Friday, March 8 is International Women's Day

Friday, March 8 is International Women’s Day

Despite the widespread belief that women have “come a long way,” International Women’s 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 Women’s 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 world’s 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 world’s 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 Nierenberg.

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 neighbors.

“Ultimately what is good for women, is good for the world. The full participation and full empowerment of the world’s 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 as men.”

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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.