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Status of the World's Women
State of Women in political power
September 25, 2009

Last year, for the first time, many Americans wondered if the country "was ready" to elect a woman president — a question already answered in many nations. The UN, which tracks women in elected positions globally, notes that in 2008 there were more women in politics than ever, accounting for 18.4% of parliament members worldwide. There are highly visible women leaders dotting the globe — in Ireland, Bangladesh, Chile, Germany, Argentina and Liberia. But the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) notes that "even at the current rate of increase, developing countries will not reach the 'parity zone' where neither sex holds more than 60% of seats until 2045."

Study the map above in detail. It includes women in parliaments, heads of state and those in ministerial positions. (PDF)

Beyond Politics

New York Times Magazine There is an old saying that you can judge a society by the way it treats its women. In the last several decades many world organizations have signed on to that belief making improvements in the status of women among their highest priorities. The World Bank's Millennium Development Goals put it broadly: "Goal Number 3: Promote gender equality and empower women." UNIFEM, the United Nation's Development Fund for Women, lays out the map for progress in greater detail:
  • Women's share of seats in legislative bodies should reach 50%.
  • The ratio between girls' and boys' school enrollment rates should be one to one.
  • Average female weekly earnings as percentage of male weekly earnings should equal 100%.
  • Women's share of paid employment in the non-agricultural sector should be expanded.
  • Men and women should spend an equal number of hours on unpaid housework.
  • In 2009 the World Bank added universal access to reproductive health by 2015 to the list of Millennium Development.
But just where do women stand a decade into the 21st century? THE NEW YORK TIMES magazine headlined a fact-filled recent issue "Women's Rights are the Cause of Our Time." And women's place in the world is taking center stage at the UN General Assembly and at international meeting like those of the Clinton Global Initiative. The UN is following up on the 2000 Security Council Resolution 1325, which specifically addresses the impact of war on women, and women's contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace. The international body has also moved to combine several agencies dealing with women's programs into one, more powerful, body.

While the commitment evidenced by global leaders and global institutions is certainly progress, the numbers are still stark. Only one percent of the world's land is owned by women. Figures for death due to childbirth, rape and sexual abuse and lack of access to education are also high. Even in the most developed of countries women make at most 77 cents for every dollar made by a man. But perhaps most troubling, as noted by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn in their cover essay for the TIMES, 100 million women and girls are missing around the world because of gender discrimination:
Amartya Sen, the ebullient Nobel Prize-winning economist, developed a gauge of gender inequality that is a striking reminder of the stakes involved. "More than 100 million women are missing," Sen wrote in a classic essay in 1990 in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, spurring a new field of research. Sen noted that in normal circumstances, women live longer than men, and so there are more females than males in much of the world. Yet in places where girls have a deeply unequal status, they vanish. China has 107 males for every 100 females in its overall population (and an even greater disproportion among newborns), and India has 108. The implication of the sex ratios, Sen later found, is that about 107 million females are missing from the globe today. Follow-up studies have calculated the number slightly differently, deriving alternative figures for "missing women" of between 60 million and 107 million.
You can track progress toward the Millennium Goals on the World Bank's Gender Stats site. UNIFEM also tracks less easily quantified measures of women in decision-making positions: women's ability to require government accountability, access to basic human rights, freedom from violence and sexual extortion, women's pay equity and place in business management positions, among many others. UNIFEM's 2009 interactive report "Progress of the World's Women" is a comprehensive guide and organized by country and topic.

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As a new administration is set to take over in the White House, Bill Moyers checked in with author Sarah Chayes on the state of affairs in America's other war in Afghanistan. An author and former journalist, Chayes has lived the last seven years in Afghanistan helping to rebuild the country. (December 19, 2008)
References and Reading:
Global Power Gals," THE DAILY BEAST, September 23, 2009, Read Lynn Sherr's blog about The Clinton Global Initiative meeting.

"UN general assembly backs creation of consolidated women's agency," THE GUARDIAN, September 15, 2009.

UNIFEM: The United Nations Fund for Women

UNESCO: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation: Gender Equality

UN Security Council Resoulution 1325
Comprehensive information on the 2000 resolution dealing with impact of war on women, and women's contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace from

The World Bank: Gender Stats

Clinton Global Initiative

Women Moving Millions

Also This Week:
Rory Stewart, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, lays out an alternate strategy for the international community in Afghanistan.

Kavita Ramdas, president and CEO of Global Fund for Women, the largest grant-making foundation focused exclusively on women's rights issues talks about human rights initiatives around the world.

Just where does the majority stand in terms of health, education, safety, money and power?

Explore and share JOURNAL coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan and the war at home in a special video collection.

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