Women’s Rights and International Development

women rights

The women’s rights movement has pushed back against a system of patriarchal social norms and laws that have given men disproportionate power over women and children. This system of gender inequality has resulted in lower economic participation, increased risks of violence and illness, and less political representation for women. Empowering women can bring greater prosperity to families, communities and countries, and it is critical for the success of a wide range of international development goals.

Most Americans say that while the country has made progress toward granting women equal rights with men, there is still much work to be done. Democratic women and those who lean to the left are more likely than Republican men and those who lean to the right to say this (72% of Democratic women vs. 57% of Republican men). Among those who say more work remains, they are more likely to name issues specific to women’s economic status. They are more likely to mention equal pay, more job opportunities for women and fewer restrictions on women working outside the home, as well as no discrimination in hiring or promotion and better paid parental and maternity leave.

In most countries surveyed, large majorities of people say it is very important for women and men to have the same rights in their society. The share of adults who say this is very important, or somewhat important, is highest in Sweden (98%), the Netherlands (86%), France (81%), Germany (81%) and the U.S. (74%).

Women are also more likely to say they have experienced discrimination or abuse because of their gender than men. They are more likely to be victims of sexual assault, be at risk for exploitation in human trafficking and be displaced by war or disaster. In some cases, these experiences may have caused them to lose confidence in their government’s ability to protect their rights.

The vast majority of people across demographic and partisan lines support a global agenda to advance women’s rights. They want to see governments sign and implement the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, or CEDAW, which requires them to end gender discrimination and affirm women’s right to family planning, health care and education. They also support the Beijing Platform for Action, which follows CEDAW with a series of specific commitments to make gender equality a reality in every facet of life.

Some of the biggest challenges remain in low-income countries where harmful traditions, like child marriage and female genital mutilation, continue to trap girls into lives of poverty, and in high-income countries where women get paid less for the same jobs and suffer from misogynistic attitudes and policies. These barriers can be overcome by implementing policies that help women reach their full potential, including reducing the number of boys and girls who do not complete primary school and making it possible for them to access affordable birth control. All these efforts will contribute to a world in which women can fully participate as equal partners with men in building a better future for all.