Women’s Rights Are Not Just About Women’s Rights

Across every country and age group, most people agree that it is important for women to have equal rights with men. In fact, majorities in 30 of the 34 nations surveyed believe that gender equality is either possible or likely within their lifetime. But there is a huge gap between public opinion and the reality on the ground. While women are making progress, they face discrimination and violence daily. In countries where laws on gender equality are in place, the law is not always respected. Police and judicial systems often fail to punish perpetrators, creating a climate of impunity. And poverty rates for women are still much higher than those for men.

As the International Women’s Day theme of “Pledge for Parity” reminds us, it’s vital to take concrete steps towards gender equality. It’s not just about women’s rights — it’s also good for society. The world is better off when women are fully engaged in the economy and able to make their own choices about when and how to have children. Women and girls who have a say in their reproductive decisions can avoid unwanted pregnancies, unplanned sex, and early births. And when women have equal pay with men, they can provide a better life for their kids, including education, healthy food, and opportunities that will benefit them throughout their lives.

These improvements have come about over seven generations of women’s organized and tireless efforts to improve their lives in all aspects of society: family, religion, business, government, politics, and the workforce. They have worked to advance their own interests in the most democratic of ways: through meetings, petition drives, lobbying, public speaking, and nonviolent resistance. The vast majority of these improvements have come about because of their own efforts.

Today, women are working in occupations that were considered unimaginable a generation ago: dentist, bus driver, veterinarian, airline pilot and phone installer to name just a few. And they are doing this in cities and isolated towns alike, despite the fact that only 30% of jobs around the world are open to women. Yet despite all this progress, there is still work to be done: in sub-Saharan Africa for example, 69% of countries limit women’s mobility and access to property.

When Americans are asked to identify obstacles that keep women from having equal rights with men, 77% say sexual harassment is a big problem; two-thirds say that women are not being given the same legal rights as men and that they don’t have enough seats at the table in government and business. A smaller percentage cite other issues such as different expectations for women and men (66%), lack of affordable child care (53%) and family responsibilities (36%) as major obstacles. A small percentage cited the physical differences between men and women (2%) and the fact that some people have misogyny in their hearts (17%).