The world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030. Try 2322.
That’s right. According to a report published by UN Women in September 2022, it could take close to 300 years to achieve full gender equality at the current rate of progress (read: too slow).
The global pandemic, conflict, the climate crisis, and a harsh backlash against women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are further diminishing the outlook for gender equality. Violence against women remains high; global health, climate, and humanitarian crises have further increased risks of violence, especially for the most vulnerable women and girls; and women feel more unsafe than they did before the pandemic.
In countries as diverse as Afghanistan and the US, women and girls now have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers did.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has banned women from attending secondary school and university, pushing the world further away from achieving UN Global Goal 5 for gender equality. Meanwhile in Iran, women and girls have been at the center of a nationwide uprising, demanding an end not only to hijab requirements but to the Islamic Republic itself. In the US, the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark ruling that had safeguarded the right to abortion across the US. Since then, at least 13 states have banned abortion, meaning that Americans in these states with regressive anti-abortion laws now have fewer human rights protections than authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia.
Here are 13 shocking facts about the state of global gender inequality today.
1. Not a single country in the world has achieved gender equality.
On a global level, there’s been little progress on gender equality since the Global Goals were signed in 2015.
A third of countries have made no progress since then, and of these, 18 countries have seen gender inequality worsen, with Venezuela, Afghanistan, Algeria, Belarus, Kuwait, and Ecuador the worst affected.
The worst countries for gender equality in 2022 were Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Chad.
South Sudan has some of the highest rates for forced marriage and maternal mortality. In Chad, child marriage is also widespread among girls, reducing girls’ education and resulting in one of the highest rates of early childbearing worldwide. Yemeni women cannot marry or receive health care without the permission of their male guardian and do not have equal rights to divorce or child custody. The legal system has few provisions for the protection of women who experience domestic and sexual violence — leaving some women vulnerable to becoming the victims of so-called honor killings.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, UN experts revealed in March 2023 that 20 years of progress for women and girls’ rights have been erased since the Taliban’s takeover of the country.
While no country has yet achieved gender parity, the top nine countries (Iceland, Norway, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Germany, Nicaragua, Namibia, and Lithuania) have closed at least 80% of their gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual Global Gender Gap report in 2023.
2. Over 380 million women and girls are living in extreme poverty.
That’s more than the entire population of the United States living on less than $1.90 a day.
Worse still, if current trends continue, more women and girls will live in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 than today. That is not the way we want the graph line to be turning.
Poverty is not gender-neutral. In fact, the majority of the world’s poor are women. Why? Poverty disproportionately affects women because they do not have as many opportunities as men to receive an education, work, or own property.
3. Over 1.2 billion women and girls live in places where safe access to abortion is restricted.
Access to abortion is a central part of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) — essential in the mission to achieve gender equality and end extreme poverty.
Yet, it remains illegal in several countries and restricted in many others, with over 1.2 billion women and girls of reproductive age (15-49) living in countries and areas where access to abortion is restricted, and 102 million living in places where abortion is prohibited altogether, according to UN Women.
Unsafe abortion is a leading but preventable cause of maternal mortality. An estimated 25 million unsafe abortions take place each year leading to the hospitalization of about 7 million women a year in developing countries, and up to 13.2% of maternal deaths globally.
The repercussions of unplanned pregnancies can also prevent women and girls from furthering their education and careers, with knock-on effects on their income. A study conducted in several countries in Africa including Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, for example, found that 56% of adolescent girls from hard-to-reach populations who had dropped out of school were currently or recently pregnant.
4. 12 million girls under 18 are married each year.
Child marriage is the formal (or informal) marriage of a child under the age of 18. Most often this is the marriage of a young girl to an older boy or man.
Child marriage is still prevalent in many parts of the world, and is exacerbated during humanitarian crises: be it conflicts, pandemics, or climate change, with girls from the poorest rural households suffering the most.
The UN report states that in 2021, nearly 1 in 5 women aged 20-24 were married before turning 18, from across communities. Girls from wealthy families in Bangladesh have been forced into marriages as children. Syrian refugee girls displaced by conflict have been married off before they were ready. American girls from Christian families have been victims of child marriage. And girls living in poverty in Myanmar have been married off to older men in China.
To eradicate child marriage by 2030, progress must be 17 times faster than progress of the previous decade.
5. One woman or girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes.
From the murder of Sarah Everard in the UK at the hands of a serving police officer to a 19-year-old set on fire after refusing her attacker’s advances in India, violence against women and girls is pervasive around the world.
But it’s not just violence at the hands of strangers that women and girls have to worry about, it’s those closest to them too. Globally, more than 1 in 10 women and girls aged 15-49 were subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner in 2021.
6. There are more forcibly displaced women and girls than ever before.
Some 44 million women and girls were forcibly displaced by the end of 2021 whether by climate change, war, conflict, or human rights violations — a record level.
For women, displacement isn’t the end of their problems, it’s only the beginning. They often lose their property, assets, livelihoods, and access to health care. It also exposes them to greater risks of violence, trafficking, and sexual abuse.
7. 130 million girls remain out of school worldwide.
Around the world, girls disproportionately miss out on education. A third of the world's poorest girls between 10 and 18 have never attended school, and in rural areas, 61% of girls do not attend secondary school.
The COVID-19 pandemic also resulted in more learning losses for girls than for boys, and an increased risk of facing child labor, gender-based violence, early marriage, and pregnancy.
Yet, girls’ education is integral to virtually every aspect of ending extreme poverty. When girls receive a quality education, every area of their lives and communities benefit. Keeping girls in school supports economic growth, promotes peace, and helps fight climate change. Women who complete secondary education go on to make higher incomes with each additional year of schooling boosting a girl’s earnings as an adult by up to 20%.
8. Women shoulder billions of hours of unpaid childcare globally.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that women doing all the chores around the house is lower down on the list of gender equality priorities. It’s just a bit of washing up, right?
This phenomenon is referred to as unpaid care work. Unrecognized and undervalued, this invisible labor falls largely on mothers and daughters.
The pandemic, as with most things, made it worse. In 2020, school, preschool, and daycare closures led to an additional estimated 512 billion hours of unpaid childcare globally for women. That’s over 57,000 decades of unpaid work.
9. Almost 1 in 4 women experienced food insecurity in 2022.
The world is in the grip of an unprecedented and growing hunger crisis. A devastating convergence of conflict, climate change, and COVID-19 had already placed some of the world’s poorest under enormous strain, but the war against Ukraine now threatens to push millions of people into the most acute classification of hunger there is: famine.
Women are more likely than men to experience food insecurity, and the gender gap is growing. Globally in 2022, nearly 1 in 4 women experienced moderate or severe food insecurity — and it’s only predicted to get worse if action isn’t taken immediately.
10. It could take another 286 years to remove discriminatory laws for women and girls.
Laws that enshrine gender equality (like paying men and women the same money for the same work), prohibit discrimination against women, and guarantee equal rights are all crucial to ensuring women have equal legal rights and protections. But gaps remain in many countries and at the current rate, it may take up to 286 years to secure these legal frameworks.
11. Just 1 in 3 managers or supervisors is a woman.
The glass ceiling continues to hold strong and will do for some time — 140 years to be precise until women achieve parity at the current pace of change, according to the report.
12. Women hold just 26.5% of parliamentary seats
This isn’t about to change any time soon with the earliest date for parity forecast for 2062.
13. Women earn just 77 cents for every dollar men earn.
Although the global gender gap narrowed slightly between 2022 and 2023, women still earn less money over the span of their working lives than men.
Factors that contribute to this gender-based wealth inequity are gender pay gaps, unequal career progression trajectories, gender gaps in financial literacy, and life events. For frontline operational roles, for example, the overall gender wealth gap amounts to 11%; for professional and technical type roles, the gender wealth gap nearly triples to 31%; and for senior expert and leadership roles it expands further to 38%, according to the World Economic Forum.