Sunday, October 16, 2011

Women, Business, and the Law - WAPPP Seminar Series

The Woman: Rita Ramalho, Program Manager, Enterprise Analysis Unit, The World Bank Group

The Talk: Women, Business and the Law 2012: Removing Barriers to Economic Inclusion

The Question: How do laws in different countries affect a woman's ability to start businesses and get jobs?

A lower retirement age sounds pretty decent, right? Who wants to work into their 70s, after all? Shorter working days sound good, too. A good work-life balance is strike in this fast-paced world.

But while these may sound like job perks, they're the sorts of prohibitive laws that keep women from achieving the same economic status as men in many countries, say researchers from the World Bank.

In a recent survey of 141 economies conducted by the Enterprise Analysis Unit of the World Bank Group, researchers found that 103 countries have laws that may hinder women's economic opportunities. The laws, which range from restricting the property rights of women in the Phillipines to not paying for maternity leave in Papua New Guinea, account for disparities in income, and affect the way women make decisions about whether to enter the workforce.

"In practice, there's less women in the private sector and [less] entrepreneurs," says Rita Ramalho, the EAU's Program Manager. "We want to see what regulations play a role in that."

According to Ramalho's team, there are a lot. Legally, women can be restricted by:
  • Needing permission from men to travel outside the home
  • Needing a male witness to sign contracts or conduct business transactions
  • Being barred from deciding on property and finance decisions if men are the only legally recognized heads of the household
  • Getting married. Marriage can restrict a woman's rights to property, business transactions, and sometimes also results in her paying higher taxes.
The good news is that while gender disparity still exists on the books, many countries are amending their laws. The most active reformer has been Kenya, who amended its constitution last year to grant women equal inheritance property rights and the ability to confer citizenship onto their children. These small changes allow women greater autonomy over their property, their children's future, and the ability to decide with greater independence.

Keep up with Rita's blog to find out more about the World Bank's research on women.

*Above: A Kenyan woman learns to sew through a World Relief microfinance initiative. Courtesy
Top: American women assemble a B-17 bomber during World War II on an air base in Long Beach, California. Courtesy Library of Congress
Effie-Michelle Metallidis is a guest student blogger for the Women and Public Policy Program and Master in Public Policy first-year student at Harvard Kennedy School.

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