Despite daunting challenges, several economies in Sub-Saharan Africa are making progress in enacting laws that promote equality between men and women, this is according to the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2018 report, released last week.
However, women continue to face widespread legal barriers in Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world, that keep them out of jobs and prevent them from owning a business, says the biennial report, which now monitors 189 economies globally, including 47 in Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, in economies such as Equatorial Guinea, where the 1960 Spanish Civil Code is still in force, a woman needs her husband’s permission to sign a contract. Similarly, Chad, Guinea-Bissau and Niger still rely on colonial versions of civil laws that do not allow married women to open bank accounts without their husband’s permission.
Now in its 5th edition, the biennial report introduces, for the first time, a scoring system of 0 to 100, to better inform the reform agenda. Scores are assigned to every monitored economy on each of the report’s seven indicators: accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, going to court, building credit, and protecting women from violence.
“Progress in Sub-Saharan Africa is heartening. Despite the myriad challenges facing the region, many governments are working to rescind laws, often holdovers from the colonial era, that discriminate against women. We believe that if you change the law, you change the world and we look forward to recording further progress on women’s economic inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Sarah Iqbal, Program Manager of the Women, Business and the Law project.
The report finds that four African economies were among five in the world to carry out multiple reforms during the past two years. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia collectively carried out 13 reforms in the past two years to remove legal barriers to women’s economic inclusion. These reforms were among a total of 34 reforms carried out throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, which accounted for one-third of all reforms carried out globally.
Kenya enacted its first domestic violence law, which protects family members, current and former spouses and partners from physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse. Kenya also now provides legal aid in civil matters and it has improved access to credit information by distributing data from two utility companies that report positive and negative payment information.
Zambia’s Gender Equity and Equality Act now prohibits gender discrimination in various aspects of employment and mandates equal remuneration for work of equal value. It has also established the Gender Equality Commission, and prohibits discrimination based on gender and marital status by creditors in financial transactions. And it also put in place civil remedies for sexual harassment in the workplace.
Tanzania has made primary education both free and compulsory, and its new Legal Aid Act allows for legal aid in civil proceedings (in 2016, Ethiopia also passed legislation mandating legal aid services for indigent women in civil actions). In addition, Tanzania improved access to credit information by distributing data from retailers.
Among the reforms carried out in the Democratic Republic of Congo are a change to the family code to allow married women to sign contracts, get jobs, open bank accounts and register businesses in the same way as married men.
However, protecting women against violence remains a challenge for the region, despite recent progress. Of the world’s 45 economies with no laws against domestic violence, 19 are in Sub-Saharan Africa, earning the region an average score of 46 on this indicator. Nine of the region’s 47 economies score 0 on this indicator.