New Internationalist

Women

Issue 270

[image, unknown] New Internationalist Issue 270

HEADS OR TAILS?
THE FACTS ON WOMEN


Statistically speaking, there have been many improvements to women's lives in the last ten years. Female life expectancy is up, more girls are going to school, more women are working, new laws exist to protect women's rights... But the positive statistics often have a corresponding negative - and the gap between women North and South is widening.


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Heads or tails?


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Life expectancy

Women are living longer than they used to (and so are men). Over the past 20 years average life expectancy has increased from 71.0 to 74.6 years in 'developed' regions, and from 54.5 to 62.4 years in 'developing' countries.1

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Life expectancy

Improvements in female life expectancy may be jeopardized by prolonged economic recession, poorly designed structural-adjustment policies, growing environmental health problems and the AIDS pandemic.

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Education

More women and girls are being educated. Younger women are now more likely to be educated than their mothers. The percentage of women with no formal education has been more than halved in a single generation.1

Education

[image, unknown] 90 million girls still have no education at all - over 75% in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Mali, Niger, Nepal, Pakistan and Yemen and over 50% in Bangladesh, Guinea, Morocco and Senegal. And of the 960 million illiterate people in the world, two-thirds are women.1

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Health

Women everywhere are having fewer children and marrying later. Increased education has a marked effect in improving maternal and family health.

Contraceptive use has increased five-fold since 1965-70, although 350 million couples still lack access to a full range of modern family-planning information and services.1

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Health

Maternal death rates are 15 to 50 times greater in the developing world than in most developed countries. Half a million women die each year as a consequence of pregnancy and childbirth. Of these deaths, 99% are in developing countries. At least a quarter of all women have no access to family planning. And many women are still having more children than they would like - one survey showed that in almost half the 20 nations for which data are available, women want at least one child fewer than they did 10 to 15 years ago.4

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HIV infection and AIDS

The number of women contracting HIV is growing faster than the number of men. In Africa it is estimated that among ten million people with cumulative infections, more than 50% are now women.3

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Violence

In the past decade violence against women has been recognized as a gender issue. In June 1993 the World Conference on Human Rights recognized gender-based violence as incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person. In December 1993 the UN General Assembly proclaimed the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and in June 1994 the Commission on Human Rights appointed the first Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.

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Violence

  • In India, five women are burned in dowry-related disputes every day. Women's groups claim the figure is nearer 25.5
  • In the US, a woman is beaten every 18 minutes. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury among women of reproductive age - between 22% and 35% of women who visit emergency rooms are there for that reason.2
  • In Peru, 70% of all crimes reported to police are of women beaten by their husbands.5
  • As many as one hundred million women are 'missing' in developing countries - in other words, normal mortality patterns are not present. The infanticide of baby girls and the nutritional neglect of girl children are blamed.6
  • Rape is frequently used as a weapon of war.
  • National studies in 10 countries estimate that between 17% and 38% of women have been physically assaulted by a partner.3
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Work

Women now represent 41% of all workers in developed countries and 34% worldwide. More women are also entering the informal economy - in several countries women now make up 40% of the informal labour force. In Jamaica, Honduras and Zambia they outnumber men.3

Parliament

Half the women elected heads of state or government in the twentieth century have come to power since 1990 - though the total for the century is still only 24. Few countries have more than 10% of women as elected members of Parliament. When they do, it is often because of quota systems, as with the ANC in South Africa.

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Work

The increase in the number of women at work is due mainly to a restructuring of the whole world of work. 'Male' jobs are becoming increasingly redundant, and many women who work in the formal economy are grouped in part-time, low-paid jobs which are often temporary. Their wages are 30% to 40% less than those of men for comparable work.

Parliament

Women's share of seats in the world's parliaments has fallen from 15% in 1988 to 11% in 1994. The total number of MPs in the world is 34,306 of whom 3,737 are women. At the end of 1994 only 10 women were heads of state or government.3 In 25 countries in 1994 there were no women ministers or subministers at all.

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1 The State of the World's Population 1995, UNFPA.
2 The Progress of Nations 1995, UNICEF.
3 The World's Women 1995, UNDPI.
4 Families in Focus, a report by the Population Council, May 1995.
5 Focus on Women: Violence against women - UNDPI document for the Fourth World Conference on Women.
6 Los Angeles Times June 1993.

 

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