Despite Laws, the Pay Gap Is Still a Problem Around the World

There is no corner of the world that is exempt from inequality in the workplace, according to a new report from the World Bank Group. For the first time, this year’s edition of the Women, Business and the Law 2024 report took a close look at the disparities between legal reforms and their actual outcomes for women in 190 world economies. Their analysis revealed a “shocking implementation gap” between what the laws on the books outlined, and the ways those laws were being carried out in real life.

The World Bank Group also expanded the report to include a deeper understanding of limitations to women in the workplace: safety from violence and access to childcare services. In considering these two factors, they found that “women on average enjoy just 64% of the legal protections that men do—far fewer than the previous estimate of 77%.”

Even the most basic building blocks of building towards equality for women, that is, having a clear picture of what the gaps in equality may be, are lacking. For example, the report found that out of 98 economies which have laws mandating equal pay for women, only 35 have “adopted pay-transparency measures or enforcement mechanisms to address the pay gap.”

And that’s just the beginning. The greatest weakness among countries worldwide is in the area of women’s safety, one of the required foundations for women to be able to work in the first place. The report found women worldwide had barely a third of the needed legal protections against domestic violence, sexual harassment, child marriage and femicide. In an illustrative example of this weakness (and the gaps that remain), “Of the 190 economies studied, “151[economies] have laws in place prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, but only 39 have laws prohibiting it in public spaces” such as mass transit. This raises the question, if women cannot simply travel to work safely, how will they prosper in a work environment?

Childcare also presented significant obstacles. Though women spend an average of 2.4 more hours daily on unpaid work, much of it to childcare, only 78 global economies (less than half) provide financial or tax support for parents with young children.

March 12 is Equal Pay Day in the United States, the day which marks how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. In the U.S. women earn 84 cents for every dollar earned by men annually.“It is more urgent than ever to accelerate efforts to reform laws and enact public policies that empower women to work and start and grow businesses,” Tea Trumbic, the report’s lead author said in a statement. “Countries simply cannot afford to sideline half of their population.”

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