The current wave of globalization has greatly improved the lives of women worldwide, particularly the lives of women in the developing world. Nevertheless, women remain disadvantaged in many areas of life, including education, employment, health, and civil rights. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank, 57 percent of the 72 million primary school aged children who do not attend school are females. Additionally, girls are four percent less likely than boys to complete primary school (Gender statistics, 2010).
In particular, care for women during maternity is still lacking in many parts of the world. Approximately 520,000 women die annually during pregnancy and childbirth (Gender statistics, 2010). Countries with the lowest maternal mortality rate (deaths per 100,000 live births) include Estonia (2), Singapore (3) and Greece (3), while the highest maternal mortality rates can be found in Chad (1,100), Somalia (1,000) and Sierra Leone (890) (CIA World Factbook).
To help remedy worldwide gender disparities, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals prioritize gender equality and empowerment of women. In particular, Millennium Development Goal Three purports to “promote gender inequality and empower women.” As part of the Millennium Goals, the international community, especially the UN, will monitor several indicators of gender equality including the levels of female enrollment at school, participation in the workplace, and representation in decision-making positions and political institutions. Progress on these goals has been uneven, especially for women and girls.
Two key international declarations form the basis for this agenda. As part of its “Decade for Women,” the UN published the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women in 1985 with the purpose of creating a blueprint for global action to achieve women’s equality by the year 2000. Ten years later, the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995 issued the Beijing Platform for Action, which was designed to update and invigorate the world community’s commitment to gender equality.
These international conferences and documents have served to crystallize the understanding of the unique problems women face worldwide and to promote efforts to address them. More recently, means to monitor the progress of and the struggle to remedy women’s problems have been implemented. Other documents deal with specific challenges to women’s rights. For example, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women vows to guarantee women equal rights with men in all spheres of life, including education, employment, health care, suffrage, nationality, and marriage.
In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly voted to create a new UN entity for gender equality and empowerment of women entitled UN Women. Its role is to support intergovernmental bodies in policy formation, help member states implement new standards and regulations, and hold the UN system accountable for gender equality.
This Issue in Depth will examine the effects of globalization on women worldwide, namely on their participation in the economy, representation in the political process, education, health, and sexual slavery. It also will discuss the possibility of globalization’s ability to greatly benefit women in the internationalization of the movement for gender equality, and the legal structure that supports this goal and recognizes women’s rights as basic human rights.