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- This page: http://www.globalissues.org/article/166/womens-rights.
- To print all information e.g. expanded side notes, shows alternative links, use the print version:
Women’s rights around the world is an important indicator to understand global well-being.
A major global women’s rights treaty was ratified by the majority of the world’s nations a few decades ago.
Yet, despite many successes in empowering women, numerous issues still exist in all areas of life, ranging from the cultural, political to the economic. For example, women often work more than men, yet are paid less; gender discrimination affects girls and women throughout their lifetime; and women and girls are often are the ones that suffer the most poverty.
Reading this report about the United Nation’s Women’s Treaty and how a variety of countries have lodged reservations to various parts of it shows we still have a long way to go to achieve universal gender equality.
Gender equality furthers the cause of child survival and development for all of society, so the importance of women’s rights and gender equality should not be underestimated.
This article explores these issues further.
This web page has the following sub-sections:
- Lack of Progress
- Women Work More Than Men But Are Paid Less
- Gender discrimination throughout a lifetime
- Feminization of Poverty
- Women, Reproductive Rights and Population Issues
- Women and children: the double dividend of gender equality
- Women and Climate Change
- Women and the Media
- Beijing +5 Special Session
- Beijing +15 Special Session
- Women, Militarism and Violence
- More Information
It isn’t easy to change tradition overnight. However, a small example of successes include:
- The gains made in South Africa
- Childhood concerns in Latin America
- Poor women gaining greater access to savings and credit mechanisms worldwide, due to microcredit.
- A dwindling number of countries that do not allow women to vote including Bhutan (one vote per house), Lebanon (partial), Brunei (no-one can vote), Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (expected in 2010), and the Vatican City.
Lack of Progress
You would think that as time goes on, there would be more equality between men and women. Unfortunately, trends are moving in the other direction.
A report from Human Rights Watch also describes how women’s rights have not been observed in some countries as much as expected; in some places claims are made that women’s rights will be respected more, yet policies are sometimes not changed enough—or at all—thus still undermining the rights of women.
In some patriarchal societies, religion or tradition can be used as a barrier for equal rights. For example, as Inter Press Service reported, the Bangladesh government tried to hide behind laws to deny women equal rights. In Pakistan for example, honor killings directed at women have been carried for even the slightest reasons.
As Amnesty International also points out, “Governments are not living up to their promises under the Women’s Convention to protect women from discrimination and violence such as rape and female genital mutilation.” There are many governments who have also not ratified the Convention, including the U.S. Many countries that have ratified it do so with many reservations.
(There are different types of problems all over the world that women face, from the wealthiest countries to the poorest, and it isn’t the scope or ability of this site to be able to document them all here, but just provide some examples. Links to other sites on this page document more thoroughly the actual instances, cases and situations around the world.)
Women Work More Than Men But Are Paid Less
The informal slogan of the Decade of Women became “Women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10 percent of the world’s income and own 1 percent of the means of production.”
— Richard H. Robbins, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, (Allyn and Bacon, 1999), p. 354
According to Inter Press Service, “On a global scale, women cultivate more than half of all the food that is grown. In sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, they produce up to 80 percent of basic foodstuffs. In Asia, they account for around 50 percent of food production. In Latin America, they are mainly engaged in subsistence farming, horticulture, poultry and raising small livestock.”
Yet women often get little recognition for that. In fact, many go unpaid. It is very difficult for these women to get the financial resources required to buy equipment etc, as many societies still do not accept, or realize, that there is a change in the “traditional” roles.
Feminization of Poverty
The “feminization of poverty” is a phenomenon that is unfortunately on the increase. Basically, women are increasingly the ones who suffer the most poverty.
Professor of anthropology, Richard Robbins also notes that
At the same time that women produce 75 to 90 percent of food crops in the world, they are responsible for the running of households. According to the United Nations, in no country in the world do men come anywhere close to women in the amount of time spent in housework. Furthermore, despite the efforts of feminist movements, women in the core [wealthiest, Western countries] still suffer disproportionately, leading to what sociologist refer to as the “feminization of poverty,” where two out of every three poor adults are women. The informal slogan of the Decade of Women became “Women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10 percent of the world’s income and own 1 percent of the means of production.”
— Richard H. Robbins, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, (Allyn and Bacon, 1999), p. 354
This then also affects children, which makes the dire situation even worse. For example, even in the richest country in the world, the USA, the poorest are women caring for children.
The lending strategies to developing countries by institutions such as the IMF and World Bank have affected many women in those countries.
Poverty, trade and economic issues are very much related to women’s rights issues due to the impacts they can have. Tackling these issues as well also helps to tackle women’s rights issues. And, tackling gender issues helps tackle poverty-related issues. See also the Asia Pacific online network of women web site for more about issues relating to globalization and its impacts on women.
For more about these aspects, refer to this site’s section on trade and poverty related issues.
Women, Reproductive Rights and Population Issues
As seen in the population section of this web site, tackling many population related causes involves tackling many women’s issues such as increased knowledge and access to better health care, family planning and education for women. The beneficial results of these get passed along to the children and eventually the society. In fact, as PANOS shows in a report, providing women reproductive rights is part of their human rights.
And as Amnesty International shows, when basic health care infrastructure is lacking, the poorest suffer the most. For example, in the case of pregnant women giving birth comes with the real risk of death, which affects the rest of the family and community too:
Women and children: the double dividend of gender equality
Women and the Media
Even media attention on women who help and fight for certain causes is distorted. For example, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) analyzed U.S. media reporting during the British Princess Diana’s funeral, and noted that the U.S. media typically concentrate only on a few people like the late Diana and Mother Teresa who had some sort of celebrity type status, and rarely reported on the thousands of others doing similar work.
In other cases, the roles of women presented in the media, from talk shows, to entertainment shows as well as news reporting can often end up reinforcing the status quo and the cultural stereotypes, which influence other women to follow suit. This happens in all nations, from the wealthiest to the poorest (and happens with men as well as children). It can have positive aspects, such as providing guidance and sharing issues etc. but it can also have a negative effect of continuing inherent prejudices etc.
(For more on this perspective, see this collection of articles from MediaChannel.org on Women’s Media)
Beijing +5 Special Session
From June 5 to June 9 2000, there was a conference at the United Nations, New York, continuing on 5 years from a similar conference in Beijing, 1995. (The formal name of the conference was “Women: 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century.”)
In 1985 there was a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, to formulate strategies for advancing women’s rights. This was followed by a “plan of action” defined in 1995, in Beijing.
It has been recognized and agreed for a while that successful development also involves gender equality. The goals of this conference then was to reflect on the promised provisions of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere.
Leading up to, and during the conference, many organizations had numerous issues to bring to the fore, including:
- Women’s reproductive rights
- Abduction of girls
- Child soldiers and armed conflict
- Poverty and Economy
- Education and Training
- Decision Making
- Institutional Mechanisms
- Human Rights
- The Girl-child
According to a UN report, the international community had fallen far short of its commitments to empower women and achieve gender equality and that only eight out of 188 member states had certain global agreements for this.
It was also pointed out at this UN session that Women continued to be deprived of basic and fundamental rights because of measures imposed in certain countries.
In fact, some were even opposed to moving forward on such important issues, such as Holy See (the Vatican), Nicaragua, Sudan and Libya and sometimes Iraq and various other nations on particular issues such as reproductive rights, even freedom of expression (Libya and the Vatican opposed this). The Vatican, Iran and some other delegations even wanted to delete references to sexual and reproductive rights and health in the Current Challenges section of the review document.
Regarding the Vatican (the Holy See), there was growing concern at their role as permanent observer, where they are considered to be more than a non-governmental organization (NGO), but less than a nation. They therefore have some influence and have been criticized at the way they have affected some UN decisions regarding gender-related issues to be more effectively pushed forward. As part of some of the criticisms, there is the suggestion to challenge the Holy See’s power by demanding that the Vatican should be classified as an NGO instead.
Some NGOs and organizations from the third world trying to fight for women’s rights also felt they were left out of the conference.
For more in-depth discussion of the issues you can also look at
- OneWorld’s women’s rights campaign section.
- Human Rights Watch
- About.com also looks at the issue and provides daily highlights.
- You can also visit the UN conference’s web site.
For more information on women’s rights in general, see
- Oxfam’s Gender and Development section looks at the worsening plight of women around the world, from the increased “feminization” of poverty to the inequality between men and women.
- OneWorld.net’s guide on Gender issues covers many issues.
- The United Nations is an obvious main source of information and they have many resources, including:
- The UN women’s rights treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
- Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action for Equality, Development and Peace
- United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
- The Women Watch web site, the “UN Internet Gateway on the Advancement and Empowerment of Women.”
- Various links regarding women’s issues, related to human rights.
- This section from UNICEF’s Progress of Nations, 1998 report. The report is a compilation of information and statistics that measure how developed a nation is with regards to the state of the children rather than the state of the economy.
- The Population Fund, UNFPA, web site. Many population-related issues are applicable to women. This site has a lot of information. (The Population section on this web site also shows the importance of the role and education of women to help tackle some population issues.)
- Womankind is a development agency supporting women from the developing world tackling issues such as poverty and sexual or political oppression. They have a good web site with more information.
- The Girls Global Education Fund is an impressive web site that tackles the important issue of girls education, especially where traditionally girls grow up not having the same access to education as boys.
- MADRE, as they say in their own words, “is an international women’s human rights organization that works in partnership with women’s community-based groups worldwide to address issues of health, economic development and other human rights.”
- Third World Network provides a collection of articles on Women’s rights and gender issues, also looking at the relationship with other issues such as globalization, poverty, economics, health, violence, sexual exploitation, gender equity, culture and more.
- Amnesty International has a section on women.
- The People’s Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) web site has an informative section on Human Rights and Women.
- OneWomen is a web site of the Asia Pacific Online Network of Women in Governance, Politics and Transformative Leadership. It has many articles and links.
- Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom provides a look at all sorts of issues, from political, economic, social etc.
- The Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) is a portal of information and analysis on women’s rights and global issues.