Although COVID-19 infections and deaths are surging in many parts of the world, recent announcements of apparently successful vaccine trials have offered a light at the end of the tunnel. One hopes we can soon redirect our attention from the urgent need to save lives to the longer-term costs of the pandemic, not least those being borne disproportionately by women.

The pandemic has compounded a longstanding problem for women around the world: large and persistent barriers to participating in the economy and public life on an equal basis with men. In a recent study drawing on the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law database, my co-authors and I show that, despite decades of progress in reducing gender discrimination, there are still large differences in how women and men are treated under the law. On average, women have only three-quarters the legal rights that men have, and they suffer from pronounced disparities regarding pay and accommodations for parenthood.

The picture is even bleaker in some of the world’s most populous countries — including India, Pakistan, and China — and in most countries in the Middle East and North Africa. And these findings cover only the discrimination embodied in laws; de facto forms of discrimination in the home and the workplace are presumably more pervasive, even in advanced economies.