International Women’s Day, 2024 - The Misogynistic Minority

  • Opinion by Joseph Chamie (new york)
  • Inter Press Service
  • The following opinion piece is part of series to mark International Women’s Day, March 8.

National surveys across different regions of the world find large majorities of the public supporting gender equality and saying it is very important for women in their country to have the same rights as men.

The majorities supporting gender equality vary from highs of 90 percent or more in countries such as Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom to lows of approximately 55 percent in Kenya, Russia and South Korea (Figure 1).

Among the misogynistic minority too many consider women as inferior to men, treat them as their personal property, deny them control over their lives and bodies, restrict their political, social and economic rights, and too often ridicule, intimidate and physically abuse them.

The misogynists also generally dismiss the fundamental principles of the equality of men and women enshrined in international documents, treaties, declarations and instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Misogynists also tend to oppose the gender equality laws and policies that are incorporated in many regional treaties and national instruments.

The current struggle for gender equality follows a lengthy history of oppression of women through men’s use of authority, law, physical force and violence. In many societies around the world, women and girls have been unjustly held back from achieving full equality and enjoying their basic human rights.

In nearly all societies in the past women were under the control of their fathers and husbands and held back from making personal decisions and achieving equality with men.

In general, women had few options or choices for supporting themselves outside of marriage and were wed or forced to marry typically at relatively young ages with the primary aims being to provide sexual relations, bear children and maintain or work in a family household.

It was only until around the beginning of the 20th century did countries begin passing legislation ensuring women the right to vote and stand for election. The first country to permit women to vote was New Zealand in 1893. About a decade later, it was followed by Australia, Finland, Denmark and Iceland.

A couple of decades later, women were granted the right to vote in the United States and the United Kingdom. Approximately a century later, the most recent countries allowing women to participate in elections are Bhutan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

By around the middle of the 20th century, more than half of all countries had granted women the right to vote, although some initially had restrictions for women of certain backgrounds based on age, education, marital status or race. Today none of the world’s nearly 200 countries bar women from voting because of their sex (Figure 2).

Various organizations have compiled rankings and indexes indicating the standing of countries on gender equality and the rights and well-being of women. Among the countries with some of the highest ratings on gender equality and the basic rights of women are Denmark, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden.

In contrast, some of the countries with the lowest ratings on women’s rights and equality also typically suffer from civil conflict, which undermines efforts aimed at gender equality and the well-being of women. Among those countries are Afghanistan, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Particularly noteworthy is the dire situation of gender equality in Afghanistan. It is the only country in the world with bans on female education and employment.

Sociocultural factors, traditional practices and beliefs in Afghanistan have contributed to the country’s dire situation of gender equality in both education and employment. Girls are banned from attending secondary school and women’s employment is all but prohibited with the exceptions being in the areas of health and education.

In addition to differences among countries, significant differences in gender equality and the status of women can also vary within countries. In the United States, for example, some of the states that have attained the highest levels on women’s well-being, health and safety are Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts, while at the other end of the ranking are Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Although women make up 50 percent of the world’s population of 8 billion, their representation among governments and participation in politics is considerably less. At all levels of decision-making and policy formulation, especially in the areas of defense and the economy, women are underrepresented.

The education of girls and women is widely recognized to be one of the world’s best investments, providing a basic foundation for a lifetime of learning and advancing and empowering girls and women. Worldwide the rates of school enrollment at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels are getting closer to equal for girls and boys (Figure 3).

About two-thirds of all countries have reached gender parity in primary school enrollment. However, the completion rates in many developing countries are lower for girls than boys. In addition, globally an estimated 129 million girls, 32 million at the primary level and 97 million at the secondary level, are not in school.

At the tertiary educational level, women’s enrolment has increased considerably with female students outnumbering male students. However, female students are heavily enrolled in the arts, social science and humanities rather than undertaking science, technology, engineering and math degrees.

With respect to participation in the formal labor force, a considerable gender gap exists with the rates for men and women being approximately 75 and 50 percent, respectively. However, most of the work done by women outside the formal labor force globally is unpaid.

The level of female participation in the labor force varies considerably across regions. While in most regions more than half of all women aged 15-64 years participate in the labor market, only a quarter or less do so in the regions of South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa.

Women are also more likely to spend double the amount of time than men caregiving, tackling domestic chores and doing housework. Among children aged 5 to 14 years, girls also spend considerably more time than boys on unpaid household chores.

Another major development that has influenced gender equality considerably was the introduction of women’s modern methods of contraception beginning in the 1960s. Those methods, especially oral contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices and implants, permitted women to choose the number, timing and spacing of their births.

That ability in turn reduced the fear of unintended pregnancy, reduced the incidence of abortion and provided women with the control over their reproductive lives similar to those of men. Women’s control over their reproduction also permitted them to pursue higher education, careers, employment, recreation, travel, decide on life styles and participate more fully in society.

Notable progress on the equality of women and men has been made during the recent past. However, the world is not on track to realize Goal 5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030.

At the current rate of progress, it is estimated that it will take hundreds of decades to achieve gender equality, in particular closing gaps in legal protection and removing discriminatory laws. Reducing that lengthy time frame will require making investments in policies and programs aimed at accelerating the progress.

In addition to those investments, the basic rights of women need to be protected and enforced. Practices that oppress women need to be removed and the personal decisions and life choices of women recognized and promoted.

Also, importantly, the attitudes, objections and behavior of the world’s misogynist minority cannot be permitted to undermine gender equality policies called for and supported by large majorities of the public worldwide.

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, "Population Levels, Trends, and Differentials".

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© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service