World Bank Report on Gender Inequality under the Law

photo by Eden Anyabwile

photo by Eden Anyabwile

Last month, the World Bank published the 2019 edition of their Women, Business, and the Law report (WBL). This report is an annual assessment of the legal treatment of women under law as it relates to business opportunities in 187 economies.

Starting in 2009, the WBL’s goal has been to “collect unique data on the laws and regulations that restrict women's economic opportunities.” The foundation of the WBL report is a 35-question assessment of the protections and equality of men and women under the law.

These 35 questions are sorted into 8 categories that affect women and their working lives. These categories include things such as Going Places, which examines travel restrictions, Getting Married, which measures legal constraints related to marriage, Having Children, which assesses laws related to women’s work after having children, and others.

Briefly, here is how the assessment questions are transformed into a quantitative tool. Within each category, a question is treated as a binary, yes/no. The fraction of yes answers to total questions in each category are represented as a number out of 100. This is the individual category score. The average of the 8 category scores forms the overall score out of 100 for a specific economy. In other words, if a country has 1 no out of the 4 questions in the Getting Paid category, the category score for that country for Getting Paid is 75.

With this basic background we can dig into the statistics. Only 6 countries scored a 100 for their overall score. These are Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Sweden. The average in OECD high income countries (a World Bank category for the richest countries in the world) was 93.54. The region with the highest average was Europe and Central Asia at 84.70. The United States scored just below this at 83.75. The lowest scoring region was the Middle East & Africa at 47.37. Notably low scores included Saudi Arabia at 25.63, and the United Arab Emirates and the Sudan which were both at 29.38. The global average was 74.71.

This tenth edition of the report highlights the various reforms that have happened over the past decade in the 187 economies examined. The key findings of the report are not just the assessment of inequalities under the law but the effects of making improvements upon gender equality as it relates to business. The global average in 2009 was 70.06. This means that there has been a 4.65 point increase on average across the globe. This has been fueled by 274 reforms in 131 economies. This is the same as saying that on average, each economy reformed two data points. In economies that had reforms which improved equality of opportunity, female participation in the workforce increased by more than 3 times the rate of non-reforming economies. The International Monetary Fund and other organizations have shown that increased female workforce participation leads to many other positive economic outcomes (a full list of the effects of the economic empowerment of women is available at

The WBL report offers an opportunity to assess the impact of legislation upon the activity of women in the workforce and provides data to examine the change in these trends over time. This is particularly poignant for the Covenant College community as it ties directly into the work being done through the Faculty Lecture Series on Sex and Gender. It reminds us that whatever we talk about in class or chapel, gender is a lived experience that shapes the world around us.

The WBL report is available at <>