On International Women’s Day, let’s remember to highlight the brave, smart and extremely strong women of the developing world.
Today is International Women’s Day, and American women are planning everything from social events to marches to A Day Without Women programs that bring into focus the importance women play in their societies.
Often what gets forgotten on this day are women of developing countries, who cannot afford to take the day off for such programs just to celebrate themselves. Here are some important facts about women in the non-western world, their struggles, their contributions, and their wins. Let us remember to take this day to highlight the brave, smart and extremely strong women of the developing world:
1. The state of women in poor countries is declining.
This is because of events western women don’t even think about on a daily basis. A 2015 United Nations report explains that extremism, violent conflict, volatile energy prices, natural disasters and even climate change have adversely affected the lives of women where they are already vulnerable.
2. The gap between rich and poor women is widening.
A woman in Sierra Leone is a 100 times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in Canada. Even within a developing country, the differences between rural and urban women is vast: in Latin America, the rates of illiteracy among indigenous women are more than double those of non-indigenous women.
3. Women need better pay and work conditions.
The issue of pay inequity is more pronounced in the developing world than anywhere else. The United Nations estimates that 75 percent of women’s employment is informal and unprotected in developing nations, and that women spend 2.5 times more on unpaid care and domestic work than men do. Furthermore, the disparity between pensions is huge in some countries: only 8 percent of women in Egypt receive old-age pension, as compared to 91 percent in the United States.
4. Women’s rights treaties need work.
Most countries have signed women’s rights treaties, but this has not translated into what women truly need to get ahead. For instance, even though access to education has been formally equalized, the safety for girls to attend school or the cultural acceptance towards female education has not followed suit.
(All statistics taken from “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights”)
Despite the struggles, women in developing countries are strong and hard-working. Studies find that when we promote and support women, great things can happen, for instance:
- Increasing women and girls’ education contributes to higher economic growth, up to 50 percent.
- For every one additional year of education for women of reproductive age, child mortality decreased by 9.5 percent.
- In South Asia, over 80 percent of women in non-agricultural jobs are in informal employment, in sub-Saharan Africa, 74 percent, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, 54 percent.
(All statistics taken from the United Nations, “Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment”).
At the same time, we must also celebrate the successes women have had, and continue to have, in poor countries around the world. Politically, socially, culturally, women are making headway with few resources available to them.
Political participation is perhaps the most important way for women to make their issues known and improved upon. Women have increased political parliament in African nations in a big way. In South Africa and Mozambique, women hold 30 percent of the seats in parliament. In 2004, Mozambique became the first country in the region to appoint a woman as prime minister.
In Rwanda, women lead the world in representation in national parliaments. There, 49 percent of parliamentarians are female, while the world average is just 15 percent. Overall, in 14 of 23 recent elections in African countries, women increased their parliamentary representation (source: Africa Renewal Online).
Industries such as Information technology and other home-based businesses are leveling the playing field for women in a way that wasn’t possible without the far-reaching effects of the internet. In South Asia, organizations offer micro loans to women, create job training in villages and small towns, and contribute to female empowerment in other ways.
Women in developing markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines have made strides in tertiary education enrollment (Source: 2016 MasterCard Index of Women’s Advancement).
Even women in Saudi Arabia, often considered the most oppressed state for women’s rights, is slowly beginning to offer opportunities for women in the areas of political participation, economic access and more.
So while we applaud the contributions of western women today and every day, and fight hard to remove gender inequalities for America and Europe, let us also do the same for our counterparts in the developing world, who need us to amplify their voices.
Featured image of Syrian refugees by the UK The Department for International Development. Creative commons license.