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Progress, Some Setbacks to Women’s Economic Advancement


Substantial Progress and Some Setbacks to Women’s Economic Advancement across East Asia and Pacific, Says WBG Report

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2015 – The East Asia and Pacific region saw setbacks to women’s economic advancement, even as substantial progress continued to be made towards gender equality, says the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2016 report, released today.

The biennial report, which examines laws that impede women’s employment and entrepreneurship, finds that two economies in the region have made negative legal changes in the past two years. Thailand’s previous constitution contained a nondiscrimination clause with gender as a protected category, but the 2014 interim constitution primarily covers administrative aspects and no longer includes this clause. In Lao PDR, the country’s labor code no longer mandates equal remuneration for work of equal value, as was previously the case.

The latest edition of the report covers 173 economies throughout the world. In the East Asia and Pacific region, it expands coverage to 18 economies, with the addition of Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar, Timor-Leste and Tonga.

The report finds that every economy in the region with the exception of Taiwan, China, has at least one law that makes it harder for women to get a job or start a business. Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia are among the most restrictive economies in the region, with each having more than 10 restrictions for women making it harder for them to pursue economic opportunities.

Elsewhere in the region, certain jobs are out of bounds for women in China, Fiji, Mongolia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Vietnam. Some of these restrictions are across entire industries, as in the case of mining in Papua New Guinea, while others are specific job-related tasks, such as driving certain kinds of agricultural tractors in Vietnam.

Despite these disparities and setbacks, the report finds that the region has made substantial progress towards equalizing the field between men and women in the past two years. Examples of progress include Tonga, which recently enacted its first law providing protections to women against domestic violence. This leaves Myanmar as the only economy measured in the region which does not have legislation against domestic violence.

Many reforms have also been made in the area of labor laws. Taiwan, China lifted restrictions on women’s ability to work in mining, jobs deemed hazardous and jobs that require lifting weights above a certain threshold.

In the area of parental benefits, Hong Kong SAR, China, Lao PDR and Singapore introduced paid paternity leave, while Taiwan, China increased the length of paternity leave. Lao PDR also increased the length of paid maternity leave and introduced leave to care for family members. Additionally, Singapore introduced one week of parental leave. Papua New Guinea and Tonga are the only measured economies in the region – and two of just four economies worldwide – that do not legally provide for any form of paid leave for women upon the birth of a child.

Economies in region also show innovative policies to support women’s economic opportunities. Singapore, for example, is one of only three economies in the world providing a specific tax credit or deduction to women. And, of 46 economies in the world that mandate nondiscrimination in access to credit on the basis of gender, four (Hong Kong SAR, China; Mongolia; the Philippines; and Vietnam) are in East Asia and the Pacific region.

The full report and accompanying datasets are available at

About Women, Business and the Law:

Women, Business and the Law measures how laws, regulations and institutions differentiate between women and men in ways that may affect women’s incentives or capacity to work or to set up and operate a business. It analyzes legal differences on the basis of gender in 173 economies, covering seven areas: accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, going to court and protecting women from violence. The report is published every two years.

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