2018 has been a hectic year for women’s rights all around the world. The Trump administration is continually ingraining the idea that the world is not for women, and even more so for gender non-binary women and women of color. Last June, the UN commented on the state of women’s rights, saying that “no country in the world has successfully eliminated discrimination against women or achieved full equality.” They additionally noted that there has been "alarming pushback" recently against gender equality in many countries. In light of this, let’s take a moment to look at the state of three big issues in women’s rights around the world today: reproductive choices, domestic violence, and equal pay.
Reproductive Choices and Healthcare
The World Health Organization estimates that every year, 21.6 million women undergo unsafe abortions globally. These unsafe abortions account for 13% of all maternal deaths around the world. While women’s health is being contentiously fought for worldwide, there is yet to be a country where women have absolute legal rights to their own bodies. Two countries who have infamously disregarded women’s rights in respect to their reproductive choices are China and India, where the governments have and continue to enforce population control policies.
From 1975 to 1977, the Indian government enacted Compulsory Sterilization on women and men in as a means of population planning. Compulsory Sterilization was enforced through government-sponsored sterilization camps that forced and coerced people to undergo sterilization processes, including surgery. Though the policy is no longer in effect, many women still choose sterilization because they lack access to contraceptives and clean birthing facilities. The lack of safe and affordable birth control options result in higher instances of unsafe abortions and maternal death.
China’s One-Child Policy, starting 1979, ended recently in 2016 and was subsequently replaced by the Two-Child Policy. It’s exactly what it sounds like: Chinese couples were only allowed to have one child. If women got pregnant outside of legal restrictions, they were either forced to abort their child or pay a substantial fine. It included family-planning officers who “[charted] the menstrual cycle and pelvic-exam results of every woman of childbearing age”. Data from the Chinese Health Ministry in 2013 showed that 336 million abortions and 222 million sterilizations have taken place since the policy was enforced.
In both countries, boys’ higher social value than girls lead to the negative effects of sex-selective practices that allowed women to abort female fetuses to increase the chances of delivering a son. Today, both countries are battling with the consequences of gender imbalance as both populations are heavily male-dominated. China has 34 million more men than women, and India has 37 million more. Even though the governments’ stances on the respective policies have loosened significantly, their implications reach broadly and deeply.
Domestic violence is a hushed issue in cultures and societies around the world. Last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that in 2018 alone, 87,000 women were murdered around the world. More than half were killed by intimate partners or family members. More than a third of those who were intentionally killed were murdered by a current or former intimate partner.
Geographically, though, Asia had the most female homicides perpetrated by partners and family members, followed by Africa, North and South America, and Europe.
A few of the countries with the most significant gender pay gaps include Korea, Estonia, Japan, Latvia, and Chile. Just last year, Iceland became the first country to make it illegal to pay men more than women, where men guilty of doing so are sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. Iceland is ranked on many measures as one of the best countries to be a woman.
In other places, especially nations in conflict, women don’t even make up much of the population in the formal economy. Take for example Yemen, where women account for a mere 7% of the workforce population. Yemeni women make 75 cents for every dollar a man makes, adding up to a 25% gap in wage. Again, this only accounts for a small number of Yemeni women. It is more likely that they work in the informal economy, such as family businesses, which can lack financial security and are often not included in wage calculations.
So, despite the progress women have made in politics, economics, entertainment, and the home, there is still undoubtedly a long way to go. It’s easy to be blinded by the progress and fierce activism made in women’s rights in America and assume that the same progress is being made for women around the world, but in many places, the attention accompanied with speaking out against patriarchal norms often lead to public humiliation and danger for women and their communities. Winning rights for women is about more than giving opportunities to any individual woman or girl. No simple arrangement of government policy or endorsement can change deep-rooted patriarchy; rather it is about changing how countries and communities work. It involves having conversations with classmates and neighbors, supporting laws and policies, and investing in strong women’s organizations and movements.
Anna Wu is a 19 year-old writer, dumpling chef, and avid listener of self-help podcasts. As an Asian-American college student, she is passionate about creating content that inspires young people to find and discuss diverse narratives on the journey of better understanding themselves. She is currently studying at Mount Holyoke College.