Bridging the Gap – Gender and the law

By Michaela Bergman and Ildiko Almasi

The EBRD and Women for Women International have been jointly organising conferences with the recurring theme of barriers faced by women for three years. Inevitably, the consequences of the law and its enforcement for women’s empowerment have been a frequent source of lively debate at these events.

This year’s conference, ‘Bridging the Gap: The Gender Impact of the Rule of Law and its Application,’ will focus on legal systems, the implementation/enforcement of laws and their impact on women’s access to finance and employment.

Gender-based differences in the ‘laws in the books’ – legislation on the statute book - are relatively uncommon in most of the EBRD’s traditional countries of operations (in central and eastern Europe and Central Asia). But they tend and are indeed considered to be more prevalent in the Bank’s southern and eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) region (that is, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia).

In practice, however, the application of the law can lead to gender inequalities across all regions regardless of the legislation and its level of gender bias. For example, women seeking access to credit are often refused loans on the grounds that they lack collateral or a solid credit history. Such discrimination is difficult to challenge, especially when no one proposes any practical remedies to the problem.

This year’s event brings together policy makers, practitioners, academics and civil society to explore the impact of ‘laws in the books’ and ‘laws in action’ on women’s economic opportunities and empowerment. We will be looking in particular at their access to finance and employment and exploring how many of the obstacles women face are the result of legal failings and how many that of other factors such as tradition or culture.

Both EBRD and Women for Women International have commissioned studies to identify gender differences in access to finance and entrepreneurship in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the Kyrgyz Republic and Morocco. Such geographical diversity can, we hope, isolate both general patterns and local traditions that prevent women from benefitting from financial services and boosting their businesses.

Speakers at the event which will take place at the EBRD on 27 September include Sir Suma Chakrabarti (President, EBRD), Brita Fernandez Schmidt (Executive Director Women for Women International UK), Augusto Lopez-Claros (Director of Global Indicators and Analysis World Bank, IFC), Dr Ann Mumford (femTax Network and professor at Kings College London); Dr Sari Kuovo (Co-director and co-founder of the Afghanistan Analysts Network); Professor Heba Handoussa, (Managing Director, Economic Research Forum for the Arab Countries, Iran and Turkey) and Michaela Bergman (Chief Counsellor for Social Issues, EBRD). Lucy Hockings (BBC World) will moderate.

We are confident that, thanks to this event, we can help policy-makers, civil society, international financial institutions and the private sector identify and remove barriers to economic empowerment that still confront women in our region.