Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Women's rights protest, Oct. 1, 2016.
Flickr / Grzegorz Żukowski
Girls & Women

Women's Rights Definitely Won't Be Achieved Overnight, Study Confirms


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Women around the world still don’t have the rights to make decisions about their bodies, lives, or futures. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published The Social Institutions and Gender Index to illustrate the progress countries have made towards achieving women’s rights and what is still left to be done. You can join us in taking action on this issue here

The world still has a long way to go before reaching gender equality, according to new research.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published The Social Institutions and Gender Index (Sigi) database on Dec. 7, showing child marriage isn’t declining fast enough and many countries still prioritize men over women, the Guardian reports

Take Action: Urge Leaders to Step Up for Women’s Rights and Health

Sigi compares the state of discriminatory laws and culture across 180 countries to study women’s familial, physical, economic, and civil rights. Middle Eastern and North African countries displayed the highest levels of discrimination. Yemen, Cameroon, and the Philippines ranked the worst on the list.

Although gender inequality is worse in certain parts of the world, Rachel George, a senior research officer in the gender equality and social inclusion team at the Overseas Development Institute, wanted to emphasize that the threats against women’s rights are widespread. 

“We can’t let the west — the US, the UK, Europe, or even the Scandinavian countries that seem to always get all the fanfare for gender equality — think this doesn’t apply to them. Every country has some discrimination going on in some way, and some discrimination which may be pervasive, so keeping everyone on the hook is extremely important,” she told the Guardian.

So what exactly do Sigi’s numbers show?

Researchers found 41 countries only consider a man to be the head of the household and strict laws in 27 countries order women to obey their husbands. Women in 24 countries cannot work without receiving permission from their husbands or legal familial guardian.  

The drilled-down statistics aren’t much better.

Even though there are more laws restricting child marriage than ever before, 1 in 6 girls still marries before the age of 18. The practice has declined so slowly that global advisers don’t foresee it going away for another century. 

Read More: 13 Stories That Show How Women Are Treated Around the World

This isn’t a good sign. When young girls enter child marriages they are more likely to drop out of school, and experience early pregnancies, malnourishment, domestic violence, and pregnancy complications. Child marriage doesn’t only stunt young girls from reaching their full potential but it also holds entire communities back. 

The state of women’s reproductive health around the world also looks bleak. There are still legal restrictions around unplanned pregnancies in 119 countries — since 2012, only two countries have decriminalised abortion — which research has shown makes the possibility of ending world poverty much harder.

But when it comes to violence against women, there’s been visible progress since 2014. Intimate partner violence has been criminalized in 14 countries and three countries have made female genital mutilation illegal. Domestic violence has become significantly less socially acceptable, dropping from 50% in 2012 to 27% currently. 

When women are subjected to violence in the home they can become less productive, suffer emotional trauma, and are less likely to support their families financially.

Bathylle Missika, head of the gender division at the OECD’s development center, remains optimistic despite the systemic roadblocks in place.

“The glass half full is that there’s been tremendous political will across countries to implement laws that were not there before, or to actually improve them, so that women’s rights are better protected, yet social norms remain a sticky point, and one that is very difficult to address,” she told the Guardian.

Missika says in order for there to be real change, every nation needs to make an effort.

“This is what people have to understand: There is no final approach that works when it comes to implementing sustainable development goal five [gender equality]. It’s a whole-of-society approach and interventions have to be targeting the whole lifecycle of women,” she explained.