Women's Progress That Will Make You Feel Good About The World

"I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved." — B. R. Ambedkar

Nowadays, painting a picture on how the world has progressed is not an easy thing to do. In a culture where sensationalism is highly valued, we are bombarded by scary and depressing news every single day. The good news doesn’t sell as much in the first place, so blaming the media might not be a wise solution. Following all these streams of readily available information can make us feel overwhelmed and hopeless about the future.

But how has our world progressing, really? Is it as bad as some of us thought it is? Have women made any progress?

The good news is -- contrary to what the majority of people believe -- the world is developing relatively well, and women’s progress is one of them. Unfortunately, we don’t get enough exposure to those ideas as much as we should. Don’t get me wrong; we need to address urgent issues and fight for important causes. However, knowing how much we have progressed related to women’s position in society is essential to stay positive about how much we can achieve in the future. On top of that, understanding how and why some causes gained more success than others will give us perspectives on how to work better on issues that faced more difficulties in progressing.

If we go back in history, humans have been inhabiting the planet for 6 million years, although the modern form of humans only evolved about 200,000 years ago. The first civilization appeared in 3000 BC, and modern history started in 1501. Yet since the earliest women movements in the 1900s, (which is roughly less than 80 years ago/ 1.6% of civilization/ 15.4% of modern history), a massive amount of things have changed our position as women in society. First-wave feminism only happened in 1882 Australia, 1871 Denmark, 1850 United Kingdom, 1904 Germany, and so on so forth [1]. The second wave of feminism, which includes more developing nations, black, and asian american, happened roughly 40-60 years ago (1960s-1980s) [2].

In the US 100 years ago, women were not allowed to hold property on the same terms as men, become an accountant or lawyer, to vote, or to join the military (abolished in 1918, 1919, 1920, and 1942, respectively) [6][7]. 50 years ago, women were prohibited from opening a bank account or apply for a loan, attending Ivy league school, running a Boston marathon, keeping their job while pregnant, or even obtain a court order against a violent husband or report marital rape (abolished in 1975, 1969, 1972, 1978, 1976, and 1991, respectively) [6][7].

Considering how much we have transformed in a relatively short time, change is more likely to happen than not. It is up to us to decide on how fast we would want it to happen. Below are some facts to brighten up your perspective about women’s progress and humanity in general. It’s there to help you feel happier, hopeful, and ready to take your fights and embrace challenges.

“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”

- Franklin D.Roosevelt

Thriving Women Eradicate Gender Disparity in Education

Today, it seems natural for women to go for higher education, although it was not much of a norm for a big part of our history. Better-educated women bring tremendous benefits for the economy. They tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labor market, earn higher incomes, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and enable better health care and education for their children. All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and nations out of poverty [9].

Compared to 15 years ago, many more girls in developing nations are currently in school. Gender disparity as a whole has been eliminated in primary, secondary, and tertiary education (0.98, 0.98, and 1.01 gender parity index, respectively). In 1990 South Asia, only 74 girls enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys. Today, this number has increased to 103 girls for every 100 boys [4]. Worldwide average of girls entering school were expected to complete a little over 12 years of schooling in 2015, outpacing their male classmates for the first time[5]. In the 2011 US, women were 62% of all those -- men and women -- who were awarded an associate degree, 57% of those awarded a bachelor’s degree, 59% of those who received a master’s degree, and 52% of those who received a doctorate or first professional degree [10].

"Compared to 15 years ago, many more girls in developing nations are currently in school. Gender disparity as a whole has been eliminated in primary, secondary, and tertiary education"

Women and Minorities are Closing the Literacy Gap

The literacy rate in global youth women (15-24 years old) is estimated to be 90% compared to 93% of young men [4]. For adult women, while this number is slightly lower to 83% as of 2016, it still is a considerable increase from the 1970s when only around 61% were. Even though this is still less than the 90% literacy rate among adult men, the relative gap has narrowed significantly. Sixty-four countries, or around one in four, had female adult literacy rates above 90%. Qatar, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, whereas showed the most progress in developing nations whereas slowest progressing countries are Mozambique, Pakistan, and Mali [5].

In the US, the literacy issue has shifted towards functional literacy, which addresses whether a person's educational level is sufficient to function in a modern society instead of basic reading and writing. In 1870, 20% of the entire adult population and 80% of the black community were illiterate. The situation had improved somewhat in 1900, although 44% of blacks remained illiterate. The gap continued to narrow through the 20th century, and in 1979 the illiteracy rates between black and white populations were about the same [11].

Women Outlive Men Despite Maternal Mortality and Scarcity

On average, women outlive men in every country by as little as a few months in Bhutan to nearly 11 years longer in Russia. Women in lower income countries were living 78% as long as women in higher income countries by 2016, up from 57% in 1960 [5]. Worldwide maternal mortality ratio has declined 45% since 2000 from 380 to 210 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Between 1990 and 2013, maternal mortality in Southern Asia fell 64%, followed by sub-Saharan Africa by 49%. In 2014, births assisted by skilled health personnel increased from 59% in 1990 to 71%. Worldwide women aged 15-49 who were using contraception methods have increased from 55% (1990) to 64% (2015). This proportion more than doubled in sub-Saharan Africa between 1990 and 2015, from 13% to 28%. During the same period, the percentage increased from 39% to 59% in Southern Asia [4].

"Women in lower income countries were living 78% as long as women in higher income countries by 2016, up from 57% in 1960. Worldwide maternal mortality ratio has declined 45% since 2000"

Another milestone was noted in adolescent childbearing, which reflects broader forms of social and economic marginalization of girls. This milestone is relevant, not only because of the medical danger but also because girls who attend a school or participate in the labor force tend to get married later and have more knowledge of their health and safety. Compared to 1990, the birth rate among adolescent girls in 2015 (aged 15-19) has declined from 59 to 51 births per 1,000 girls. The most dramatic progress was shown by Eastern Asia (15 to 6 births/1,000 girls), Oceania (84 to 53 births/1,000 girls), and Southern Asia (88 tp 47 births/1,000 girls) [4].

Women Participation in Labor Force Continues to Increase

Women began to enter the workforce in a significant number in 1960 and continued to grow ever since. Even though only half of the worldwide working-age women are currently participating in the labour force, the World Development Report (2012) estimates that in the period 1980-2008, the global rate increased from 50.2% to 51.8%. This data means that the gender gap narrowed from 32% in 1980 to 26% in 2008 [4][12]. Women in 2015 made up 41% of paid workers outside the agricultural sector, an increase from 35% in 1990. Between 1991 and 2015, the proportion of women in vulnerable employment (being a contributing family worker or an own-account worker) as a share of total female employment has declined by 13% (from 59% to 46%). In contrast, the number fell by 9% for men (from 53% to 44%) [4].

"Women in 2015 made up 41% of paid workers outside the agricultural sector, an increase from 35% in 1990. In the US, women’s participation has climbed from 32.7% in 1948 to 56.8% in 2016, outnumbering men’s share in the workforce."

In the US, women’s participation has climbed since WWII from 32.7% in 1948 to 56.8% in 2016, outnumbering men’s share in the workforce. Women with college degrees in the labor force in the same year accounted for 40%, almost quadrupled from 11% in 1970[13]. More than 40% of workers in managerial, business, and financial operations occupations and 27% of CEOs are women. In many professions, including accountants, bus drivers, pharmacists, photographers, veterinarians, lawyers, and doctors, women make up a substantial share, as opposed to a small minority back then. Today, we have a much more diverse workforce than in the past: gender, age, race, and ethnicity. For 38% of married couples, women in the US earn as much or more than their husbands. The wage gap is also smaller for each new generation of women entering the labor market [10].

Women in Leadership are Finally an Increasing Trend

Having women in politics is important because it opens a conversation to issues that are only affecting women. Currently, women are underrepresented, which means approving laws such as women's health, education, or labor rights are often left off the primary agenda. Fortunately, gender-balanced national cabinets are currently on the trend, even in developing nations. Women have gained ground in parliamentary representation over the past 20 years (11% in 1995 to 22% in 2015); since the Beijing Platform for Action on Women's Empowerment (1995). It means that even though only one in five members are women today, the average proportion of women has nearly doubled [4][5]. In developed countries, this number increased to one in three. In Rwanda and Bolivia, female legislatures are the majority, accounting for more than 60% for Rwanda and 50% for Bolivia [5].

"Women have gained ground in parliamentary representation over the past 20 years (11% in 1995 to 22% in 2015); since the Beijing Platform for Action on Women's Empowerment (1995)."

The likelihood of female heads of state in a row is also increasing. Since 2005, we have 15 elected female presidents or prime ministers, including Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany, Jacinda Arden in New Zealand, Park Geun Hye in South Korea, Portia Simpson Miller in Jamaica, and Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Trinidad and Tobago. Appointed head of states including Aminata Toure in Senegal, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, and Laimdota Straujuma in Latvia [14].

Under Age Marriage Continues to Decrease and is No Longer a Social Requirement

There is a notable difference in women and marriage in developing and developed nations. For the former, the focus is currently to end child marriage. Doing so will allow girls or women to participate fully in society, hence helping to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty. Even though more works still need to be done to eradicate it fully, the practice of child marriage has declined, especially for girls under 15 years of age in which the number decreased from 12% to 8% since the 1980s. In the same period globally, the number of young women entered into marriage fell from 1 in 3 to 1 in 4. Even though the rate in Latin America, the Caribbean, and India hasn't lowered as fast as it should, the number of women under 18 entering marriage in the Middle East and North Africa has dropped from 34% to 18% or about half in the last three decades. In Indonesia and Morocco, the number has fallen to more than half. Burkina Faso and Niger are two countries that probably need the most work at the moment [15].

"The practice of child marriage has declined for girls under 15 years of age from 12% to 8% since the 1980s. In the same period globally, the number of young women entered into marriage fell from 1 in 3 to 1 in 4."

In the last 50 years in developed countries, as marriage has become more of an option than a social requirement or economic security, the age of first marriage has increased dramatically. This trend is particularly apparent for the younger generation. The number of generation Y women who were never married when they hit the age of 30 is up to a third, compared to 7% of the previous generation.

More Works in Developing Nations

Even though some issues still need to progress more worldwide, significant improvements are definitely needed in developing nations. Since all the progress varies between regions, we have to take a closer look at the local scale. For instance, albeit a high number of women in the workforce in the US, globally the number which has plummeted until 1995 stagnated since (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa). The gap in income equality worldwide remains high, although it has increased from 44% in 1995 to 58% in 2017 [5].

The number of violence against women remains high, both in developed (23%-25%) and developing nations (as high as 37% in African, Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia Regions) [16]. There is hope knowing that in almost all countries, the level of both women’s and men’s acceptance of violence decreased over time. Moreover, at least 119 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, 125 have laws on sexual harassment, and 52 have laws on marital rape [17]. In especially developing nations, women continue to face discrimination in access to work, economic assets and participation in private and public decision-making, and more work needs to be done. Women are also more likely to live in poverty than men in 41 out of 75 countries, particularly for separated women, widows, and single mothers [4].

The good news is that, despite varieties in the progressing rate, trends in equality and women empowerment remain to incline over time rather than otherwise. As Wendell Phillips once said, “Every step of progress the world has made has been from scaffold to scaffold, and from stake to stake.” Every little progress counts and ought to be celebrated. Achieving a better life for women worldwide is to have optimism in our society, base our opinion in neutral data, and move forward accordingly. Change is certain, progress in civilization is natural, thus to accelerate change is to act on it with healthy positivism and faith in humanity.

We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can set limits to our onward march.” - John L. O'Sullivan

Note and References:

The data portrayed in the article is based on the following cited references and open to revision.

[1] First-wave feminism. (2020, June 28). Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-wave_feminism
[2] Second-wave feminism. (2020, June 25). Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-wave_feminism
[3] Timeline of women's education. (2020, July 07). Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_women's_education
[4] The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015. (2015, July 20). Retrieved July 13, 2020, from United Nations website: https://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/2015_MDG_Report/pdf/MDG%202015%20rev%20(July%201).pdf.
[5] Tartar, A., & Sam, C. (2019, March 27). How Big Is the Global Gender Gap? Depends Which Number You Look At. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2019-bloomberg-new-economy/progress-women-made-worldwide-gender-gap/
[6] Gane, T. (2020, Feb 03). 13 Things Women Weren’t Allowed to Do 100 Years Ago. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.rd.com/list/things-women-werent-allowed-to-do-100-years-ago/
[7] Friedmann, S. (2017, June 30). 13 Simple Things Women Couldn't Do 50 Years Ago In The US. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.bustle.com/p/13-simple-things-women-couldnt-do-50-years-ago-in-the-us-66601
[8] Liswood, S., Laura (2018, December 20). To hope or doubt? The state of women's progress in the world. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/12/women-progress-world-gender-gap-2018/
[9] Girls' Education. (2017, September 25). Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/girlseducation
[10] Hegewisch, A., et.al, (2015, November). Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Chartbook on Women’s Progress (Rep.). Retrieved July 13, 2020, from AARP Public Policy Institute website: https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2015/Chartbook-On-Women's-Progress.pdf
[11] National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved July 13, 2020 from https://nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp.
[12] Tzvetkova, E. (2017, October 16). Working women: Key facts and trends in female labor force participation. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://ourworldindata.org/female-labor-force-participation-key-facts
[13] DeWolf, M. (2017, March 1). 12 Stats About Working Women. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://blog.dol.gov/2017/03/01/12-stats-about-working-women
[14] Female World Leaders Currently in Power. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://jjmccullough.com/charts_rest_female-leaders.php
[15] Ending Child Marriage Progress and prospects (Rep. No. UNICEF/BANA2013-01082/Kiron). (2014, July 17). Retrieved July 14, 2020, from Unicef website: https://www.unicef.org/media/files/Child_Marriage_Report_7_17_LR..pdf
[16] Global and regional estimates of violence against women (Rep. No. 978 92 4 156462 5). (2013). Retrieved July 14, 2020, from World Health Organization website: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/85239/9789241564625_eng.pdf?sequence=1
[17] The World's Women 2015 Trends and Statistics Chapter 6: Violence Against Women (Rep.). (2015). Retrieved July 14, 2020, from United Nations Statistics Division website: https://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/downloads/WorldsWomen2015_chapter6_t.pdf

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