A Step Towards Change: Better Education and Representation for Women

I am a young, single woman who has traveled from Texas to South Africa, India, China, Australia, and many other countries around the world. I have been lucky enough to see wonders of the world, experience vibrant cultures that I read about in books, and try foods that I had never heard of. I have also been fortunate enough to speak with women from many of the countries that I have visited, or lived in. Many of these women were in absolute shock that I could be traveling around the world on my own, as a woman. Some of these women envied my freedom while others did not, but I was always reminded how truly fortunate that I am to have the liberty of choice. The choice to see and experience the world and to follow my own path. This choice and freedom always made me think that I was equal to men in my country. I was born and raised being told that I could do anything that I wanted. However as I have learned, my opportunities are different than my brother’s. I face challenges that he, and my father, will never understand. The world is different for me and as lucky as I am in my country, I am not as free as a man because I am not considered truly equal to a man. I will never be able to walk to my car at night without looking over my shoulder nor will I make as much money as my male counterpart at work. I may be free but I am not equal. As my task for Womanstats over the past five months has illustrated to me so well, there are countries of the world where women are treated better than in others, yet there is no country in the world where women are considered truly equal to men.

How are women still seen as less than men in every country of the world in 2016? My charge over these past months has been to code a United Nations report entitled, The World’s Women 2010. This important report comes out every five years covering a broad range of women’s issues. It looks at important sectors of everyday life and quantifies the status of women in various countries around the world. Most importantly, this report is able to track progress, and also regress, of the world’s women. Though progress has been made in many places, there are many countries where circumstances are worsening for women. The rights women wake up with one day are stripped the next because a new leader has come to power or a new law has passed. The importance of highlighting success and learning from defeat, in the realm of women’s issues, is immense. Sharing what we learn is key to empowering women around the world. Because of this, I want to share information from two sections of the report that I have been working on in order to emphasize areas that I believe are vital channels of provoking long-term change for women. My hope is that the work that myself and countless other women and men are doing around the world, to promote the equality of women, will ensure that the next generation of women will be able to say there are countries around the world where women and men are genuinely considered equal. (All information and statistics provided below are from the The World’s Women 2010 Report.)

Education– As a woman currently seeking her master’s degree and who taught English abroad for several years, I have seen and experienced the power of education. The transformation that basic knowledge can provide to a woman’s life is great. Basic arithmetic along with the ability to read and write can make a woman’s life much less arduous as well as open doors that would be otherwise shut to her. Yet women account for two-thirds of the world’s 774 million illiterate adults. Shockingly, this proportion has remained unchanged for approximately two decades as young girls are often kept home from school to tend to the house, are unable to attend school when menstruating, or are pulled out of school at a young age to marry. Of the 72 million primary aged children out of school around the world, 54% of them are girls. The ramifications of limiting the education of half of a country’s population are tremendous and the political, economic, and social future of a state is exceedingly constrained when doing so. For this reason, many regions and specific countries have made great advancements in their pursuit of offering equal education to males and females.

Improvements in the education of girls is evident at all levels of schooling around the world. From 1999-2007, the rate of enrolled primary-school-aged girls increased from 79% to 86%. This increase in enrollment proved larger than the increase in boys enrolled in primary school. Huge strides have been made in primary school education enrollment levels in Africa and Central Asia, due partly to the abolishment of school fees. Africa, as a whole, increased the participation of young women by 16% in primary schools around the continent. Several countries in Africa saw their gender parity index scores favor young women for primary school enrollment including, Gambia, Malawi, Mauritania, and Namibia. The rate of enrolled secondary-school-aged girls also increased, by 8 percentage points, from 1999-2007. Notably, Latin America and the Caribbean (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela), several countries in Southern Africa (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa), Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand), and Oceania (Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga) have more girls enrolled in secondary schools than boys. At the tertiary level, women overtook men in accounting for 51% of those enrolled in tertiary education in 2007. Rapid growth in female tertiary enrollment came in East Asia, South Asia, West Asia, the Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa. The advancements made in women’s education around the world are great, but many regions are still lagging far behind.

There is much left to do in order to provide equal education for girls around the world, particularly in South Asia and much of Africa. Middle and West Africa have the world’s lowest rates of female primary school enrollment at just 60%. South-Central and Western Asia also lag behind in the primary enrollment of young women. Secondary education of girls is a real area of concern as less than 58% of secondary-school-aged girls attend schools. More troubling is that over 90% of these girls live exclusively in Western Europe and North America. Middle Africa, Western Africa, and Eastern Africa have far fewer girls attending secondary school than boys. In contrast to primary school enrollment where gender parity has been achieved in 117 countries, out of 144 with data, only 54 countries have achieved secondary education gender parity. At the tertiary level, Middle, Eastern, and Western Africa, again, fall significantly behind the global average. Overall, in countries like Benin where over 80% of women have never received schooling (compared to 57% of men) and Pakistan where approximately 67% of women have also not received schooling (compared to 35% of men) limitations remain for the socio-economic development within these states. If only more women were able to address these issues…

Power and Decision-making– Around the world women are underrepresented in high-level positions within the public and private sectors. The fact is that men are currently controlling the vast majority of the world and the importance of increasing the participation of women in positions of power is tremendous for many reasons. Companies with a female chief executive officer (CEO) have a greater number of women on their board of directors than companies with a male CEO. Many women recognize the need to lift other women into leadership positions, yet men dominate most realms of leadership around the world. In fact, women account for only 17% of parliamentary seats and ministerial positions around the globe. When his report was written, women held only 11 of 192 heads of government. Eleven! Men, almost exclusively, are making the decisions that govern the world. It is no surprise then that many laws around the world favor men. This is also an issue in the private sector as only 13 of the world’s 500 largest companies in the world have a female CEO. This might be one reason to explain the gender bias in many spheres of general and product research as even the dosage of medicine is typically decided upon with a man in mind. In order for the world to be truly inclusive and equal, women must make up more of the world’s leadership positions.

Some progress has been made in lifting women into positions of power and decision-making over the years. In 1995, women accounted for, on average, 10% of the lower or single houses of parliament around the world, but by 2009 this number had risen to 17%. In all of Africa and most of Asia, the proportion of women in these houses of parliament doubled, or more than doubled. The adoption of quotas and reserved seats has significantly increased the parliamentary representation of women in the South Asian countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. In 2008, Rwanda recorded the highest proportion of elected women to parliament in the world with 56% representation. Interestingly, several post-conflict countries have improved women’s representation in their legislatures during and after reconstruction. Aside from Rwanda, 7 other countries have over 40% women represented in parliament including, Argentina, Cuba, Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, South Africa, and Sweden. Improvements have also come in the representation of female ministers around the world. In 1998, only 8% of ministers were women compared to 17% in 2008. As well, notable elections of female heads of state have come in Argentina, Chile, Germany, Haiti, Iceland, India, Liberia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Yet with so few female leaders of countries, how can we expect women to be made equal?

Though improvements have been made, the statistics outlined above offer a sad reality about the representation of women in positions of power today. In 2009, 6 countries still had no women in their lower or single houses of parliament. In Western Asia, women account for just 9% of the lower or single houses of parliament. Worse still, women presided over only 21 of 176 lower or single chambers of parliament and 10, of the 73, upper houses of parliament, at the time of this report. Local representation of women mirrors national representation with as little as 8% of elected councilors being female in North Africa. Azerbaijan, Egypt, Estonia, Iran, Morocco, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, all noted less than 5% of their local councilors were women. Lack of females in top public sector positions also extends to ministers and judges. In 2008, there were no female ministers in 9 countries and the judiciary remains largely male, aside from Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe offers more opportunity for female directors and chief executives as well with women accounting for over 25% of these positions, within 6 out of 8 countries, but in Western Europe the statistic was below 20% in all countries, except Austria. As a whole, Europe has the lowest proportion of females on the boards of large companies. As women remain vastly underrepresented in top tier posts within the public and private sectors around the world, women’s interests cannot be fully realized.

The cycle of men’s domination of women will not change unless we break it. All people are equal and should be treated so. Thus, providing an education to women begins the process of empowerment and puts a stop to early oppression of half the world’s population. As women put resources earned back into their families and communities, their education improves the circumstances of all. Their decisions can translate to more inclusivity within a community, country, and the around the world. Though progress has been made in the global trends of women’s education and in the promotion of women to positions of power, so much more must be done around the world and more resources must be focused in particular regions and countries. Change is possible and the progress made should keep us hopeful for the future. I hope to see more of our efforts in my future travels as communities, countries, and regions become more equal for women.



The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics (Rep.). (2010). Retrieved 2016, from The United Nations website: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/Worldswomen/WW_full report_color.pdf



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