Bangladesh misses out on significant economic growth by keeping its female labour force out of work, the World Bank said in a report yesterday.
The country can add 1.8 percentage points to potential gross domestic product growth each year by increasing its female labour force participation rate from the existing 34 percent to 82 percent, the current rate of male participation, it said.
Titled Women, Business and the Law, the report examines the laws that impede women's employment and entrepreneurship in 173 economies.
It is published every two years and this year's edition is the fourth of this kind. The 2016 edition has expanded coverage in South Asia from five to eight economies, adding Afghanistan, Bhutan and the Maldives.
It has expanded data coverage to 30 more economies from the previous edition to enhance the global understanding of laws that affect women's economic opportunities.
The outcome of the report was based on seven indicators: accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, going to court and protecting women from violence.
The previous edition of the report found that 90 percent of the economies measured had at least one law impeding women's economic opportunities.
This still holds true, even though this edition covers over 20 percent more economies.
Gender gaps in women's entrepreneurship and labour force participation account for an estimated income loss of 27 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, 19 percent in South Asia, 14 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 10 percent in Europe.
Worldwide, if all women were to be excluded from the labour force, the income per capita would be nearly 40 percent lower, according to the report.
In South Asia, widows do not have equal inheritance rights in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.
Several economies from the South Asia region are among the most restrictive in the world in matters affecting women's entrepreneurship and employment.
The region as a whole has been lagging in enacting reforms in the areas measured by the report, with only three reforms made in two economies in the past two years.
Afghanistan, one of the most restrictive economies in the world, imposes more than 20 legal barriers to women's economic inclusion.
The report finds that in Afghanistan, married women cannot choose where to live, apply for a passport, or obtain a national ID card in the same way as married men. Women also cannot work in the same jobs as men. In India, the region's largest economy with 612 million women, job restrictions remain widespread, with women not allowed to work in mining or in jobs that require lifting weights above a certain threshold or working with glass.
The law also prohibits women from jobs “involving danger to life, health or morals”. In addition, there are no laws to protect women against sexual harassment in public places, protections which exist in 18 other economies around the world.
In the last two years, India undertook one reform in the areas monitored by the report.
By introducing a law mandating at least one female member on the board of publicly listed companies, India became the only developing country and one of only nine countries in the world to stipulate female inclusion on corporate boards.
In Pakistan, many restrictions on women prevail. In order to register a business, married women need to include their husband's name, nationality, and address -- and they need to do this in the presence of a witness.
Women are also barred from working in many jobs, including those in factories and in mining. And there are no laws guaranteeing women equal remuneration for work of equal value and no laws mandating non-discrimination based on gender in hiring.
However, Pakistan issued two reforms in the past two years. It set the legal age of marriage for both boys and girls at 18 years and introduced criminal sanctions for men who contract marriage with a minor and anyone who performs, facilitates or permits underage marriage.
Pakistan also introduced a 22 percent quota for women in local government.
Over the past two years, 65 economies achieved 94 reforms increasing women's economic opportunities, according to the report.
Most of these reforms took place in developing economies, with 19 in Europe and Central Asia, 18 in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 16 in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Economies in the Middle East and North Africa had 12 reforms, and those in East Asia and the Pacific had 11 reforms. The fewest reforms -- three -- were in South Asia.