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Women in African countries, particularly smaller ones, scored equality points during COVID

Despite the pandemic exacerbating instances of domestic violence across the world, smaller African economies used the period to improve their legal environment – from home to workplace – to advance women’s economic inclusion.

By Conrad Onyango, Bird Story Agency.

Gabon and other smaller African countries made the most improvements in bringing women at least some level of equality with men in their legal and regulatory structures last year, a new report shows.

The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report show that Gabon led the pack with a score rise of 25 points to 82.5 in 2021 after removing barriers that previously made it difficult for women to make critical decisions at home and engage in gainful economic opportunities.

“Gabon stands out with comprehensive reforms to its civil code and the enactment of a law on the elimination of violence against women,” said the report, released at the beginning of March.

Reforms in the central African country gave women the same rights as men to choose where to live and get jobs without consent from their spouses, removed a previous requirement for married women to obey their husbands and provided for women to be recognised as the heads of households.

Women in Gabon now have equal rights to immovable property and equal administrative authority over assets during their marriage, with a law also enacted to protect women from domestic violence. Though it scored poorly on equal pay, Gabon made reforms giving women the same rights to open a bank account as men and prohibiting gender-based discrimination in financial services.

While the Middle East and Africa continue to lag behind other parts of the world, the report showed the largest improvements in legal reforms were recorded in these regions. African countries made the most of these reforms, which largely focused on bridging inequalities at workplaces and boosting financial inclusivity.

Like elsewhere in the world, African countries focused their reform agendas on protecting women against sexual harassment in employment, prohibiting gender discrimination, increasing paid leave for new parents, and removing job restrictions for women.

“Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace if they are on an unequal footing at home. That means levelling the playing field and ensuring that having children doesn’t mean women are excluded from full participation in the economy and realizing their hopes and ambitions,” said Carmen Reinhart, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank Group.

Angola, with a score of 79.4, for instance, enacted legislation criminalizing sexual harassment in employment, while Benin (80.6) opened up the construction industry to women, allowing them to get employment in all the job segments where men work.

Burundi (76.3) mandated equal remuneration for work of equal value for both genders, while Togo (81.9) introduced new legislation that bars the dismissal of pregnant workers. Sierra Leone (72.5) and Egypt, both we relatively low scores of 50.6, made access to credit easier for women by prohibiting gender-based discrimination in financial services.

In addition, Egypt enacted legislation protecting women from domestic violence. Mauritius (89.4) and South Africa (88.1) top the continent with the highest gender parity scores, highlighting their significant efforts in bridging gender inequality at home and in workplaces.

Other African countries where the economic rights of women were above the global aggregate score of 76.5 include Zimbabwe (86.9), Namibia and Cabo Verde (86.3), Rwanda (83.8) São Tomé and Príncipe (83.1) Zambia, Tanzania (81.3) and Mozambique (82.5).

Globally, the report denotes that women still have just three-quarters of the economic rights of men and nearly 2.4 billion women of working age live in countries where they do not enjoy the same economic rights as men.

Source: Bird Story Agency.

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