Status of Women in the Contemporary World
Gender is a societal concept and has a loose thread connected to the biologically constructed boxes by society. It’s about how an individual wants to be presented and pronounced. The word “women” in the following article is an umbrella term for all binary and non-binary individuals who pronounce themselves as “she” and voices the woes of a certain section of society.
About half the population of the world is made up of women and girls, yet far too often, their contributions to world development, their experiences or their voices are overlooked or, for that fact, undervalued. Women are greatly underrepresented in the halls of political and economic power, while barriers—from gender-based violence and lack of political and economic opportunities, to laws that hold women to a different standard—block the path to progress for the entire globe.
Globally, women have fewer opportunities for economic participation as compared to men, lesser access to basic and higher education, greater health and safety risks, and much less political representation as well.
In this article, we shall talk of three important women’s issues that seriously impair the pace of development for the entire world.
One of the key areas of focus is education. Although the world is constantly progressing in reducing gender parity in this sector, the pace of the same isn’t impressive, it is very unfortunate that girls still make up a higher percentage of out-of-school children than their counterparts. It so happens that families with limited resources who can barely what it takes to attend a school such as stationery supplies, school fees or a uniform for all of their children, will tend to prioritize the education for their sons over that of their daughters. In India, families may also rely on their girls' labour for household chores, leaving limited time for their schooling and intellectual development.
Around the globe, approximately one-fourth of the girls do not attend school, according to a study 129 million girls are out of school worldwide, including 97 million of secondary school and 32 million of primary school (approximate values taken). Girls are twice as likely to be out of school in areas affected by conflict. Only about 49% are somewhere close to achieving gender parity in primary education and the number only decreases with increasing levels, i.e.,41% in lower secondary level and 24% in the upper secondary level. In many areas of the world, where efforts are in fact being made to promote the education of the girl child, the schools so made lack the basic standard of hygiene assisting too many adolescent girls who may have just started menstruating, the stigma around menstruation in such countries is never helping to such a situation, thus pushing even more menstruators outside schools, however, places where such need is also fulfilled it’s highly probable that the methods of teaching do not gender-responsive and result in gender gaps in learning and skills development.
The digital gender divide is another catalyzer for the same in times of COVID, as access to online education is way harder for the girl as compared to the boy of the same house. It must be kept in mind that prioritizing girls' education is a major key to achieving goals related to gender equality as it provides, perhaps, the single highest return on investment in the developing world.
Access to Healthcare and Violence against Women
Another important area of concern is women’s health and safety. Women are not only provided with lesser access to resources but are also hugely underrepresented in the health sector, talking of representation first, women make up to 70% of the workforce in the health sector and are more likely to be front-line workers as well, especially as nurses, midwives and community health workers, which puts them at a greater risk of any potential communicable infection. In fact, women healthcare workers are three times more likely to contract diseases than their counterparts. Despite women making up the larger quarter of the workforce, it is surprising that they almost always remain in the background of decision making.
Coming to access to resources, women, today, are much more prone to HIV/AIDS, it is an increasingly impactful issue for women and can be related to women having fewer opportunities for health education, unequal say in sexual partnership, or as a result of gender-based violence.
Quality maternal health care can provide an important entry point for information and services that empower mothers as informed decision-makers concerning their own health and the health of their children, maternal health is also an issue of specific concern. In many countries, women have limited access to prenatal and infant care and are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The restrictive abortion laws appointed by some countries act as a great catalyzer for this situation. This is a critical concern in countries where girls are married off, forcefully by their families, and have children before they are ready; often well before the age of 18.
One of the key drivers of this situation is the increasing scale of violence against women. Before the start of the pandemic, it was said that one in three women is likely to experience violence consistently in their lifetime, the situation may have been exacerbated as some women may be trapped with their abusers in the course of the lockdown imposed in various countries, rendering them devoid of any material help.
In India, according to a report by Delhi Police, crimes against women have seen over a 63% rise in only 2021 so far. Some statistics for the same are as follows*:
Rape cases in India (Section 376 IPC): 580 in 2020 to 833 in 2021
Assault with intent to outrage modesty (Section 354 IPC): 735 in 2020 to 1022 in 2021
The kidnapping of women: 1026 in 2020 to 1580 in 2021
Cruelty by in-laws (Section 498-A and 406 IPC): 824 in 2020 to 1712 in 2021
(*Data up to 15 June 2021.)
Economic and Political Representation
The final area of focus in attaining gender equality, for this article, is women's economic and political empowerment. Though women comprise more than 50% of the world's population, they only own 1% of the world's wealth. Women’s livelihood and income have deeply been affected due to the pandemic.
Throughout the world, women and girls perform long hours of unpaid domestic work, however, they typically earn less and hold less secure jobs than men. Women’s capacity to earn a living for themselves has seen a dramatic decline, with economic activity coming to a halt during the pandemic. Adding to the loss in paid work and income, women in large numbers are also struggling while juggling domestic care, household responsibilities and unpaid care with their work. In some places, women still lack the right to own land or to inherit property, a development enabling the same has recently been enacted in India. However, they still may also struggle to obtain access to credit, earn income, or move up in their workplace, free from job discrimination. Statistics published by ‘UN Women’ show that worldwide an average gap of as much as 28% exists in the health workforce.
At all levels, including at home and in the public arena, women are widely underrepresented as decision-makers. Earlier this year, Indian politician Lathika Subhash shaved the hair from her head. Subhash was making a personal protest after being left off Congress party ticket for state elections in the southern state of Kerala. But her intent was not only to draw attention to her own flagging fortunes. The much bigger problem she wanted to highlight was women’s lack of representation in Indian politics. The world’s largest democracy has held rolling elections in recent weeks across four state assemblies and in one union territory. Yet women – who make up almost half of voters – only comprised about one in ten of the candidates: 9% in Kerala, 7.8 % in Assam and 11% in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and West Bengal. Gender equality remains a distant dream. Unfortunately, Subhash is just one of the many women whose cause is forgotten with time.
In legislatures around the world, women are outnumbered 4 to 1, yet women's political participation is crucial for achieving gender equality and genuine democracy. Some statistics by UN Women, for the same, are as follows:
- Women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 22 countries, and 119 countries have never had a woman leader. At the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.
- Just 10 countries have a woman Head of State, and 13 countries have a woman Head of Government.
- Only 21 per cent of government ministers were women, with only 14 countries having achieved 50 per cent or more women in cabinets. With an annual increase of just 0.52 percentage points, gender parity in ministerial positions will not be achieved before 2077.
- The five most commonly held portfolios by women ministers are Family/children/youth/elderly/disabled; followed by social affairs; Environment/natural resources/energy; Employment/labor/vocational training, and Women affairs/gender equality.
Women are grossly underrepresented in the judiciary of not just in India but around the globe. Being case-specific, though, out of all the judges in the top court, only 8% are women. The country with the least gender parity in this area would be Canada, where 44.4% of judges in the top court are women, still less than 50%.
Inequality and the current status of women in the world have major political, economic, and social implications. This can seriously limit the ability of many communities to resolve conflict or the ability of many countries to boost their economies, or regions to grow enough food. The untapped potential of women remains an opportunity lost for the economic growth and development the world can ill afford and to ensure that all technological, social or economic gains reach all members of the society, the inclusivity of women for the same is essential.
“Gender equality" means that people who identify as men or women have equal power and equal opportunities for financial independence, education, and personal development regardless of their identity. However, the same is only true in theory today. Women's empowerment is a critical aspect of achieving gender equality in the true sense. It includes increasing a woman's sense of self-worth which has deteriorated with years of systematic oppression, her access to opportunities and resources, her power and control over her own life, and her ability to effect change. Yet gender issues are not focused on women alone, but on the relationship between men and women in society. The actions and attitudes of men and boys play an essential role in achieving gender equality.