The COVID-19 pandemic is creating new challenges to women’s economic security, health, and safety as around the world women continue to face laws and relations that restrict their economic opportunity, a new World Bank report has revealed.
The report from “Women, Business and the Law 2021” said the economic and social impact of the pandemic had reinforced gender inequalities as laws still restricted women’s economic opportunities despite progress.
The “Women, Business, and the Law 2021,” measures the laws and regulations across eight areas that affected women’s economic opportunities in 190 countries, from September 2019 to October 2020.
The data, offered objective and measurable benchmarks for global progress toward gender equality, adding that following the outbreak of the pandemic, the report also looked at government responses to the COVID-19 crisis and how the pandemic had impacted women at work and at home, focusing on childcare, access to justice, health and safety.
The pandemic, the report revealed contributed to a rise in both the severity and frequency of gender-based violence with preliminary research showing that since early 2020, governments introduced about 120 new measures including; hotlines, psychological assistance, and shelters to protect women from violence.
According to the report, some governments also took steps to provide access to justice in several ways, including; declaring family cases urgent during the lockdown and allowing remote court proceedings for family matters, noting however that, governments still had room to enact measures and policies aimed at addressing the root causes of this violence.
The report stated that despite the pandemic, 27 economies in all regions and income groups enacted reforms across all areas and increased good practices in legislation in 45 cases during the year covered.
The greatest number of reforms introduced or amended laws affecting pay and parenthood. However, parenthood is also the area that leaves the most room for improvement globally, including; paid parental leave, whether benefits are administered by the government, and whether the dismissal of pregnant women is prohibited.
It said reforms were also needed to address the restrictions women faced in the type of jobs, tasks, and hours they can work, segregating them into lower-paid jobs. And in 100 economies, laws do not mandate that men and women be paid the same for equally valued jobs.
According to the report to achieve legal gender equality required a concerted effort must be put in place by governments, civil society, and international organizations, among others.
It also observed that legal and regulatory reforms could serve as an important catalyst to improve the lives of women and their families and communities.
The report quoted David Malpass, World Bank Group president who said; “despite progress in many countries, there have been troubling reversals in a few, including; restricting women’s travel without the permission of a male guardian.
“This pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage girls and women, including; barriers to attend school and maintain jobs.
“Women are also facing a rise in domestic violence and health and safety challenges. Women should have the same access to finance and the same rights to inheritance as men and must be at the center of our efforts toward an inclusive and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The report found that many governments had put in place measures to address some of the impacts of the pandemic on working women. “For example, less than a quarter of all economies surveyed in the report legally guaranteed employed parents any time off for childcare before the pandemic.
“Since then, in light of school closures, nearly an additional 40 economies around the world have introduced leave or benefit policies to help parents with childcare. Even so, these measures are likely insufficient to address the challenges many working mothers already face or the childcare crisis”.
“While it is encouraging that many countries have proactively taken steps to help women navigate the pandemic, it’s clear that more work is needed, especially in improving parental leave and equalizing pay,” the report quoted Mari Pangestu, World Bank managing director of development policy and partnerships.
“Countries need to create a legal environment that enhances women’s economic inclusion so that they can make the best choices for themselves and their families,” the director stated.