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20 years of progress and challenges in women’s equality and empowerment—report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 12 Feb 2014 14:42 GMT
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Syrian women fleeing fighting in the town of Qara, carry their babies as they and hundreds of others queue to register at the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in the eastern Bekaa Valley. Picture November 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
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NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Women still do not have as much political or economic power as men in any country, two decades after the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the United Nations Population Fund said on Wednesday.

There have been substantial gains for women’s and human rights, but stubborn challenges remain, the UNFPA said in a 400-page review,  “ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Report,” based on data from 176 U.N. member states.

The issues covered include women’s equality and empowerment, adolescents and youth, older people, health, urbanization, internal and international migration and governance.

The ICPD in Cairo in 1994 was a “ground-breaking” conference that “changed the face of women’s rights and women’s movements around the world,” the UNFPA executive director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, told a conference call before the release of the report on Wednesday.

It reflected a consensus “that individual human rights and dignity, including the equal rights of women and girls and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, are a necessary precondition for sustainable development, and it set forth objectives and actions to accelerate such development by 2015,” the report said.

In terms of women and girls, the results have been mixed. The greatest improvements have come in such areas as reduction in maternal mortality, access to contraception and family planning and educational attainment.

But gender-based discrimination and violence “continue to plague most societies,” the report stated. “Discrimination of select populations is common in many countries, but the discrimination of women is universal.”

 Overall, it found that “In no country are women fully equal to men in political or economic power, yet while most states are progressing (albeit slowly) toward gender equality, in a number of states the rights and autonomy of women are being curtailed.”

Overall, between 1990 and 2010, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries dropped by half, from 47 percent to 22 percent, a reduction of nearly 1 billion people, according to the report.

“We also have, when we talk about inequalities and the issue of poverty… 1 billion people living in the 50 or 60 poorest countries in the world,” the UNFPA’s Osotimehin said.

Many of the poor are women, and women in the poorest countries and those living among the poorest segments of wealthier countries have seen “minimal progress since 1994” in most measurements, including  status, maternal mortality, child marriage and life expectancy.

Survival for these women is threatened by lack of access to health services and “the extreme physical burdens” of producing food, fetching water and doing unpaid labor “that fall disproportionately on poor women,” the report said.

Among other findings in the report relating to women and girls:

--Women gained parity in primary education in a majority of countries.

--Access to secondary education remains a challenge for girls in many regions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, due to factors including gender discrimination, risk of sexual harassment and assault, lack of bathrooms and families’ unwillingness to pay school fees for girls.

--Maternal mortality fell by 47 percent between 1990 and 2010, but 800 women a day died from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth in 2010.

--The global fertility rate dropped by 23 percent between 1990 and 2010.

--An estimated 8.7 million women aged 15 to 24 in developing countries underwent unsafe abortions in 2008.

-- Worldwide, over 97 percent of countries report having programmes, policies and/or strategies addressing “gender equality, equity and empowerment of women.”

--Only three quarters of responding countries have committed to improving the welfare of rural women or of the girl child in terms of health, nutrition and education.

--Eighty-five percent of countries report they have a law in place against gender discrimination at work in hiring, wages and benefits.

-- But women continue to be paid less than men for equal work, as the gender pay gap is closing slowly and only in some countries.

-- In all regions, women remain significantly under-represented among business leaders and managers.

--While many countries have made substantial advances in enhancing women’s participation in the labour force since 1994, fewer than two-thirds report they have addressed the issue of  “facilitating compatibility between labour force participation and parental responsibilities” to make it easier for women to combine child-rearing with participation in the workforce. 

--An estimated one in three women worldwide report they have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse, mostly at the hands of an intimate partner, making this form of violence against women and girls one of the most prevalent forms of human rights violations worldwide.

-- Only 87 percent of countries reported that they have promulgated and enforced laws that criminalize rape and other forms of sexual exploitation, and only 53 percent of countries have promulgated and enforced laws criminalizing marital rape.

-- An estimated 125 million women and girls live with the consequences of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) worldwide, and about 3 million girls, the majority under age 15, are at risk of undergoing FGM/C each year.

-- The practice of child, early and forced marriage is a violation that remains commonplace in many countries and most regions worldwide even where laws forbid it. If current trends continue, by 2020 an additional 142 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday.

-- Adolescent birth rates have been declining from 1990 to 2010 across countries in all income groups.

--But worldwide, more than 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth every year, and about 19 percent of young women in developing countries become pregnant  before they turn 18. A significant proportion of these pregnancies result from non-consensual sex, and most take place in the context of early marriage.

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