Women’s Rights – A Global Ethical Imperative

women rights

Many people around the world see equal rights for women as an unquestionable ethical imperative. When women are empowered, communities and economies flourish. In addition, addressing the most urgent gender justice issues, such as violence against women, female genital mutilation, preventable maternal deaths and unmet need for contraception, is the best way to achieve a more sustainable planet for humans and other species.

In our global survey, about eight-in-ten adults — across age, income and partisanship — say it is very important that women have the same rights as men in their country. And more than nine-in-ten Democrats and those who lean Democratic say this is very important. Only 3% of Republicans and Republican leaners say women’s equality is not very or not at all important.

Most people agree that women have made progress in achieving their rights, but there are still a lot of unfinished work. In fact, in a few countries that ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), women’s rights are backsliding.

As recently as 2000, women could not obtain passports as easily as men; they were allowed to work night shifts only in a quarter of countries; and they had fewer legal protections against domestic violence and sexual exploitation. These gaps are shrinking – but progress is uneven.

In a wide range of countries, majorities or pluralities of people think women are more likely than men to have experienced physical and/or sexual assault in their lifetime. They are also more likely to have experienced domestic or family violence. And in war zones, women and girls are especially vulnerable to sexual assault or rape by soldiers and militias.

A majority of those surveyed say it is very important to protect women’s rights, and about half specifically mention equal pay and no discrimination in hiring or promotion as something they would expect to see in a society where there are gender-equal rights. When asked about the most important milestones in advancing women’s rights, those with the highest levels of education point to women getting the right to vote and gaining legal status as citizens, while those with the lowest level of education cite more recent developments such as legislation on violence against women and better access to health services like birth control.

When we run a more formal regression analysis that accounts for factors such as religion, time and other economic drivers, it turns out that economic drivers, particularly female labour force participation, total fertility rates and per-capita GDP, are the strongest predictors of women’s rights. But the results show that non-economic factors such as religion can dampen the positive effect of these economic channels. This is why a global, holistic approach is needed. Only when women and girls have full economic, social, political and cultural empowerment will true equality be realized. Until then, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that all nations and peoples are fully accountable for upholding women’s rights.