New Internationalist

The Facts

Issue 227

new internationalist
issue 227 - January 1992

Women today - The FACTS

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY

Few parts of the world remain untouched by feminism.
But how much have women's lives actually changed during the
past 20 years? The latest UN statistics tell the story.

POLITICS AND PUBLIC LIFE
Women almost everywhere have the right to vote, and make up more than half of all electorates. But they are still blocked from top positions and play only a minor role in high-level political and economic decision-making in most countries.

  • Of 159 UN member States only six (Iceland, Ireland, Nicaragua, Norway, Dominica and the Philippines) were politically headed by women at the end of 1990.

  • Only 3.5 percent of the world's cabinet ministers are women, and women have no ministerial positions in 93 countries in the world.

  • In only three countries do women hold more than 20 percent of ministerial level Government positions - Norway, Bhutan and Dominica.
Percentage of parliamentary seats occupied by women
Rich world
Poor world
1975
1987
1975
1987

Australia
Aotearoa
Canada
UK
US
Norway
USSR
Japan

0.0
4.6
3.4
4.3
3.7
15.5
32.1
1.4
6.6
14.4
9.6
6.3
5.3
34.4
34.5
1.4
Kenya
Mozambique
Argentina
Cuba
India
Mexico
Iraq
China
3.5
-
8.6
-
4.3
5.0
-
22.6
1.7
16.0
4.7
33.9
8.3
10.8
13.2
21.2
  • Only three percent of senior positions in the UN are held by women.

  • In the former Eastern bloc women made up 25% of parliamentary bodies - but recent elections show a significant drop as a result of political changes.
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EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Women have made big steps forward since 1970 - but huge gaps persist. Many girls and women still do not receive equal access to education and training.

Literacy
. The number of illiterate people in the world is rising due to population growth. But female illiteracy has risen fastest, from 543 million women in 1970 to 597 million in 1985. Male illiteracy rose from 348 million to 352 million.

. Three quarters of women aged 25 and over are still illiterate in much of Africa and Asia.

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Schooling
. Girls have caught up with boys in some parts of the world, but still lag behind in others.

[image, unknown]

 

HEALTH AND CHILD BEARING
Almost everywhere women live longer than men and die of different causes. Pregnancy and childbearing expose women to an array of health risks that in many developing countries are a major cause of death.

Health
. Women's life expectancy is increasing everywhere. But half the women in Africa and Asia are malnourished causing anaemia.

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Birth
. Women are having fewer children. The average has dropped from 2.6 in 1970 to 1.8 in 1990 in the rich world; in the poor world from a range of 5-7 to 3-6 children. Caribbean women now have the fewest children - 1.7 is the average in Cuba.

. Contraceptive use has increased in the poor world from under 15 per cent of sexually active women in 1960/5 to 33 per cent in the early 1980s.

. A third of all those with HIV in the world are women. Aids is now the leading cause of death among women aged 20-40 in major cities of Western Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas, including New York.

. Women who become pregnant face a risk of death due to pregnancy that is 80 to 600 times greater in the poor world than in the rich.

. Of 8,000 abortions in Bombay opted for after parents learned the sex of the foetus through amniocentesis only one would have been a boy.

 

HOME AND FAMILY
Changes in family life over the past 20 years have given women more opportunity. But their struggle to balance family life, household and economic responsibilities has got harder.

The Family
. In some regions up to 30% of households are now headed by women due to changing marriage patterns, life expectancy, male migration, wars.

. The proportion of divorced women has increased worldwide - in the rich world from 2.8 per cent in 1970 to 6.4 per cent in 1985. The proportion of women never married increased too - in Africa from 23 to 33 per cent.

. Births outside marriage are now 40 per cent of the total in some countries of Africa, the Caribbean and Northern Europe. In the US, Australia and Aotearoa/NZ the number doubled or tripled.

. In Norway women provide 67 per cent of formal and informal care - but one third of elderly women have no-one to ask for help.

[image, unknown]

Domestic violence
Reports of domestic violence are increasing worldwide
. India had 999 registered cases of women murdered in dowry conflicts in 1985, 1,319 in 1986 and 1,786 in 1987.

. In Colombia one in five bodily injuries during 1982/3 was due to conjugal violence and 94 per cent of those hospitalized were battered women.

. A third of US female homicide victims in 1984 died at the hands of their husband or partner.

 

WORK AND MONEY
Since 1970 women's share in the workforce has risen. But segregation of jobs and discrimination at work persist and there is a big gap between what women produce and what they earn. Access to training and capital is poor.

Time
. Women work as much or more than men everywhere in the world - as much as 13 hours a week more in Africa and Asia.

. In developing countries very poor women are now working 60-90 hours a week just to maintain the meagre living standards of a decade ago.

. Before 1975 women and men in Western Europe worked (paid and unpaid) similar hours. Now women work 5-6 hours more than men per week. In Eastern Europe they work 7 hours more than men.

. Only in North America and Australia do women work (paid and unpaid) the same number of hours as men. Shopping is more evenly shared but women still do 75 per cent of household chores.

[image, unknown]

Money
. The value of women's unpaid housework as a percentage of GDP is estimated at 23 per cent in the US and 33 per cent in India.

. When women do the same work as men they get paid 30-40 per cent less pay on average worldwide. In Canada women professionals still earn 15-20 per cent less than their male counterparts.

. Although women's participation in the informal sector is increasing returns are decreasing, and there is a bigger gap in earning between women and men than in the formal sector.

 

Position
. Officially measured, 41 per cent of the world's women are economically active. Another 10-20 per cent are economically productive but not counted because of inadequate measurement.

. Women hold 10-20 per cent of managerial and administrative jobs worldwide and less than 20 per cent of manufacturing jobs. Of the top 1,000 US corporations only two are headed by women.

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