Friday, March 8 is International
Despite the widespread belief that women have come a long
way, International Womens Day will still see millions
of women from all parts of the world trapped in lives where they
are not allowed to attend schools, own property, vote, earn wages
or control their bodies and where violence is a constant threat.
Unfortunately, statistics point to a much bleaker world where on
too many fronts, women are still struggling to gain equal rights.
- Over half a million women die each year from preventable complications
during pregnancy and childbirth; another 18 million are left disabled
or chronically ill. In other words, more than 1,300 women will
die while giving birth on International Womens Day alone.
- Worldwide, AIDS infection rates are now higher for women than
men. In sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS is spreading faster than
anywhere else on the planet, women account for 55 percent of all
new cases of HIV. Sadly, most of these women lack the sexual autonomy
to refuse sex or demand that their partner use a condom.
- Twenty to 50 percent of all women have experienced violence
from a so-called loved one. Gender based violence
takes many forms and plagues girls and women throughout their
lives. An estimated 60,000 girls are considered missing
in China and India because of sex-selective abortions, female
infanticide, and neglect. In 2000, more than 5,000 girls were
murdered by their parents or other family members because they
spoke to boys on the street or dishonored the family
by becoming a rape victim. More than 2 million women undergo female
genital mutilation each year, which leads to a lifetime of suffering.
- Two thirds of the worlds 876 million illiterate people
are female. In 22 African and 9 Asian nations, school enrollment
for girls is less than 80 percent that for boys, and only about
half of girls in the least developed nations stay in school after
grade 4. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, only between 2
and 7 women per 1,000 attend high school or college.
- In most parts of the world, women-headed households are much
more vulnerable to poverty than those headed by males. In the
United States, single-mother households are raising one-third
of the children living in poverty.
- Throughout most of the world women earn on average two thirds
to three fourths as much as men for the same work. In addition,
women perform most of the invisible work that keeps families going
day to day. However, housekeeping, child care, water fetching,
collection of firewood, and other activities mainly performed
by women-are rarely included in economic accounting, although
their value is about one-third of the worlds economic production.
- Women are still vastly underrepresented in all levels of government
and in international institutions despite high profile leaders
like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyoomen, the President of the Philippines,
and former First Lady and now Senator Hillary Clinton. At the
United Nations, women only made up 21 percent of senior management
in 1999. In only 9 countries is the proportion of women national
parliament at 30 percent or above. And as of mid-2001, at least
seven nations-Djibouti, Jordan, Kuwait, Palau, Tonga, Tuvalu,
and Vanuatu-did not have a single woman sitting on their legislatures.
There is ample evidence that when women take political power,
issues important to women and their families-such as maternal care,
nutrition, and family planning-rise in priority and are acted upon
by those in power, says Worldwatch Staff Researcher, Danielle
And providing the resources to keep girls in schools can be more
effective than improved sanitation, employment, or higher income
in boosting child survival rates. U.N. sources show that the nations
with the highest levels of schooling in sub-Saharan Africa-Botswana,
Kenya and Zimbabwe-are also the nations with the lowest levels of
child mortality, despite higher levels of poverty than many of their
Ultimately what is good for women, is good for the world.
The full participation and full empowerment of the worlds
women is a keystone for any meaningful sustainable development strategy.
But we still have a long way to go before women have the same rights
Worldwatch Staff Researcher Danielle Nierenberg is available
for press interviews to discuss why improving the status of women
is crucial to every person living on this planet.