Saudi Arabia leads in women’s legal gains at work: World Bank

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Women’s rights at work have improved globally since 2017, the World Bank said on Tuesday, with 40 countries introducing rules such as longer paid maternity leave and protection from violence on the job.

Saudi Arabia made the biggest improvement globally, enacting reforms that affected women’s mobility, sexual harassment and retirement age, it said, although the Middle East and North Africa was the region still most in need of legal reforms.

“There’s reason for optimism,” World Bank President David Malpass wrote in a foreword to the report, which assessed laws and regulations in 190 countries affecting women at work, including restrictions on jobs and permitted working hours.

“When women can move more freely, work outside the home and manage assets, they’re more likely to join the workforce and strengthen the economy.”

Counting 62 reforms in 40 economies between mid-2017 and mid-2019, the report said the average global score for laws affecting women working was 75.2 out of 100, up from 73.9 two years earlier.

Countries with the best regulatory environments for women in the economy and scores of 100 were Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden.

Elsewhere, Fiji lengthened paid maternity leave and introduced paid leave for fathers, Cyprus also introduced paid paternity leave and Barbados passed laws governing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Reforms were needed particularly in the area of parental leave, the Bank said. In nearly half of the economies that provided paid maternity leave, employers bore the cost, making it more expensive to hire women, it said.

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