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Women's legal rights over 50 years : progress, stagnation or regression ?

  • Hallward-Driemeier, Mary
  • Hasan, Tazeen
  • Rusu, Anca Bogdana

Using a newly compiled database of women's property rights and legal capacity covering 100 countries over 50 years, this paper analyzes the triggers and barriers to reform. The database documents gender gaps in the ability to access and own assets, to sign legal documents in one's own name, and to have equality or non-discrimination as a guiding principle of the country's constitution. Progress in reducing these constraints has been dramatic -- half of the constraints documented in the 1960s had been removed by 2010. However, some sticky areas persist where laws have not changed or have even regressed. The paper analyzes potential drivers of reforms. A significant finding is that the relationship with a country's level of development and the extent of its reforms is not straightforward. For the first half of the sample, there was no systematic connection; only in the last 25 years have increases in income been associated with higher probabilities for reform, but only in lower-income countries. With the remaining constraints as prevalent in middle- as low-income countries, increased growth is not necessarily going to spark additional reforms. Clearer patterns emerge from the momentum created by international conventions, such as the Committee to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), women's political representation at the national level, mobilization of women's networks, and increasing labor force participation in sectors that provide a voice for women, which are positive forces for change. Conversely, conflict and weak rule of law can entrench a discriminatory status quo. And much is at stake; strengthening women's legal rights is associated with important development outcomes that can benefit society as a whole.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 6616.

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Date of creation: 01 Sep 2013
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Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:6616
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  1. Lakshmi Iyer & Anandi Mani & Prachi Mishra & Petia Topalova, 2012. "The Power of Political Voice: Women's Political Representation and Crime in India," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(4), pages 165-93, October.
  2. Cheryl Doss, 2006. "The Effects of Intrahousehold Property Ownership on Expenditure Patterns in Ghana," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 15(1), pages 149-180, March.
  3. Hallward-Driemeier, Mary & Hasan, Tazeen & Rusu, Anca Bogdana, 2013. "Women's legal rights over 50 years : what is the impact of reform ?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6617, The World Bank.
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