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Measuring the Legal Environment in Practice


Implementation and enforcement are critical barriers to gender equality. Gaps between laws on the books and actual practice restrict the full realization of women’s rights and opportunities all over the world. To present a fuller picture of the legal environment, Women, Business and the Law 2022 explores the implementation gap by introducing a new conceptual framework for its measurement. The pilot exercise of 25 economies examines both the supportive frameworks that create an enabling environment for working women and the expert opinions of progress toward gender equality of individuals on the ground.

Measures of implementation examined include the enforcement of rights through equal access to justice, safety regulations that implement an absence of restrictions, and online access and clear guidelines to provide benefits. On average, the pilot economies had only half of the supportive frameworks measured, indicating a substantial gap between the passage of laws and their implementation. All have room to strengthen the legal environment for women employees and entrepreneurs in practice. Even in areas with strong foundational legislation, implementation and enforcement of laws is lacking.

Expert opinions were also collected to gain a broader understanding of gender equality on the ground and provide comparisons with the legal index. The Middle East & North Africa is the only region where expert opinions indicated more gender equality in practice than the legal index implies. The legal index exceeded expert opinions in all other regions and across all indicators, with Workplace showing the largest disparity between laws and expert opinions of gender equality. Several respondents identified specific gaps in implementation of the law, even among economies that score above average on the legal index.

While only preliminary, the results confirm that laws alone are not enough to improve gender equality and make clear that these gaps should be further explored. This set of measures provides a starting point for continued focus on this work. By improving these measures in subsequent years, Women, Business and the Law hopes to deliver a fully developed framework that will allow more women to enforce their rights, boosting economic inclusion and labor force participation worldwide.

The team welcomes feedback on the methodology and construction of this set of indicators, and it looks forward to improving their coverage and scope. Comments can be offered by contacting the Women, Business and the Law team at wbl@worldbank.org.

Last Updated: Mar 01, 2022