Background on Discrimination Against Women

How Women Are Discriminated Against

Discrimination can be seen at all ages and stages of development for women in the U.S. and abroad.

Fetus & Infancy

UNICEF notes that “Where there is a clear economic or cultural preference for sons, the misuse of [pregnancy diagnostic tools] can facilitate female feticide.” This means that in parts of the world, like China, parents will abort their child or put the child up for adoption on the basis that it’s a girl.

Childhood

A principal focus of the middle years of childhood and adolescence is ensuring access to, and completion of, quality primary and secondary education. With a few exceptions, it is mostly girls who suffer from educational disadvantage.

Adolescence

Among the greatest threats to adolescent development are abuse, exploitation and violence, and the lack of vital knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, including HIV/AIDS. Specific areas that UNICEF highlighted were female genital mutilation/cutting; child marriage and premature parenthood; sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking; sexual and reproductive health; and HIV/AIDS.

Adult

A recent report from the Department of U.S. Labor showed that women today are paid only 72 cents for every dollar a man earns. “Even more troubling -- the study found that at least one-third -- or about 11 cents -- of the pay gap is caused by pay discrimination against women -- and this is 38 years after the Equal Pay Act became law." said Senator Tom Harkin.

Motherhood and old age

These are two key periods in many women’s lives when the detrimental effects of both poverty and inequality can combine – during childbirth and in old age. Shockingly, it is estimated that each year more than half a million women—roughly one woman every minute—die as a result of pregnancy complications and childbirth, 99% of which occur in developing countries. Yet many of these women’s lives could be saved if they had access to basic health care services. In addition, elderly women may face double discrimination on the basis of both gender and age. Many older women are plunged into poverty at a time of life when they are very vulnerable.

Wage Discrimination

According to Inter Press Service, "On a global scale, women cultivate more than half of all the food that is grown. In sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, they produce up to 80 percent of basic foodstuffs. In Asia, they account for around 50 percent of food production. In Latin America, they are mainly engaged in subsistence farming, horticulture, poultry and raising small livestock." Yet women often get little recognition for that. In fact, many go unpaid. It is very difficult for these women to get the financial resources required to buy equipment etc, as many societies still do not accept, or realize, that there is a change in the "traditional" roles.

Reasons for such disparity include the fact that women are generally underpaid and because they often perform low-status jobs, compared to men. UNICEF notes that the data isn’t always perfect, and that generalizations can hide wider fluctuations. In Brazil, for example, women under the age of 25 earn a higher average hourly wage than their male counterparts. However, in developing nations and in most industrialized nations, men are usually paid more than their female counterparts in the same field.

Wage discrimination is also prevalent in the U.S. As noted earlier, women today are paid only 72 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Background on Women’s Rights

Millions of women throughout the world live in conditions in which they are deprived of their basic human rights for no other reason than their gender.

Combatants in conflicts, like in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, and Rwanda, have raped women as a weapon of war without consequence. Men in Pakistan, South Africa, Peru, Russia, and Uzbekistan beat women in the home at astounding rates. Women from Ukraine, Moldova, Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Burma, and Thailand are bought and sold, trafficked to work in forced prostitution. In Guatemala, South Africa, and Mexico, women's ability to enter and remain in the work force is obstructed. In the U.S., students discriminate against and attack girls in school who are lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender, or do not conform to male standards of female behavior. Women in Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia face government-sponsored discrimination that renders them unequal before the law.

Abuses against women are relentless, systematic, and widely tolerated, if not explicitly condoned. Violence and discrimination against women are global social epidemics. We live in a world in which women do not have basic control over what happens to their bodies. Millions of women and girls are forced to marry and have sex with men they do not desire. Husbands and other male family members obstruct or dictate women's access to reproductive health care. Doctors and government officials disproportionately target women from disadvantaged or marginalized communities for coercive family planning policies.

The realization of women's rights is a global struggle based on universal human rights and the rule of law. It requires all of us to unite in solidarity to end traditions, practices, and laws that harm women. It is a fight for freedom to be fully and completely human and equal without apology or permission. Ultimately, the struggle for women's human rights must be about making women's lives matter everywhere all the time. In practice, this means taking action to stop discrimination and violence against women.

Sources:
Human Rights Watch
Global Issues - Gender Discrimination throughout a Lifetime
Global Issues - Progress