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Despite Advances in Women’s Rights, Gender Equality Lags Around the World

Despite progress in codifying women’s rights into law, advances in gender equality around the world have been halting, at best. This, despite the additional attention that the #MeToo movement brought to incidents of sexual assault and harassment in parts of the Global North—and increasingly in the Global South.

In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa made news in mid-2019 when he appointed a Cabinet that included as many women as men. Later the same year, the European Commission also achieved the European Union’s self-imposed goal of gender parity. The thinking behind gender parity in government is that with greater levels of representation, women policymakers and legislators will pay more attention to issues that are often ignored by men, like gender-based violence or inheritance laws that discriminate against women.

But where quotas are used, they have failed to achieve parity for women in all but a few cases. Nor are they a panacea. Even with increased representation, policymakers must figure out how to turn good intentions into change on the ground, so that removing restrictions on education, to take one example, actually leads to improved school attendance rates for girls and young women.

And in places where women’s rights have advanced, they face persistent attacks. In the United States, a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy has been severely curtailed in some parts of the country. European countries, particularly France and Spain, have experienced high-profile incidents of gender-based violence and sexual assault that activists say call into question their commitment to ensuring women’s safety. More recently, the public health measures taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders, have further highlighted the particular challenges women face in developed and developing countries alike, from domestic violence to gender imbalances in child care responsibilities.

WPR has covered women’s rights in detail and continues to examine key questions about what will happen next. Will more countries institute quotas to guarantee female political representation? Will Argentina’s recent legalization of abortion lead other countries in Latin America and across the Global South to follow suit? And what can governments do to make sure their post-pandemic economic recovery plans don’t widen gaps in gender equality? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.

Our Most Recent Coverage

Although evidence is incontrovertible that women’s actual empowerment is good for peace and security, there is also a link between advocacy for women’s rights and violent conflict. Advocates whose work focuses on the nexus between “women, peace and security” would be wise to bear that in mind.

The Politics of Women’s Rights

Increasingly, the fight for women’s rights has become a mainstream political issue in many countries around the world. But legal advances don’t necessary bring societal change. And hard-won gains often face a backlash, with the pandemic raising new fears of a widespread regression in women’s economic progress.

  • Why gender quotas are no panacea for increasing women’s representation, in Quotas Get More Women Elected, but Gender Parity Is Still a Long Way Off

  • Why pandemic recovery efforts must include women to be effective, in To ‘Build Back Better,’ Listen to Women

  • Why increasing diversity and inclusivity in tech and programming is more important now than ever, in Achieving Diversity in Tech Is Mission Critical

  • How innovative financial technologies are providing new opportunities for women, in Fintech Can Be a ‘Game-Changer’ for Low-Income Women

Confronting Gender-Based Violence*

The #MeToo movement drew global attention to the scale of sexual harassment and gender-based violence that women regularly face in developed countries. A similar effort in the Global South has been slower to take shape, in part because accusations of violence and harassment are not taken seriously and the avenues to seek redress are not formalized. But recent protests in several developing countries suggest the issue is gaining traction as a focus of political debates.

Reproductive Rights

The push by southern U.S. states to virtually eliminate access to abortion underscores the constant tension that exists around the issue of reproductive rights. But those debates are not limited solely to access to abortion, as women and women’s** rights activists around the world push for access to a broad array of reproductive health services, including contraception and other family planning tools.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2019 and is regularly updated.

* The Lemkin Institute recognizes that violence against trans women has been excluded. This is an egregious oversight and all discussions on gender and violence must include trans women. **The Lemkin Institute recognizes the trans and non-binary exclusionary rhetoric and fully acknowledge that cis women are not the only people who need access to abortions.



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