Laws in many nations persist in keeping women from working in jobs of their choice, block their access to credit or leave them unprotected against domestic violence, according to a World Bank report released on Wednesday.
Women in the Middle East and North Africa face the most obstacles, with laws prohibiting married women from applying for a passport or getting a job without their husband's permission, the World Bank Group's report Women, Business and the Law 2016 said.
But legal obstacles to women working stretch around the world, said the report, which studied laws in 173 economies.
Of those, 90 percent have at least one law impeding women's economic opportunities, it said.
Women are legally barred from certain factory jobs in 41 economies, and in 29 economies they cannot work at night. In 18 economies, women cannot get a job without permission from their husband, it said.
The consequences affect only not women but their children, their communities and their nation's economies, the report said.
"We can't afford to leave their potential untapped – whether because laws fail to protect women against violence, or exclude them from financial opportunities, property ownership or professions," said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.
When there is inequality under the law, fewer girls attend secondary schools, fewer women work or run businesses and the gender wage gap is higher, the study said.
Among the barriers to women working, in Russia women cannot hold an array of jobs from freight train conductor to deckhand and woodworker, the study said.
In 10 economies, it is more difficult for women than men to acquire the documentation that allows them to borrow from financial institutions.
Forty-six economies do not have laws against domestic violence, including Haiti, Myanmar and Russia, and nearly as many, 41, have no laws against sexual harassment, it said.
The United States and only three other economies – Tonga, Suriname and Papua New Guinea – have no paid maternity or parental leave, it said.
Progress has been made, nevertheless, with reforms over the past two years particularly in Europe, Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
East Asia and Pacific economies improved women's access to credit, while Croatia, Hungary, Kenya and Nicaragua improved women's property rights and Egypt and Mozambique passed laws protecting girls from sexual harassment in school, it said.
Just 18 economies have no legal restrictions that impede women's work – Armenia, Canada, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kosovo, Malta, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Puerto Rico, Serbia, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, and Taiwan, China, it said.