Bringing Down Legal Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment


“Only 18 countries don't have laws discriminating against women.” This astonishing statistic was shared by Augusto Lopez-Claros, director of Global Indicators Group at the World Bank Group, while introducing some of key findings in the World Bank report Women, Business and the Law 2016.

Lopez-Claros was speaking during a recent event at the United Nations in Geneva which focused on legal barriers to women’s economic empowerment. The event was co-convened by the United Nations Global Compact, the International Trade Centre and UN Women.

The event brought together global business leaders, UN ambassadors, heads of business associations, UN agencies and civil society organizations.

While legal impediments that restrict women’s access to credit, capital, land and technology have been discussed for some time, a less well-known fact is that many countries still restrict women from pursuing the same economic activities as men - and this often in well-paid and highly productive sectors such as mining and manufacturing.

These restrictions are imposed even though data supports the notion that closing the gender gap would increase the Gross Domestic Product of countries around the world and advance sustainable development globally.

In her opening remarks, Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, noted that “gender equality is associated with faster economic growth and stronger national competitiveness.”

All speakers highlighted how good governance creates an enabling environment for sustainable and inclusive business to flourish.

Business leaders underscored their commitment to the UN Global Compact and to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, seven steps that guide business on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. The Principles emphasize the business case for corporate action to promote gender equality and women's empowerment.

Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO of IKEA Switzerland and co-chair of the UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, suggested one solution to help end discrimination against women, saying, “We need to create peer pressure and an environment where change is possible.”

A number of speakers exhorted both diplomats and business leaders to lead by example.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, said moves to end discrimination against women should be “starting with gender parity within the UN. We should be the example,” while Linda Kromjong, Secretary-General of the International Organization of Employers, added, “We need more women in country delegations! We need more women spokespersons!”

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) supports the drive to remove the legal barriers to women’s economic empowerment. UNIDO recognizes that gender equality and the empowerment of women are not only a matter of human rights, but also preconditions for sustainable development and economic growth, which are drivers of poverty reduction and social integration.


Further reading

UNIDO publication - Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women: an overview

The UN Global Compact’s multi-year strategy to drive business awareness and action in support of achieving the SDGs by 2030 – Making global goals local business

UN Women website - Women and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Photographer & Videographer Credit: International Trade Centre
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  • sasa diana
    No one should discriminate against women

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  • caroline nyakeri
    This is a shocking statistic. I had imagined gender inequality was more in the developing countries - I guess I was wrong. To UN Women, UNIDO, World Bank, United Nations GI and ITC keep up the work towards eliminating restrictions imposed on women in all sectors. It would be nice to have a female UN Secretary General. I know there is a capable candidate in waiting.
  • Uzoma Katchy
    Quite enlightening
  • Bongwong Justin
    That is a great initiative.
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