Refugee women seeking jobs and economic opportunities must navigate a labor market mired in complex and gender discriminatory rules and regulations. Burdened with the effects of violence, trauma and displacement and the responsibility of building a new life in a new country, they find their ambitions and their potential thwarted.

This briefing assesses the impact of the law on refugee women’s right to work and access economic opportunities in high refugee hosting countries. We find that laws governing women’s opportunities to get a job or start a business are far from gender equal. For example five out of 10 of the highest refugee hosting countries impose legal barriers in the majority of areas measured by the World Bank’s Women Business and the Law index.  Dig deeper into the data and we find that women suffer particularly high legal barriers in certain areas: Just two of the 10 highest refugee hosting countries mandate equal pay for work of equal value; just three of the top 10 mandate equal rights to inherit assets; and seven of the top 10 restrict women’s participation in certain industries.

We worked with a team of lawyers to assess the legal framework for refugees’ participation in the economy in four different contexts—Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan and Uganda—and found a complex set of rules and requirements affecting refugees’ opportunities such as onerous requirements for work permits, limitations on freedom of movement and constraints on the ability to establish a business. These laws affect men and women refugees differently and we find refugee women suffer economic exclusion and marginalization as a consequence.