The lives of women and girls around the world have improved in several areas over the last 20 years but they continue to be victims of gender-based discrimination and violence, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations.
Coming on the heels of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), The World’s Women 2015 report brings into sharp perspective the need for gender equality outlined in Goal 5, which aims to empower all women and girls by 2030.
“We cannot achieve our 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, without full and equal rights for half of the world’s population, in law and in practice,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a recent event on gender equality organized on the margins of the Sustainable Development Summit.
According to the report, prepared by the Statistics Division of the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs, women live longer lives, benefit from a better access to education and are more independent.
Life expectancy has continued to rise, reportedly reaching 72 years for women and 68 for men, globally. Worldwide, the number of maternal deaths declined by 45 per cent between 1990 and 2013. Although they continue to marry a few years earlier than men, women’s age at marriage has also increased, reflecting higher education levels, later entry into the labour force, as well as increased economic independence.
Meanwhile, enrolment of children in primary education is nearly universal today. The gender gap has narrowed and once they have enrolled in school, the report finds that girls perform better than boys through primary education in two thirds of countries.
However in some developing nations the disparities against girls are stark. The UN estimates that today, 58 million children of primary school age are out of school worldwide. More than half of them are girls and nearly three quarters live in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Although the vast majority of the world’s youth is currently literate, nearly two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women, a proportion unchanged for the last 20 years.
“Far too many women and girls continue to be discriminated against, subjected to violence, denied equal opportunities in education and employment, and excluded from positions of leadership and decision-making,” underscored Mr. Ban.
Indeed, the study finds that over one third of women worldwide have been a victim of physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Attitudes towards violence are reportedly beginning to change as both men and women see violence against women less acceptable – but 60 per cent of all women victims of violence still do not report it or seek any help.
Turning to the issue of child marriage, despite remaining a critical issue in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the occurrence has declined from 31 per cent in 1995 to 26 per cent in 2010.