What the Rest of the World is Like for Women

Conditions for women have improved slightly over the last 20 years, but many areas still suffer from incredible inequality, violence and educational disparity

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A Xhosa woman in front of a home in southeast Africa

During the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, more than 100 countries expressed their commitment “to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of humanity.” Since then, the United Nations has been tracking the plight of women, at times demanding international attention. To make the problems clearer, it helps to express them as a chart — as the Guardian did last June — or as a list of the worst places in the world for women, as the Independent did in March, as part of an investigation in tandem with the 101st International Women’s Day.

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But one of the most complete pictures of the plight of women worldwide emerged earlier this week. Valerie M. Hudson, a Texas A&M University professor, analyzed information from the WomenStats Project and mapped the data in cooperation with Foreign Policy. Exploring nine factors, including physical security, maternal mortality, government participation and educational disparity, the data visualization corroborates aforementioned findings from the Independent and the Guardian: that Afghanistan is among the worst countries in the world for women, where 87% are illiterate, more than 70% face forced marriages and expectant mothers have a 1 in 11 chance of dying during childbirth. There are other areas of concern as well: For example, central and southern Africa appear to have more than a 20%  difference in male and female secondary education level. Maternal mortality levels are also shockingly high in the region, with approximately 75% of the continent reporting more than 300 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.

According to additional statistics from the United Nation’s latest World’s Women publication, women are also legally disadvantaged in accessing land ownership, inheritance and other forms of property in 45 out of the 48 African countries reviewed and in 25 out of the 42 reviewed in Asia. Though the continent is home to the most dismal numbers overall, one problem that did not surface in Africa, is that of sex ratio and son preference in children. According to the research, Africa had normal sex ratios, while India, China and Vietnam had “extremely abnormal sex ratios favoring males.”

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One of the most striking findings, was that of sex trafficking. According to Foreign Policy‘s map, it appears that nearly 75% of the world has lax trafficking laws. Almost all of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia fall into one of three categories: “Trafficking is illegal but still practiced,” “Trafficking is limitedly illegal but is still practiced,” or “Trafficking is not illegal and is commonly practiced.”

Circumstances seem dire when looking at Foreign Policy‘s map, and they should. According to the United Nation’s review of 33 countries with available statistics, the proportion of women who will be exposed to physical violence in their lifetime ranges from 12% in Hong Kong to 59% in Zambia. In a related survey, the U.N. found that nearly one-third of women worldwide agreed that being hit by a husband in an argument is justifiable, and in Mali, 74% of women say they believe it’s acceptable to be punished for refusing sex.

On the upside, the U.N. has reported some bright spots in the last 20 years: Female genital mutilation is decreasing slightly among younger generations, literacy among adult women and men around the world has improved, albeit slowly, and enrollment of girls in schools is increasing across the world.

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