Legal hurdle: The law itself can sometimes pose a challenge for women’s access to the same employment as men

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Published: April 5, 2018 3:04:34 AM

Globally, the World Bank's Women, Business and the Law 2018 report notes, 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from taking up the same jobs as men.

Legal, economy,  employment, jobs, women employmentGlobally, the World Bank?s Women, Business and the Law 2018 report notes, 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from taking up the same jobs as men.

Globally, the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2018 report notes, 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from taking up the same jobs as men. This forces a dilemma upon policy-makers—women’s access to employment and entrepreneurial activity is one of the legs economic development stands on, but the law, sometimes meaning well, bars them from taking up certain jobs. The Women… report cites the case of a Russian woman, Svetlana Medvdeva, who trained in navigation in college and graduated with qualifications to be employed as a navigation officer. She got selected as helmsman in a ship before the rule-book was thrown at her—the shipping company that had hired her terminated her employment since Russian law bars women from getting employed in 456 types of work deemed too “hard” or “hazardous” for women—this list includes work as helmsman. Medvedeva fought all the way, from a district court in Russia to the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against women, before once again returning to the Russian district court. The UN committee and, later, the Russian district court (in Spetember 2017), both ruled that the law was discriminatory. Yet, it remains in force. Worldwide, many laws prevent women from holding certain jobs—to be precise, 104 countries legally prevent women from specific jobs—65% of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) economies and 50% of South Asian economies bar women from holding jobs deemed hazardous or arduous or “morally inappropriate” as compared to just 6% of OECD high income countries and 36% of European and Central Asian countries. While 55% of MENA countries restrict women from working at night, 63% of South Asian economies do this. Contrastingly, no OECD country has such bans. India, too, has strictures in place that restrict women’s employment. The choice is between exploiting the potential of women, especially in the country’s context of low female labour force participation, and between “safeguarding” women’s interests and protecting them—by no means an easy choice. However, India can take succour in the fact that 59 economies have no laws on sexual harassment at the workplace, while, in 18, the husband can legally bar his wife from working, and it is not one of these.

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