March 07, 2014

In honor of Women's History Month, To the Contrary is accepting blog posts from individuals and organizations we have been working with over the past 23 years.  Here's the first in our series.

By Katie Taylor, USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for Global Health

Every year, International Women’s Day on March 8th, provides a global platform to focus attention on the continued need to improve women’s status and opportunities all over the world. We know that when women are healthy and educated they trigger progress for themselves, their communities and countries.  Women are able to participate in the work force, and are more likely to have healthy, educated children - issuing in a cycle of opportunity rather than perpetuating a cycle of poverty.   

A new USAID report, produced by The DHS Program, Women’s Lives and Challenges: Equality and Empowerment since 2000, assesses progress toward gender equality over the past decade.  This report, among the most extensive recent assessments of women’s status, looks at women’s progress in four continents and more than 45 countries.  Based on almost 100 national surveys, Women’s Lives and Challenges evaluates levels and trends in women’s access to education and health care, employment, domestic decision-making, and experience of violence. 

A few results outlined in the report include:

·       Access to primary education for girls is expanding worldwide. In Cambodia and Nepal, which have made the greatest progress, the proportion of young women with primary education has more than doubled since 2000. Yet more men than women can read and have completed primary school in nearly every country.

·       At least half of births take place in health facilities in the majority of countries, and the proportion is also rising in most countries. Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal, and Rwanda have experienced the greatest improvements across all maternal health indicators. Yet more than half of women still face barriers to accessing health care in most countries.

·       Less than half of currently married women use modern contraception in 37 of 46 countries. Since 2000, modern contraceptive use has plateaued or increased modestly in most countries. Rwanda is an exception, with an increase of 40 percentage points in 10 years.

·       Teenage pregnancy has declined modestly in many countries. In 36 of 47 countries, less than 25% of women begin childbearing before age 20. Yet child marriage— that is, marriage before age 18—persists in many countries. More than 40% of women marry before age 18 in 16 of 47 countries surveyed.

·       Violence in women’s lives remains disturbingly common and progress has been limited. More than one-third of married women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner in 14 countries.

Gender equality is still an elusive goal for many countries.  Through supporting countries to expand women’s and girls’ access to healthcare, education, clean water, proper nutrition, and more, USAID is committed to translating data into policies and programs that save women’s and girls’ lives, improve their futures, and promote women’s full participation in society.


Learn more about USAID’s work at