Women’s Rights in the 21st Century

women rights

Women are entitled to a range of human rights – including equal pay, land ownership and security, freedom from violence, access to education and health care. These rights are critical to women’s self-determination, and to the prosperity and peace of nations. Yet many of these rights remain elusive.

Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, there is still much to be done to reach gender equality and ensure that every woman and girl can enjoy her fullest potential.

In countries around the world, many women live in poverty because they earn lower wages for the same work as men. This income disparity can prevent a woman from making important decisions about her life, such as where she lives and whether to marry or have children. It can also lead to poor health outcomes, such as from unintended pregnancy and complications of childbirth, as well as limited access to reproductive health services and sex education.

Around the world, women are subjected to gender-based violence and discrimination based on their identity and sex. They are denied freedom of movement and association, are often unable to participate in political life or access justice and public services, and face the threat of repression, sexual harassment, forced abortions and sex trafficking. Poor maternal and reproductive health is a leading cause of death for girls and women, especially in developing countries. And despite the progress made by women’s movements, many countries do not have laws to protect women from violence and do not fully implement international human rights treaties that specifically address these issues.

While there are a number of challenges, a majority of people surveyed (73%) believe that it is likely that women in their country will have the same rights as men, and 5% say that women already have these rights in their country. However, there is a significant partisan gap; three-quarters of those who identify as Democratic and lean left say that their country’s leaders have done at least a fair amount to advance women’s rights; only half of Republicans and those who lean right say the same.

When asked about the most important milestone in advancing women’s rights, most Americans cite women’s suffrage. This is particularly true for those with more education; more degree holders say this is the most important milestone than those with less education. Still, a plurality of respondents point to the fact that there are not enough women in positions of leadership and government as a major obstacle to achieving equal rights for women. This is a critical issue; research shows that businesses with women in senior management are more successful than those without. In addition, closing the gender pay gap saves a nation money and increases productivity. It is time to stand up for women’s rights and demand that governments do more to protect them. To do so requires changing the way governments and societies operate, and bringing the voices of women into those discussions.