Working for Justice

Working Women in the United States Face Gender Discrimination, According to World Bank Study

Where in the world are working women equal to men?

According to an international report released by the World Bank earlier this month, the nations that make this esteemed list are Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Sweden, and Canada. These nations had a perfect “100” score according to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2020 index, which studied the plight of working women in 190 countries. The largest gender gaps were found in Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen, while the two lowest-ranked countries in the 2019 index, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, topped the list of “most improved” nations. Other countries on the “most improved” list for 2020 included Nepal, South Sudan, São Tomé and Príncipe, Bahrain, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Jordan, and Tunisia.

“There’s reason for optimism in this year’s study,” wrote David R. Malpass, president of the World Bank Group, in an introduction to the findings. “Social mores are improving, and many countries have improved the regulatory environment for women over the last two years. Among the 10 economies that advanced the most, nine are from the Middle East, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Many of their efforts were focused in the areas of starting a job and working after having children. The result has been an improvement in women’s ability to enter the workforce and remain in it.”

Overall, the study found that women have three-quarters of the employment rights of men, on a worldwide basis. The index measured the legal standing of women as measured by a variety of indicators, including access to jobs and legal protections against gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace. One caveat to the study: The data set was constructed using laws and regulations that are currently in force. Unless they are codified, religious and customary laws were not considered, and implementation of laws also was not measured.

The United States had a score of 91.3, which placed it number 38 on the list, immediately behind Albania, Cyprus and Taiwan, and directly ahead of Bulgaria, Romania and Ecuador. In general, high-income economies scored the highest on the index, with an average score of 84.9.

Among the study’s most interesting findings was that the indicator with the most room to improve was the “Parenthood” metric, which had an average score worldwide of just 53.9. Out of the 190 economies studied, only 115 economies guarantee paid maternity leave of 14 weeks or more. Moreover, in almost 50 percent of economies that provide any form of paid maternity leave, the burden falls fully or partially on employers, which, the World Bank points out, makes hiring women more costly than hiring men.

The United States is the only economy to introduce paid parental leave since 2017, with the passage of New York State’s paid family leave policy. (No similar leave is available at the federal level.)

If you have questions about your rights as a woman or a parent at work, consultation with an employment attorney can be invaluable. Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP has experienced employment lawyers in New York, Washington DC, Baltimore, San Francisco, San Diego and Tennessee, who can assess the circumstances of your case.

Jennifer Siegel is a Senior Litigation Counsel in the NY office who works on both qui tam/whistleblower cases and on gender discrimination cases.
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