By Ben Simmons

Emerging markets have taken noteworthy steps in advancing opportunities for women in the past year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

This is one of the conclusions of the Women’s Economic Opportunity (WEO) Index 2012, which measures specific attributes of the environment for women employees and entrepreneurs in 128 countries. In Kenya, the government enacted new policies mandating equal pay for equal work and made sexual harassment in the workplace illegal. Saudi Arabia also made a small but significant gain in labour policy with a ministerial order that, for the first time, fully articulates the principle of equal remuneration for men and women. Other key findings include Bolivia’s increasing political will to eliminate discrimination, especially against indigenous and rural women, and Cambodia’s provision of skills training and micro-credit.

Commissioned and funded by Vital Voices Global Partnership, La Pietra Coalition, ExxonMobil, the New Zealand Aid Programme and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the WEO Index looks to assess the laws, regulations, practices, and attitudes that affect women around the world.

The dynamic, quantitative and qualitative scoring model aims to look beyond gender disparities to the underlying factors affecting women’s access to opportunity in the formal economy. Twenty-nine indicators, selected and validated by a panel of international development and gender experts, were assembled into five categories: labour policy and practice; access to finance; education and training; women’s legal and social status; and, general business environment. Together, they evaluate every aspect of the economic and social value chain for women, from fertility to retirement.

"We've tried to go beyond other gender studies by looking at unique aspects of the environment for women," said Leo Abruzzese, EIU's Global Forecasting Director. "Analysing conditions in the labour market, as well as measuring the availability of childcare and maternity leave, is a challenge, but it paints a clearer picture of the conditions women are facing."

The 2012 Index, the second, added and expanded indicators to allow for deeper analysis into important areas such as the prevalence of modern contraception, political participation and access to technology and energy. Fifteen new countries — seven Pacific Islands and eight from Eastern Europe and Central Asia — were added to provide greater geographical coverage.

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