By Sarah Pilchick
Legal rights for women are improving around the world, and yet many legal frameworks and implementation issues still complicate women’s full participation in the social and economic sphere.
Discriminatory rules bar women from certain sectors or type of jobs such as mining or working on night shifts, restrict access to capital for women- and limit women’s capability to take legal decisions.
In fact laws restrict the types of jobs women can hold in 79 countries across the world. 28 countries have 10 or more legal differences for men and women – 25 in the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Husbands can prevent their wives from taking jobs in 15 countries. In 2013 women in Russia cannot hold 456 different positions.
In general, however, women in the EBRD region, particularly Eastern Europe and Central Asia, face little or no legal restrictions compared to their peers in other parts of the world. But problems such as lack of access to affordable child care, lack of collateral and financial literacy undermine women’s economic and financial inclusion.
It was this very disparity that prompted last week’s joint EBRD and Women for Women International conference, “Bridging the Gap: The Gender Impact of the Rule of Law and its Application”.
“Eastern Europe makes us much more aware of the issues,” said Michaela Bergman, the EBRD’s Chief Counsellor for Social Issues. “Services that used to be provided, such as childcare, have been drastically reduced during the transition period so it makes it that much harder for women to juggle work and life.”
She also noted a return to so-called “traditional values” on gender in some Central Asian states such as the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, despite the fact that neither country’s constitution includes discriminatory language.
During last week’s event Dr Deepta Chopra of the Institute of Development Studies urged the redistribution of unpaid care between both women and men and between families and the state.
"When men have no job they are called unemployed, but when women have no job they are called housewives," Dr Chopra said at the conference.
Dr Ann Mumford, reader in law at King’s College London, said at the event: “The free market is not designed to support gender equality so it is necessary to plan” adequately to make sure women’s rights do not fall by the wayside.
Some of the countries with the most glaring legal differences for men and women are in the southern and eastern Mediterranean region. Despite enormous progress in removing legal restrictions around the world, the fewest reforms have taken place in some of the SEMED countries.
The fact that laws are passed but not always applied and or enforced equally is a major problem in the SEMED region.
In Morocco, the New Family Code, the Moudawana, gave women equal rights in 2004 and reduced most inequalities. But sons and daughters continue to have different inheritance rights and men and women cannot register collateral on equal terms.
Of the Arab Spring, the EBRD’s Senior Gender Adviser Elena Ferreras Carreras said: “We don’t know its effect [on women’s rights] yet, but what many women’s organisations and democratic organisations are fighting for is to not lose the gains made over the last decades.”
Tunisia has improved its profile, despite challenges, as there is now parity in its election system, she noted.
According to Ms Bergman, gender equality is not always related to a country’s wealth, citing Peru, Armenia and Rwanda as three examples of progressive action.
“It’s more about how people and government want their country to be,” she said, adding that gender equality “is achievable through political action, and we can work with countries in terms of policy.”
“If you want it, you can make it happen.”