The world began observing International Women’s Day over 100 years ago. As yet not one of the 145 nations surveyed has achieved full gender equality. (The U.S. didn’t even make the top 20!)
WOMEN’S RIGHTS, GLOBALLY
A woman’s lack of reproductive rights and control over her sexual health is horrific in many countries. In El Salvador, where abortion is outlawed, a woman can be jailed for having a miscarriage or stillbirth. Two hundred million women (including 44 million girls of 14 or younger) living in 30 different countries have undergone genital mutilation. African women have a one in 31 chance of dying during childbirth (compared to women in the developed world who face only a one in 4,300 chance of dying).
In the U.S., Roe v. Wade legalized abortion more than 40 years ago. Since 2010, however, there have been 282 abortion restrictions enacted. We have also seen a huge increase in attacks on reproductive rights made by individual politicians and some organizations. In the European Union, the anti-choice backlash appears to be growing into a movement in Spain, France and elsewhere.
LEGAL, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RESTRICTIONS
The biggest differences between the least developed and developed countries are in women’s rights to vote, own land, and decide whom to marry. In Tanzania, when a woman dies, the man’s clan appoints an administrator (usually not the wife) to deal with his estate. In Saudi Arabia, women may not drive or open bank accounts without their husband’s permission.
In Pakistan and Afghanistan, women can be forced to marry to settle a feud. In Morocco they can be forced to marry their rapists. After getting divorced in Uganda, women don’t get custody of their children. It’s illegal for women to get divorced in Vatican City. More than 700 million women in the world today were married before their 18th birthday. Child brides are common in West and Central Africa and South Asia. In Ghana, young girls are sometimes “gifted” to priests to atone for crimes or to show gratitude for a blessing.
In the U.S. most states require parental permission to marry if you are under 18. With parental permission, however, almost all states allow marriage as early as 16. (New Hampshire allows girls as young as 13 and boys as young as 14 to marry, with both parental permission and a judicial waiver).
According to U.N. data, about two-thirds of developing countries have achieved gender equality in primary education. At the secondary school level, however, things aren’t looking as good. In Africa and South Asia boys complete secondary education slightly more than one and a half times more than girls. According to UNICEF at least 19 countries had fewer than 90 girls for every 100 boys in school (with the greatest disparity in the Arab States and sub-Saharan Africa). In Pakistan the Taliban gunmen attack educational institutions that accept girls.
Today In the U.S., and in most of the developed nations, women college students now outnumber the men.
Even where women have acquired appropriate academic qualifications, they continue to have trouble achieving equality in the labor market. Around the world, women remain disproportionately part of the “informal economy,” primarily providing unpaid care services for family members. Women perform three times more unpaid work than men, according to the U.N.’s 2015 Human Development Report.
In the U.S., women are still making less money for doing the same work as men. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women who worked full-time, year-round, earned 79% of men’s median earnings. College-educated women earn $8,000 less a year than equallly educated men, and the gap continues to grow.
According to Daniela Ligiero (Vice President of Girls and Women Strategy at the United Nations Foundation), during the last 100 years gender gaps have narrowed slightly in most countries. Plaudits go to Iceland for achieving the greatest gender equality in these areas: economic participation and opportunity; education; health and survival; and political empowerment (according to 2015 data from the World Economic Forum). Yemen gets the booby prize, ranking 145th, overall. The United States ranks 28th.
Note: Information about the developing nations in this article is based largely on a March 2016 article by reporter Ann M. Simmons of the Los Angeles Times.
For more information:
• latimes.com - Developing nations
• mic.com - Reproductive rights in the U.S.
• marriage.about.com - Age of marital consent in the U.S.
• dol.gov - Gender wage gap
• theguardian.com - Wage gap between male and female college grads
• nber.org - Number of female vs. male college students