The World Bank’s Doing Business Index (DBI) has helped reduce burdens for business development worldwide. Since its creation in 2004, over 600 reforms have been recorded for easing the requirements for starting a business and 443 reforms for tax-related issues. For example, in the Philippines, paying taxes involved 48 payments 10 years ago but have been reduced to only 28 payments in 2016.
But in spite of its successes, the DBI has had one glaring blindspot: it never considered that women and men may encounter different barriers in doing business. For the first time, the recently launched 2017 Doing Business Index includes a gender dimension in four of the 11 topics sets: Starting a business, registering property , enforcing contracts and labor market regulation.
To date, The World Bank is the only business related index to include gender directly in its rankings and scores. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, The Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index and Corruptions Perceptions Index do not.
What do the 2017 gendered DBI results show?
In terms of Starting a business, the overall regional results indicates few differences. The greatest difference found is for number of procedures for women (8.6) and men (7.9) and time (days) for women (20.9) vs. men (20.2) in the Middle East and North African region. But in both cases, the difference is less than 0.1.
Greater gender differences are found for registering property. In a number of countries unmarried or married women do not have equal ownership rights to property. The final country scores given for this measure ranged from -2 to 0, with higher values indicating greater inclusiveness of property rights. Swaziland, is an example of a country penalized for gendered differences in ownership rights for both married and unmarried women. As a result, Swaziland’s score is -2.
A gendered component is also included for enforcing contracts. The specific issue addressed is whether a woman’s testimony carries the same weight in court as a man’s. A score of -1 is given to a country where the law subscribes a lower value to a woman’s testimony and that of a man.
Including a gender dimension is a tremendous step towards realistic country assessments. Given the Doing Business Index track record of instigating reforms, identifying the gendered bottlenecks is a critical first step to reducing and removing them.
Full gendered inclusion in all of the Doing Business Index’s 11 dimensions needs to be the final goal. However, in addition to supplementing existing dimensions with a gendered dimension, the DBI may need to expand the issues addressed to fully incorporate gendered issues. Only then will we begin to create a realistic perspective of doing business in specific country contexts.