Not all Good News
The fourth World Bank Group report, Women, Business and the Law 2016: Getting to Equal, reveals that in most parts of the world women’s productive capacity and participation remain restricted; they continue to be discriminated against and lead diminished lives. The 2016 report concentrates on the economy and the workplace and presents data on laws, regulations and policies that constrain women’s economic choices. The data illuminate how government policies limit women’s full economic participation through laws that restrict their ability to engage in entrepreneurial and employment activities.
The report draws on comparable data across seven indicators: accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, going to court and protecting women from violence. It expands data coverage to 30 more economies than the previous edition in order to enhance global understanding of laws that affect women’s economic opportunities.
The data reveal the magnitude of the challenge the world still faces in the quest for gender equality. It concludes: ‘It seems clear from the evidence that while governments are working progressively to provide equality of opportunity for women, there are still laws that differentiate between women and men in ways that affect women’s economic prospects: of the 173 economies covered, 155 have at least one law that differentiates between women and men. These inequalities impede development, hinder prosperity and undermine national competitiveness’.
India passes new maternity law but …
Will new maternity laws help keep Indian women in work? This is the question posed by Yogita Limaye, Mumbai Correspondent for BBC News in January 2016. A survey by industry body Assocham recently found a quarter of Indian women give up their careers after having a baby. Female participation in the workforce is low, ranking among the worst in major global economies. Women make up only a quarter of all workers employed, and this number has been reducing over the past decade.
Low levels of education, social attitudes and discrimination make it harder for women to get paid work. Raising children is seen as the mother’s responsibility and childcare is extremely difficult to find. A few companies have established creches for their employees in the past two to three years. These include Indian brand Godrej, retail giant Hindustan Unilever and cosmetics firm L’Oreal.
The Labour Ministry is considering a proposal to make it compulsory for companies employing more than 30 women to have childcare facilities, either on campus or a short distance from the workplace. There is likely to be strong opposition to this plan because of the expense and social attitudes towards women.
Victoria’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade (‘MFB’) is changing its recruitment procedures to enlist more women firefighters. This follows a report commissioned by the government which raised concerns about a ‘grave lack of gender diversity’ in state fire brigades. The firefighters’ union however is resisting the changes by lodging a grievance with the Fair Work Commission. The Union apparently believes more women fireys will jeopardise safety and lead to a lowering of standards. There are 2000 MFB firefighters; fewer than 4 per cent are women. (Nick Toscano, The Age, and Michelle Ainsworth, Herald Sun, 29 January 2016.)
Women’s Legal Service
Amnesty International has expressed concerns and disappointment as Chinese authorities have ordered the closure of the women’s legal service in Beijing. The Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center was highly symbolic arising from the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. The closure is being seen as a further crackdown by authorities on civil society.
GLOW BELLE and POLLY SEE are feminist lawyers.