Sub-Saharan Africa has cut legal restrictions in half since 1960 and is among one of the regions where legal barriers to women's economic participation are slowly being lifted according to Women, Business and the Law 2014 - a report issued jointly by the World Bank Group and the International Finance Corporation having surveyed 143 economies across the globe.
LAGOS, NIGERIA (REUTERS) - A new World Bank and International Finance Corporation report has found that legal and regulatory barriers to women's economic inclusion have decreased over the past 50 years globally.
The report says though that many laws still hinder women's participation in the economy.
Countries everywhere have started to remove legal obstacles to women's economic participation, but the progress has been uneven.
The third in a series - Women, Business and the Law 2014: Removing Restrictions to Enhance Gender Equality, monitors regulations affecting women entrepreneurs and employees in 143 economies.
This edition highlights reforms carried out over the past two years, as well as the evolution of women's property rights and legal decision making ability since 1960.
The study expands coverage to examine legal protections addressing violence against women.
"Well, the "Women, Business and the Law 2014" report found that out of the 143 economies we measure at least 90 percent had one or more legal differences affecting women's ability to participate in economic or employment activities. But the pace of reform has been accelerating. So for example 44 economies made 48 positive legal changes, making it easier for women to pursue entrepreneurship or employment activities. So while we've come a long way we still have a long way to go," said Sarah Iqbal, the report's lead author at World Bank.
The World Bank report shows that when there is a gender gap in legal rights, fewer women own their businesses and income inequality is greatest, a finding that offers fresh insight on the impact that reducing barriers to women's economic opportunities could have on reducing world poverty.
In all economies, married women face more legal differentiations than unmarried women.
Use of quotas to increase women's representation on corporate boards, national parliaments and local governments as well as women's ownership rights in the marital home; and the number of women justices in supreme courts were some of the gender differences covered.
Among the reforms, husbands can no longer unilaterally stop their wives from working in Ivory Coast and Mali.
"These restrictions have been reduced by more than half over the past half century. The next new area we looked at was violence against women so we examined legislation on domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace and we found that in both domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace that approximately 75 percent of the economies covered have this type of legislation in place although it varies in its scope and coverage," said Iqbal.
In Africa, a notable exception is Ivory Coast, which leads globally with the most gender-parity reforms during the past two years.
Ivorian wives can now choose the family residence and claim tax deductions for their children or spouses in the same manner as their husbands as the result of sweeping 2013 reforms.
The report shows economies with the most job restrictions on women have lower female participation in the formal labor force.
Between 1960 and 2010, more than half the restrictions on women's property rights and ability to conduct legal transactions were removed in the 100 economies examined.
Regionally, the most improvements in gender parity occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa.
"In the Middle East and North Africa you see for example in the key areas we measure that all 14 economies have 10 or more legal differences on women's employment or entrepreneurial activities. Meanwhile in Latin America and theCaribbean you see the most comprehensive legislation on domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace. So regionally there are very strong trends that come out," said Iqbal.
The World Bank has set a goal to end extreme poverty by 2030.
Empowering women is viewed by development experts as crucial to achieving that goal, since women have the primary responsibility for the family.
Women's economic inclusion helps lift household incomes, leading to healthier children who are more likely to attend school and who in turn raise themselves from poverty.