World bank data on women, business and the law  is incorporated in the BERF log frame.  BERF cannot directly influence the number of discriminatory laws in partner countries, but WBL indciators are a useful means to monitor the direction of travel in respect of discrimination.

As noted in a press article in the UK Guardian newspaper, there are 155 countries with at least one discriminatory law. In 18 countries, women require their husband’s permission in order to work.

How does the picture stack up in DFID and BERF partner countries?  Some, such as Jordan, Afghanistna and Yemen, are amongst the most discriminatory countries in the world.  Others, such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Burma, are amongst the least.

Economy Legal gender differences
Jordan 25.2
Afghanistan 21.6
Yemen 21.6
Sudan 21
Syria 19
Occupied Territories 15.8
Pakistan 14.8
DRC 12.6
Lebanon 11.8
Nepal 9
Sierra Leone 6.2
Bangladesh 5.8
Ukraine 5.8
Uganda 5
India 4.4
Mozambique 4.2
Ghana 4
South Sudan 4
Tanzania 4
Kyrgyzstan 3.8
Kenya 3.2
Liberia 3
Malawi 3
Nigeria 2.8
Rwanda 2
Zambia 2
Ethiopia 1.4
Myanmar 1.2
Zimbabwe 1
South Africa 0

Research by the IMF detects an important link between the legal framework, and rates of female labour participation.  This research concludes that  “Drawing on a large and novel panel data set of gender-related legal restrictions, the study finds that restrictions on women’s rights to inheritance and property, as well as legal impediments to undertaking economic activities such as opening a bank account or freely pursuing a profession, are strongly associated with larger gender gaps in labor force participation. These factors have a significant additional impact on female labor force participation over and above the effects of demographic characteristics and policies. In many cases, the gender gaps caused by these restrictions also have macro-critical effects in terms of an impact on GDP.”

In sum, gender discrimination matters a lot for labour force participation of women, and hence overall economic growth.  This agenda stretches beyond those countries with extreme numbers of discriminatory laws.  And remedies to encourage such participation stretch beyond legal reforms. In India for example only 27% of working age women are active in the labour force (compared with 79% of men). With over 586 million women and girls, removing gender barriers to education and labour market participation could improve India’s ability to realise the economic gains that could be achieved by harnessing a high working age population.