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Women aim for equal legal rights despite COVID-19 risks, says World Bank

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(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Women gained legal rights in nearly 30 countries last year despite disruption due to COVID-19, but governments need to do more to alleviate the disproportionate burden placed on women during the pandemic, the World Bank said Tuesday.

Nations must prioritize gender equality in economic recovery efforts, the bank said, warning that progress on equal rights was threatened by greater job losses in women-dominated sectors, increased childcare and an increase in domestic violence.

This pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities affecting girls and women, said David Malpass, president of the World Bank Group, in a statement accompanying the annual Women, Business and Law report.

Women should have the same access to finance and the same inheritance rights as men and should be at the center of our efforts towards a comprehensive and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 27 countries reformed laws or regulations to give women more economic equality with men in 2019-2020, the report said, which assesses 190 nations on laws and regulations affecting women’s economic opportunities.

While countries in all regions of the world made improvements to the new index – with most reforms addressing pay and parenting, women on average still have only about three-quarters of the rights granted to men, the report found.

In particular, nearly 40 countries brought additional benefits or policies to help employees balance their work with the additional childcare needs created by coronavirus restrictions.

But such measures were scarce worldwide and probably will not go far enough to address the punishment of motherhood that many women face in the workplace, she said.

The report also noted data shared by a United Nations tool tracking gender-sensitive pandemic responses, which found that 70% of such measures addressed violence, with only 10% targeting women ‘s economic security.

The pandemic could result in a setback to the various hard-won advances in women’s rights made in recent years, said Antonia Kirkland, the global leader in legal equality at the women’s rights organization Equality Now.

This disruption is a unique opportunity for countries to rebuild more resilient, inclusive and prosperous economies, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

But this can only be achieved together with the abolition of discriminatory sexual laws that prevent women from participating fully and equally in economic, social and family life.

Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Edited by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people all over the world struggling to live freely or upright. Visit lajme.trust.org

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