New Internationalist

Women’s rights: the facts

Issue 373

While women’s lives have improved enormously in many ways, especially in the West, women still make up 70 per cent of the world’s poorest people and two-thirds of those who cannot read and write. And there is a danger that some of the rights they have won are slipping away.

Eric Miller / Panos / http://www.panos.co.uk
Eric Miller / Panos / http://www.panos.co.uk

Violence

Violence against women and girls takes many forms and shows no sign of abating.

• 79 million girls who would otherwise be expected to be alive are ‘missing’ from various populations, mostly in Asia, as a result of sex-selective abortions, infanticide or neglect.

• Domestic violence is widespread in most societies and is a frequent cause of suicides among women.

• Rape and other forms of sexual violence are increasing. Estimates of the proportion of rapes reported to authorities vary — from less than 3 per cent in South Africa to about 16 per cent in the US.

• Two million girls between the ages of 5 and 15 are introduced into the commercial sex market each year.

• An estimated 4 million women and girls are bought and sold worldwide each year, either into marriage, prostitution or slavery.

• At least 130 million women have undergone female genital mutilation or cutting; another 2 million are at risk each year.

• So-called ‘honour’ killings take the lives of thousands of young women every year, mainly in Western Asia, North Africa and parts of South Asia.1

Life expectancy

On the whole, women still live longer than men. In many countries, life expectancy has increased for both women and men. But in some regions it is going down, as the divide between rich and poor increases. Between 1995 and 2001 in poorer countries, life expectancy decreased from 65 to 50.5.

Wages and work

Fewer women work for a regular paid salary than men. They are more likely to work in the informal sector, on part-time contracts and in low-paid jobs. Worldwide, women earn 69% of male wages. There is no country where women earn the same as men.

Literacy

57 million young men and 96 million young women aged 15-24 in developing countries still cannot read or write. About 90 countries are on track to meet global goals for ending gender inequality in primary education by 2015. But for the rest there is still a long way to go.

Government

Although there is still a long way to go to meet the goal of 50/50 representation, Rwanda* is now approaching that target and the Assembly in Wales has already reached it. In 1995, only 8.7 per cent of elected officials were women; by May 2004 it was 15.4 per cent. In 22 countries women make up more than 25 per cent of those in government.

  • Though there have been accusations that the elections in Rwanda were ‘fixed’ along ethnic lines.

Maternal deaths

Nearly half-a-million women a year still die from complications relating to pregnancy. Most of these are in the poorer countries – for every woman who dies in the North, 99 will die in the South. Many millions more experience complications that can lead to permanent ill-health or disability. The tragedy is that nearly all this is preventable.

  1. 1 State of the World’s Population 2000, UNFPA;
  2. 2 Human Development Report 2003, UNDP;
  3. 3 Source: The Atlas of Women: an economic, social and political survey, Joni Seager, The Women’s Press 2003;
  4. 4 InterParliamentary Union, June 2004 (http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm)[www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm];
  5. 5 Progress of Women 2002, UNIFEM;
  6. 6 State of the World’s Children 1997 and 2004.

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