The ‘‘ Women, Business and the Law 2022’’ report released by the World Bank on March1, reveals that out of 190 economies surveyed, only 23 countries have improved their laws to advance women’s economic inclusion in 2021. Among this reforming minority is Benin, which, despite the pandemic, has taken essential measures to empower women.
Benin’s overall score is higher than the regional average observed throughout sub-Saharan Africa (71.5). While the highest score observed in the region is 89.4 (by Mauritius), Benin scores 80.6 out of 100. With regard to laws affecting women’s decision to work and laws affecting the amount of a woman’s pension, Benin obtained a perfect score. In the past year, Benin removed restrictions on the employment of women in construction. Women are now able to engage in industrial occupations on an equal footing with men. Although overtaken by Côte d ‘Ivoire (83.1 points), Burkina Faso (82.5 points) and Togo (81.9 points), Benin is the only West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) country to have improved the legal framework to advance women’s economic inclusion in 2021. It outperforms Senegal (66.9), Mali (60.6), Niger (56.9) and Guinea-Bissau (42.5).
Several challenges remain…
The “Women, Business and the Law 2022’’ report of the World Bank also identified several areas where Benin could benefit from action for the economic empowerment of women. For example, one of Benin’s lowest scores relates to the indicator measuring the laws affecting women’s work after having had children (Parenting Indicator WBL2022). In order to improve the parenting indicator, World Bank experts think that Benin could consider administering 100 per cent of maternity leave benefits and offering paid parental leave. Also, the study notes that “with regard to constraints on freedom of movement, laws affecting women’s wages, marriage-related constraints, laws affecting women’s work after having had children, constraints imposed on women starting and running a business, and gender differences in ownership and inheritance, Benin could consider reforms to improve women’s legal equality”.
Focus on the situation in sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa has a wide range of performance on the Women, Business and Law index, ranging from 89.4 (Mauritius) to 29.4 (Sudan). According to the report, the region has implemented comprehensive reforms, achieving the second strongest improvement in the index last year. Gabon stands out, with comprehensive reforms to its civil code and the promulgation of a law on the elimination of violence against women. These reforms have given women the same rights to choose or live as men, to obtain employment without their husbands’ permission, removed the obligation for married women to obey their husbands and allowed women to be heads of households on an equal footing with men. Gabon has granted women equal rights to immovable property and equal administrative authority over property during marriage. Gabon has also enacted legislation to protect women from domestic violence. Gabon’s reforms had given women the same rights to open a bank account as men and had prohibited gender-based discrimination in financial services. Also in the African region, Angola has enacted legislation criminalizing sexual harassment in employment. Burundi has imposed equal pay for work of equal value. Sierra Leone has facilitated women’s access to credit by prohibiting gender-based discrimination in financial services. Togo had introduced new legislation that no longer prohibited the dismissal of pregnant workers, thereby providing economic opportunities for women.