Press Conference to Launch ‘World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics’

20 October 2010

Press Conference to Launch ‘World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics’

20 October 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference to Launch ‘World’s Women 2010:  Trends and Statistics’


World’s Women 2010:  Trends and Statistics, launched today on the occasion of World Statistics Day showed overall progress in areas such as school enrolment, health, and economic participation, but made clear that more needed to be done in such areas as closing the gender gap in public life and violence against women, a top United Nations official told correspondents today at Headquarters.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the report had been mandated by the 1995 Beijing Programme of Action and was produced every five years by the Statistics Division. Highlighting some of the report’s findings, he said that worldwide, there were 57 million more men than women.  The trend of women marrying later in life continued worldwide, with impacts on fertility rates, which had declined to 2.5 births per woman.  In some parts of the world, however, women married at a young age and gave birth to more than five children.  In all regions, women lived longer than men. 

He said there had been progress in the literacy rates of adult women and men, albeit, slow.  Although adult women accounted for two-thirds of the world’s 774 million adult illiterates, improvement in school enrolment, particularly for girls, would eventually raise literacy levels.  Globally, the gap in participation rates in the labour market between women and men had narrowed slightly, as women had entered traditionally male-dominated occupations.  Still, women were rarely employed in jobs with status, power and authority.  While the gender pay gap was closing slowly in some countries, it had remained unchanged in others.  In 1995, women accounted for 10 per cent of members of parliaments.  That rate had increased to 17 per cent in 2009, mostly due to quotas.  Gender imbalances in decision-making positions in Government, however, still persisted worldwide.

While shares of women exposed to violence varied considerably around the world, violence against women remained a universal phenomenon, he said.  Women were subjected to different forms of violence, including physical, sexual, psychological and economical violence, with the perpetrators most often being intimate partners.  In many regions, longstanding customs put considerable pressure on women to accept being beaten by the husbands even for the most trivial of reasons, such as not cooking well, venturing out without their husband’s prior permission, neglecting children, or disagreeing with their husband.

The report finds that poor infrastructure and housing conditions, as well as natural hazards, disproportionately affected poor women in terms of health and survival.  More than half of rural households and about a quarter of urban households in sub-Saharan Africa lacked easy access to potable water.  At the individual level, women’s lack or access to or control over resources limited their economic autonomy.  Customary laws still restricted women’s access to land or other property in most African countries and in about half the countries in Asia.

Srdjan Mrkic, Chief, Social and Housing Statistics Section of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Chief Editor of the report, said that the report’s 2005 version had emphasized the methodological difficulties encountered by statisticians worldwide when compiling gender statistics.  Difficulties were still encountered in gathering comparable and quality national data.  The 2010 report reflects some improvements.  Surveys on time use were increasingly conducted in developed as well as in developing countries, for instance.  Yet, improvements were needed in many other areas.

He said the preparation of the report had been hampered by the fact that adequate and comparative statistics in certain areas were not available for some countries, for instance, in the areas of poverty, environmental and migration statistics.  The quality of data varied among countries.  Increasing the capacity to produce reliable, accurate and timely statistics, in particular, gender statistics, remained a formidable challenge for many countries.

At the outset of the press conference, Keiko Osaki-Tomita, Chief, Demographic And Social Statistics Branch, Statistics Division, drew attention to today’s first ever World Statistics Day, and said that every day, statistics were used that were vital to such things as social economic planning, academic research, budget planning, budget allocation.  They touched everyone in society.  World Statistics Day underlined the three pillars of official statistics, namely, service, professionalism and integrity, and also paid tribute to statistical experts who had worked hard for many years for the development of a global statistical system that provided unbiased, credible and comparable statistics in many areas. 

Answering a question about the fact that data on violence against women data was available from only 50 countries, Mr. Mrkic said that crucial data to understand that phenomenon included marital status of the victim, age and level of education.  Collection of that data was only available in 50 countries, which prevented in-depth analysis of the statistics and development of policies to address the issue.

In response to another question he said that the ultimate goal of the United Nations was equality between women and men in all social and economic spheres.  The report emphasizes existing gaps.  In some areas, such as in education, the gaps were almost non-existent.  However, in other areas, particularly in salary paid to men and women for the same job, the gaps were significant, sometimes formidable.

On violence against women, he added that, one and a half years ago, the Division had undertaken a project to set up international guidelines for surveys on violence against women.  Comparable, methodologically comprehensive and sound instructions had been sent to the national statistical authorities.  That could provide for international comparisons in the future.  Today, however, definitions and perceptions of violence were different across the world. 

Mr. Sundaram added that it could not be expected that the gaps could be closed on every score, which was not even desirable, for instance, in life expectancy, as women on average lived longer than men.  Women suffered from most other social indicators, however.  In the question of sanitation, for instance, the burden of collecting water in areas not serviced by accessible water supplies generally fell on women and girls.  Often, the vulnerability to gastro-intestinal diseases associated with deprivation of sanitation fell more heavily on women.

In many South-East Asian societies, the number of women enrolled in tertiary education exceeded the number of men because of compulsory national military service for men, among other things, as well as better performance of girls in secondary schools, he replied to another question.  Those statistics, however, applied mostly to women who were better off.  The report is also concerned with women who had to carry water for miles every day, limiting their opportunities for education, employment and even recreation.  The concerns of women were varied, depending on their circumstances.

Asked about statistics from sub-Saharan countries, Mr. Sundaram said that the poorest countries often had the worst statistics.  In 41 per cent of the sub-Saharan countries, a census had not been carried out in three decades.  The current report did not include “guesstimates” or extrapolation from insufficient data.  A priority of the Statistics Division was to support capacity building in national statistics.

Mr. Mrkic added that improvements had been made and that the number of countries that carried out a census had increased.  There were also contemporary surveys, both in developing and developed countries, which addressed the core issues of gender statistics, such as surveys on time use. 

Asked whether the phenomenon on sex selection could be a reason for the fact that there were 57 million more men than women, Mr. Sundaram said that was a worldwide figure.  There were areas with more women than men, for instance.  Also, in several of the most populous countries, the sex ratio was different, with more boys at a younger age and more women at older ages.  The universal observation did not apply to individual countries.  Eastern European countries, for instance, had more women in all age groups.  No statistics were available that indicated influence of sex selection on the sex ratio.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.