.  I know of professional women who have suffer from lack of mobility, but these challenges began with their partner controlling the household income.  So with little or no allowance, these women prioritise feeding their children and everything else, including mobility,  becomes secondary.  

  • Stella Bakibinga

    The countries that ban women from driving limit them from taking up jobs that require driving skills. Cab companies for example may be willing to employ women, but with such restrictions in place, definitely women miss the chance to be gainfully employed. There is therefore need for such countries to amend their laws to allow women drive just like the men do.

  • Teresa Abila

    Lack of mobility for women denies them alot of economic opportunities that they are not able to gain in their countries.It takes long bureaucratic processes or even being denied the privilege to travel abroad. It's worth noting that this is always because most women fall victims of human trafficking,where they are promised good jobs abroad but when they get there, they become mistreated or enslaved(immigration departments always verify if they are legitimate jobs and this takes long time).

    For married women,their migration status is tied to that of their spouses' consents, their care roles within the families, the status they're leaving the children behind if they're in their early childhood years and the capacity of their households to stay healthy without them are factored in before they're allowed to move. This is primarily because of the vital roles married women play in their families. Nevertheless, I believe when a married woman decides to go abroad, she has put the aforementioned in mind and should be allowed to empower herself. Legislations that restrict women's mobility should be amended to favour all gender in equal measure, but how do we ensure the lawmakers in our countries implement these laws now?

  • Stella Bakibinga

    Huh?! I had never heard of many of these. These barriers especially on travel hinder women from seeking employment in other areas and therefore affects their economic empowerment. Such laws restricting women need to be amended if equality is to be achieved.

  • Dosse Sossouga

    Here in Togo, There is no barrier for women mobility.

  • Veronica Ngum Ndi

    Limitation to mobility for women limit their access to information and communication. This will further limit them from having access to empowerment opportunities making them less productive and a liability to the economy. Of which women have freedom of movement the will socialize more, gain more knowledge,be empowered and will be great contributors to sustainable developmentt.Sustainable development cannot be totally achieved if the needs of everyone are not met.

  • Heanneah .S. Farwenee

    Lack of mobility disable women freedom of movement and serve as a great challenge to achieving their leadership and economic growth. She becomes unable to move around at her free will to get or do what she pleases.






  • Nisha Arekapudi

    This is a great point, Liz! We should also think about whether women are able to pass citizenship to their children. Women, Business and the Law 2016 found that in 22 countries, married mothers cannot pass citizenship to their children in the same way as fathers. First, they cannot pursue economic opportunity outside of the country their children live in. Additionally, when women are forced to finance public services such as education and healthcare for non-citizen children, there are serious economic effects. In Jordan, for example, public school can cost up to 12 times more for noncitizens, and a one-year work permit for a foreign spouse or child can cost up to 5% of income per capita. This is a significant burden for women because they are often the primary caregiver in the family. In what other ways do legal identity issues affect women's mobility?



  • Liz Guantai

    National legislation is important in ensuring that the welfare of women is considered in immigration laws and policies. In a world where we are moving towards gender equality in achieving social-economic rights such as labour, employment and housing, then it is only fair for domestic laws to facilitate that transition. In Kenya, the current Constitution amended the previous one by allowing dual citizenship to Kenyan citizens. This abolished the previous position where a woman who was a Kenyan citizen lost her citizenship upon subsequent marriage to a foreigner. The lack of mobility limits the woman's ability to further studies or employment, consequently affecting her future economic income. In the light of women economic empowerment it is thus important for citizenship laws to allow mobility without discrimination.

  • Liz Guantai

    National legislation is important in ensuring that the welfare of women is considered in immigration laws and policies. In a world where we are moving towards gender equality in achieving social-economic rights such as labour, employment and housing, then it is only fair for domestic laws to facilitate that transition. In Kenya, the current Constitution amended the previous one by allowing dual citizenship to Kenyan citizens. This abolished the previous position where a woman who was a Kenyan citizen lost her citizenship upon subsequent marriage to a foreigner. The lack of mobility limits the woman's ability to further studies or employment, consequently affecting her future economic income. In the light of women economic empowerment it is thus important for citizenship laws to allow mobility without discrimination.

  • Veronica Ngum Ndi

    I will like all to follow this link have some information about discriminatory social institutions for 160 countries and economies

  • Yasmin Bin-Humam

    Women's mobility is especially important for livelihoods in countries that rely heavily on female migration and remittances such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka. If women were unable to obtain passports and freely leave the country, this source of income for the women and for the national economies would be severely curtailed. 

    Similarly, tradeswomen in many Sub Saharan African economies cross borders with their wares, and identification documents to enable cross border mobility are essential for them to do so. Ensuring women's access to identification documents promotes their mobility and earning potentials. 

  • Heanneah .S. Farwenee

    This is a global trend that continue to disempower women. It served as hindrance for women to explore opportunities to generate income for themselves and their livelihoods.

    Visionary women and few men have raised their voices for this release and even though the process is slow, it is going really well and we will eventually get there.

  • Ursula Wynhoven

    The World Bank's work on Women, Business and the Law is really terrific.  In identifying the legal obstacles that women face as employees and entrepreneurs around the world, it also helps to attract the attention of a wide variety of stakeholders to these obstacles and mobilize support for addressing them.  It is heartening, for example, that the report notes that over the past 2 years, 65 economies carried out 94 reforms increasing women's economic opportunities.  At the UN Global Compact, we were pleased to be able to mobilize international business organizations and women's organizations to call for more action to address the remaining obstacles:  Bringing down these legal barriers makes sense not just from a human rights perspective, but also from an economic and business perspective.  Equality Means Business!

  • Nisha Arekapudi

    Yes, a woman who chooses to pursue a career may still be inhibited by restrictions on her movement, whether legal, social, or cultural. The latest edition of Women, Business and the Law found that in 17 countries, married women especially cannot travel outside the home in the same way as men. There are examples across the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and East Asia and the Pacific. Why do you think it is that married women often face many more obstacles to pursuing employment than single women? 

  • Sharon Reed

    Even in the Southern United States of America, it is still commonplace for women and girls to be raised with the belief that a woman's place is in the home as a full-time wife and mother, even if she pursues an education. Among my friends with whom I attended college in both Louisiana and Texas, for example, it was not uncommon to hear the phrase, "she's pursuing an MRS. degree," meaning that she had no future intention to have a career, but rather to attend college to find a suitable mate to marry and build a family with as a full-time stay-at-home mom. While staying home can be an honorable and fulfilling choice, the challenge is when women and girls feel they have no alternative and/or lose an equal voice and/or equal control over assets and financial decisions in the marriage.

    Further, even when a woman's opts to pursue a career, her lack of mobility, whether due to legal, sociocultural or economic restrictions, may limit her ability to pursue professional opportunities that do not exist within her immediate area. In this instance, technology can serve as an important bridge, enabling opportunities for remote work arrangements, though even this option assumes the availability of technology and bandwidth in a given area.

  • Nisha Arekapudi

    Thanks for your comment, Nwedobong. Women's freedom of movement is also restricted by social and cultural norms in Uzbekistan. Although the law does not differentiate between men and women in policies concerning international travel, in practice, single women under 35 need permission from their fathers to leave the country. This practice was introduced to combat human trafficking from Uzbekistan to the Gulf States. Forms are posted at offices for female employees to bring to their fathers for signing before international travel. Additional procedures like these, though not required by law, can act as obstacles to women’s employment and entrepreneurship by hindering their ability to travel outside the country for work or education-related purposes. So like you mentioned, laws and policies that focus on changing practices such as these could have a substantial impact on economic growth. What practices could help achieve legal reform?

  • Nwedobong Okon
    The limitation to a woman's movement is started early in life owing to socio-cultural norms. In some societies like India and Mexico, social violence against women from males further contributes to limitation of movement for women in those places. This discourages women from going to school or owning business and inadvertently deter women economic empowerment. Furthermore, because of defined gender roles, it is believed that a woman should be home with the children while the man goes doing business. With all these barriers impacting on WEE negatively, an uneducated and unexposed woman lacks confidence and cannot fit into leadership roles. Laws and policies focused on changing these societal laws, gender based violence and gender roles, it may be difficult to achieve WEE fully.
  • Veronica Ngum Ndi

    discrimination among women is world wide but varies by culture. I come from a community where the socio cultural beliefs limits women as housewives. A family prefers to let a boy child have access to education while the girl child is groomed for marriage . The worst case is when there is a girl child with a disability, she will not just be neglected because of her disability but she will be called names insinuating she can be an evil spirit. She will suffer from stigmatization, discrimination and marginalization.

    As a woman with a disability, I am an advocate for the rights of women with disabilities in my country, promoting effective participation and full inclusion of women with disabilities as well as promoting gender equality

  • Ushree Roy

    Women’s movements are restricted by various socio-cultural factors and in many cases legal framework in a country reflects its socio-cultural beliefs. Hence, it is important to work side by side. International bodies can influence countries to change existing legal restrictions at macro level, whereas to make women truly empowered all the stakeholders at grassroots level need to be involved so that they act as an agent of socio-cultural change across the country. Media houses should be actively involved to change hitherto existing mindset. 

  • Margaret Ngugi

    Considering the global nature of business today, these limitations then limit the business travel for women who have to depend on being accompanied to leave their homes. In these economies, if one does not have a supportive male relative then they are unable to progress. Considering that changing laws takes sometime, I think it would be efficient to educate men in social circles to garner their support while the legal dialogue runs concurrently. That way the culture can be changed even as the laws are being worked on.

  • Sharon Reed

    Thank you, Hemant, for lending your thoughts, expertise and experience to our discussion today and for sharing the investor information below. What a great resource!

  • Hemant Ramachandra

    Great Google Hangouts with Empower Women, World Bank and Global Compact.  Please find the link I was talking about with respect to Investors

    Thanks for making PwC and me part of it.

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