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Economic growth tied to ending bias against women

Countries hungry for economic growth can find it by rooting out laws that discriminate against women, including limits on having bank accounts or inheriting property, an International Monetary Fund study has shown.

Female labor-participation rates in half the countries in the study jumped by about 5 percentage points in the five years after laws were changed to guarantee equity between the sexes, according to the staff report released Monday by the Washington, D.C.-based fund. Changes of that magnitude are likely to have a “significant effect on economic growth,” the study says.

Almost 90 percent of countries studied have at least one restriction on the books, such as requiring women to get permission from their husbands to work or laws limiting women’s involvement in certain professions, according to the study. The laws remain active at a time when IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and other world leaders are seeking ways to boost disappointing global growth.

“By helping women reach their full economic potential, we can also help boost growth, prosperity and stability for the whole world,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post about the report. “In a world in search of growth, women will help find it, if they face a level playing field.”

As an example, Lagarde cited Peru, where a new constitution in 1993 granted equality between men and women under the law and eliminated discrimination. Women’s participation in the labor force then increased by 15 percent, she said.

Other forces, such as increased educational opportunities and access to affordable childcare and maternity leave, also resulted in more women joining the workforce, according to the study, written by Christian Gonzales, Sonali Jain-Chandra, Kalpana Kochhar and Monique Newiak.