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UN Report Documents the State of International Gender Equality

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One of the worlds greatest civil rights disparities is in the realm of gender equality. Yesterday this issue became the focal point as the United Nations released The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics.

Ever since 1991 this report, released every five years, indexes the progress of international living standards pertaining to women. This is done by collecting data on factors that have historically been areas of concern for woman’s rights. The report’s findings show that despite some improvements in their status, women are still burdened with cosmopolitan norms that exacerbate gender inequality.

Health

One of the report’s key pieces of data is about women’s worldwide health. In the regions of sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and the Middle East women are in the majority among those infected with HIV.   The report also shows that despite general increases in the proportion of pregnant women recieving prenatal care, over half of the world’s maternal deaths occured in developing countries. In 2005 half of the world’s 500,000 maternal deaths came from the sub-Saharan region of Africa alone.   The health concerns women face aren’t exclusive to nations on the periphery, in Europe, women are more likely to die from cardiovascular diseases than their male counterparts. Globally, breast cancer tops the list of new cancer cases.

Relationship of Education and Violence

The report also finds the existence of a correlation between education level and violence among women. This is evident in the practice of genital mutilation. Although a standard practice, the occurrence of genital mutilation is on the decline. This is due, in part, to younger generations of girls as well as women with higher education levels rejecting the practice.  Although the archaic tradition of genital mutilation is diminishing, the prevalence of domestic violence is still high. In Australia and Mozambique 48 percent of women have reported being exposed to physical violence. In various other nations, the zeitgeist toward domestic violence is indicative of its commonality. In Mali, 74 percent of women feel physical punishment is justifiable for refusal to engage in sexual intercourse with a spouse; 62 percent for arguing and 33 percent for burning food. However, the percentage of women who find domestic violence acceptable drops significantly when the interviewee has a primary education, and an even sharper decrease among women with a secondary education.

Issues With the Study

The data found in the World Women studies have been an invaluable resource in both determining the state of women and in making it easier for lawmakers to advocate for women’s rights by providing key information. But despite the good that comes from the study, many criticize the legitimacy of the report’s statistics. The study’s preface notes, “the availability of gender statistics is still sporadic and weak in many countries… thus limiting the comprehensive statistical analysis of social phenomena.” Despite the doubts in methodology, the study was introduced with excitement and optimism. 

Sha Zukang, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said, “It is my hope that the present publication will be used to advance an enabling social and economic environment that will ensure equal treatment of all women and men and significantly improve the status of all women in the world.”

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