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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.
Many may think that women’s rights are only an issue in countries where religion is law, such as many Muslim countries. Or even worse, some may think this is no longer an issue at all. But reading this report about the United Nation’s Women’s Treaty1 and how an increasing number of countries are lodging reservations, will show otherwise.
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 Africa2
- Childhood concerns in Latin America3
- Poor women gaining greater access to savings and credit mechanisms worldwide, due to microcredit 4.
- A dwindling number of countries that do not allow women to vote5 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 direction11.
A report from Human Rights Watch also describes how women’s rights have not been observed in some countries as much as expected13; 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 rights14. In Pakistan for example, honor killings15 directed at women have been carried for even the slightest reasons.
As Amnesty International also points out, “Governments are not living up to their promises16 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
Women cultivate, plough, harvest more than half of all the food in the world20.
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 poverty24” 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 children25.
The lending strategies to developing countries by institutions such as the IMF and World Bank have affected many women 26 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 issues27 helps tackle poverty-related issues. See also the Asia Pacific online network of women28 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 issues29.
Women, Reproductive Rights and Population Issues
As seen in the population30 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 31.
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 Teresa40 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 Media41)
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 action42” defined in 1995, in Beijing.
It has been recognized and agreed for a while that successful development also involves gender equality43. 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 states44 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 rights45 because of measures imposed in certain countries.
In fact, some were even opposed to moving forward46 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 instead47.
Some NGOs and organizations from the third world trying to fight for women’s rights also felt they were left out48 of the conference.
For more in-depth discussion of the issues you can also look at
- OneWorld’s women’s rights campaign49 section.
- Human Rights Watch
- About.com52 also looks at the issue and provides daily highlights.
- You can also visit the UN conference’s web site53.
For more information on women’s rights in general, see
- Oxfam’s Gender and Development65 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 issues66 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 Women67 (CEDAW)
- Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action for Equality, Development and Peace68
- United Nations Development Fund for Women69 (UNIFEM)
- The Women Watch70 web site, the “UN Internet Gateway on the Advancement and Empowerment of Women.”
- Various links71 regarding women’s issues, related to human rights.
- This section72 from UNICEF’s Progress of Nations, 1998 report73. 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, UNFPA74, web site. Many population-related issues are applicable to women. This site has a lot of information. (The Population75 section on this web site also shows the importance of the role and education of women to help tackle some population issues.)
- Womankind77 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 Fund78 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.
- MADRE79, 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 collection80 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 women81.
- The People’s Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) web site has an informative section on Human Rights and Women82.
- OneWomen83 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 Freedom84 provides a look at all sorts of issues, from political, economic, social etc.
- The Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) 85 is a portal of information and analysis on women’s rights and global issues.
(Note that listed here are only those hyperlinks to other articles from other web sites or elsewhere on this web site. Other sources such as journal, books and magazines, are mentioned above in the original text. Please also note that links to external sites are beyond my control. They might become unavailable temporarily or permanently since you read this, depending on the policies of those sites, which I cannot unfortunately do anything about.)
- Thalif Deen, 'Reservations Grow Over UN Women’s Treaty', Inter Press Service, March 15, 1998, http://web.archive.org/web/20040423160533/http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/mar98/unwomen.html
- Gumisai Mutume, 'Women Celebrate Gains', Inter Press Service, August 10, 1998, http://web.archive.org/web/20040214022735/http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/aug98/15_17_044.html
- Rey Rodriguez, 'Working Towards Gender Equality from Childhood', Inter Press Service, August 10, 1998, http://web.archive.org/web/20040214082741/http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/aug98/17_59_064.html
- Democracy Now! radio focusing on Microcredit, December 13, 2006, http://www.democracynow.org/index.pl?issue=20061213
- Zabina Saccaro, 'Women Take Some Steps Ahead of the West', Inter Press Service, December 7, 2006, http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=35758
- Liza Jansen, 'Rights: Women’s Treaty a Powerful Force for Equality', Inter Press Service, December 4, 2009, http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=49545
- Murtaza Mandli-Yadav, 'CEDAW’S Mixed Findings on Progress for Women', Inter Press Service, July 13, 1998, http://web.archive.org/web/20040214095325/http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/jul98/16_02_060.html
- 'Women’s Human Righs', Human Rights Watch World Report, 1999', http://www.hrw.org/worldreport99/women/index.html
- Tabibul Islam, 'Women Demand Equality, Gov’t Cites Religious Bar', Inter Press Service, June 14, 1999, http://web.archive.org/web/20040214020116/http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/june99/15_20_055.html
- Roland-Pierre Paringaux, 'Asian Women Exposed to Violence; Pakistan: cost of a lie', Le Monde diplomatique, May 2001, http://mondediplo.com/2001/05/13pakistan
- '20th anniversary of Women’s Convention; Time to take women’s human rights seriously', Amnesty International, News Service 238/99, AI INDEX: IOR 51/006/1999, December 17, 1999, http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engior510061999
- 'CEDAW: The Women’s Treaty', Human Rights Watch, October 26, 2005, http://hrw.org/campaigns/cedaw/
- 'Fact versus Fiction', Amnesty International USA, March 2006, http://www.amnestyusa.org/women/cedaw/factvsfiction.html
- 'Ratify the Treaty for the Rights of Women (CEDAW)', Amnesty International USA, accessed February 15, 2007, http://www.amnestyusa.org/women/cedaw/
- Erwin Northoff, 'Women Farmers are Invisible Actors in Hunger Drama', Inter Press Service, October 11, 1998, http://web.archive.org/web/20040214085507/http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/oct98/22_39_068.html
- Nikki van der Gaag, 'Women: Still something to shout about', New Internationalist, Issue 270, August 1995, http://www.newint.org/issue270/270keynote.html
- 'Should America be measured by three women CEOs in the Fortune 500 …or by 13 million women in deep poverty?', Food First, October 25, 1999, http://www.foodfirst.org/media/ads/nation-10-99.html
- Lisa A. McGowan, 'Bailouts for Bankers, Burdens for Women', 50 Years Is Enough Network (undated, around 1999), http://www.50years.org/factsheets/bailouts.html
- Farah Khan, 'A Lobby Group Pushes For Women Advancement', May 15, 2001, http://web.archive.org/web/20040322023118/http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/may01/18_37_054.html
- Global Issues: “Trade, Economy, & Related Issues”, Last updated: Sunday, March 24, 2013, http://www.globalissues.org/issue/1/trade-economy-related-issues
- Global Issues: “Gender and Population Issues”, Last updated: Wednesday, June 13, 2001, http://www.globalissues.org/article/217/gender-and-population-issues
- Elizabeth Sloss, Judith Mirsky, and Marty Radlett, 'Women’s Health Using Human Rights to Gain Reproductive Rights', PANOS Briefing No. 32, December 1998', http://www.panos.org.uk/?lid=312
- http://www.cultureunplugged.com/play/4897/No-Woman Should Die Giving Birth: Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone
- Global Issues: “Climate Change and Global Warming”, Last updated: Sunday, March 03, 2013, http://www.globalissues.org/issue/178/climate-change-and-global-warming
- Laura Flanders, 'Visible and Invisible Caregivers', Extra!, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, November/December 1997, http://www.fair.org/extra/9711/diana.html
- 'Gender Equality Equals Growth', Inter Press Service, June 2, 2000, http://web.archive.org/web/20040208105312/http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/may00/23_11_078.html
- Thalif Deen, 'Only Eight Out of 188 States Close Gender Gap, Says UNIFEM', June 5, 2000, http://web.archive.org/web/20040214092624/http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/may00/20_58_056.html
- 'Sad and sobering reality that women continue to be deprived of basic and fundamental rights, special assembly session told', U.N. General Assembly Press Release, GA/9723, June 8, 2000, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2000/20000608.ga9723.doc.html
- Mithre J. Sandrasagra, 'Special Session on Women Deadlocked', Inter Press Service, June 8, 2000, http://web.archive.org/web/20040214011034/http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/june00/02_18_002.html
- Holy See Power at U.N., Democracy Now! Radio Interview, June 9, 2000, http://www.democracynow.org/index.pl?issue=20000609
- Farah Khan, 'African Delegates Disappointed with Women’s Summit', Inter Press Service, June 8, 2000, http://web.archive.org/web/20040214012401/http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/june00/03_55_004.html
- Thalif Deen and Anna Shen, 'Gender Confab Marked by Political Uncertainties', Inter Press Service, March 12, 2010, http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50494
- Global Issues: “Aftermath and Rebuilding Iraq”, Last updated: Tuesday, September 28, 2004, http://www.globalissues.org/article/462/aftermath-and-rebuilding-iraq
- Global Issues: “Human Population”, Last updated: Thursday, June 13, 2002, http://www.globalissues.org/issue/198/human-population