Friday, January 1, 2016

Status of Women Report

There have been some remarkable improvements in the status of women in the last two decades but for some reason, the United Nations has chosen not to blow the trumpets about that in the sixth edition of The World’s Women 2015: Trends and Statistics. Some of the items that deserve a fanfare:

  • The gender gap in education has not only closed at the primary level, at the tertiary level women outnumber men in many countries. At the secondary level the picture is mixed, with girls doing better than boys in a number of countries and the opposite situation in others. (The bad news is that 58 million children of primary school age are out of school worldwide and more than half are girls in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.) 
  • Globally, women have an average life span of 72 years compared to 68 for men, with both genders registering an eight-year gain in two decades.
  • The number of women dying in childbirth has fallen dramatically: from over a half million women in 1990 to under 300,000 in 2013, a decline of 45 per cent.
On most other aspects, the gender gap has narrowed but not rapidly or in all countries. The unmitigated bad news is that:

  • Physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence affects women around the world regardless of income, age or education. One third of all women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner.
  • The rate of child marriage has declined only slightly and the latest statistics show that almost half of the women between the ages of 20 and 24 in South Asia and two fifths in sub-Saharan Africa were married before 18.
  • Women continue to be grossly under-represented at decision-making levels in all sectors of life. Half the world’s women are in the rank and file of the labour force, compared to three quarters of men, a situation little different from 20 years ago.

The publication is part of a series mandated by the 1995 World Conference on Women and that probably explains some of its meta presumptions. Why, for instance, should we take the equal involvement of women in the labour force as a sign of progress? Could it not signify economic hardship? And is it not rather glib to wave away as a matter of “traditional gender expectations” and “risky behaviours” the fact that men die off much faster than women? Perhaps the main cause is unsafe working conditions?

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