As societies become more equal and every individual’s productive capacity is valued and engaged, economies become more resilient.To build such a society, the key is inclusiveness—to make sure that no group is kept at the margins and subjected to exploitation. One particular group that deserves special attention, if for no other reason than its constituting half the world’s population, is women. It has often been pointed out that an economy cannot grow to its full potential if its women are not treated on par with men. This is likely true. But even if it were not, there is a case for treating men and women equally. We cannot forever remain victims of the idea that the agenda of inclusion and equality (pertaining not just to women but to any group) has to be justified as a means towards the end of higher economic growth. Indeed, what we need to argue is that, even if we had to sacrifice some economic growth in order to achieve inclusion and greater equality, the trade-off would be well worth it. Fortunately, to the best of our knowledge there is no trade-off. There are plenty of studies that demonstrate how empowering women, be it in the market place, the office or the household, increases overall efficiency, well-being and the quality of decision-making. However, despite such studies—and despite the fact that great strides have been made in enabling women to achieve greater potential—in most parts of the world their productive capacity and participation are still restricted, and they continue to be discriminated against and lead diminished lives. While this problem has many dimensions, the focus in this report is on the economy and the workplace. Since its inception in 2009, the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law project has been constructing a unique dataset on laws, regulations and policies that constrain women’s economic choices. The data illuminate how government policies limit women’s full economic participation through laws that restrict their ability to engage in entrepreneurial and employment activities. This edition of Women, Business and the Law highlights the World Bank Group’s commitment to generating objective data and building knowledge about gender equality. The report draws on readily comparable data across seven indicators: accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, going to court and protecting women from violence. It expands data coverage to 30 more economies than the previous edition in order to enhance global understanding of laws that affect women’s economic opportunities. The data reveal the magnitude of the challenge that the world still faces in the quest for gender equality. It seems clear from the evidence that while governments are working progressively to provide equality of opportunity for women, there are still laws that differentiate between women and men in ways that affect women’s economic prospects: of the 173 economies covered, 155 have at least one law that differentiates between women and men. These inequalities impede development, hinder prosperity and undermine national competitiveness. By informing research and policy discussions about the state of women’s economic opportunities and outcomes, this report promotes the cause of inclusion. Our hope is that the report will celebrate the progress that has been made while emphasizing the work still to be done to ensure economic empowerment for all.
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