Please click here to access key findings of the report entitled Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2008 Estimates developed by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank.

According to Progress of the World's Women: In Pursuit of Justice 2011-12, UN-Women, please click here to access

• Some 600 million women, more than half the world’s working women, are in vulnerable employment, trapped in insecure jobs, often outside the purview of labour legislation.

• Globally, 53 percent of working women are employed in vulnerable jobs, as own-account workers or as unpaid workers in family businesses or farms. In South Asia and

• Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 80 percent of women workers are in this kind of employment. Millions work in the informal economy as home-based workers and paid domestic workers.

• According to International Labour Organization (ILO) data from 18 countries, domestic work accounts for between 4 and 10 percent of the workforce in developing countries, and between 1 and 2.5 percent in developed countries. Between 74 and 94 percent of domestic workers in these countries are women.

• In South Asia alone, there are 50 million home-based workers, of whom four out of five are women. Home work ranges from traditional crafts such as weaving or embroidery, and processing natural products like making rope or shelling cashew nuts, to industrial work, such as making leather shoes, garments or trimming rubber and plastic parts. It is usually labour-intensive and done by hand. This work almost always takes place outside of formal systems of labour or social regulation, without basic rights to a minimum wage, social security or a pension.

• Globally, the proportion of working age women in formal employment or seeking work stood at 53 percent in 2009, unchanged since 1991.

• Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to protect and promote women’s rights. Since entering into force in 1981, the legally binding treaty has been ratified by 186 United Nations Member States.

• Based on available information from 83 countries, the ILO reports that women are generally paid between 10 and 30 percent less than men. According to the International Trade Union Congress, the average gender pay gap is 29 percent in Argentina, 22 percent in Poland and 24 percent in the Republic of Korea. These wage gaps reflect the fact that women doing the same or comparable jobs are paid less than men for the same work, but they are also indicative of the fact that women tend to be concentrated in low-paid work.

• According to the most recent data, global poverty rates have declined significantly, due largely to progress in China and India. The number of people in developing countries living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 1.8 billion in 1990 to 1.4 billion in 2005. The ILO estimates that in 2010, there were 87 million unemployed women globally, up from 76 million in 2007 .

• The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 906 million people were under-nourished in 2010, compared to 827 million in 1990 to 1992.

• The FAO estimates that the productivity gains from ensuring equal access to fertilizers, seeds and tools for women could reduce the number of hungry people by between 100 and 150 million.

• In South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of women are farm workers. Women do more unpaid work than men in all regions.

• Women are more likely than men to live in poverty in 22 out of the 25 countries for which data are available.

• When Bhanwari Devi was gang-raped by local men while doing her job as a social worker in a village in Rajasthan, India she not only initiated criminal proceedings, but she also sought a broader remedy for other working women. Supported by five women’s organizations, including Vishaka, she took the case to the Indian Supreme Court, where in 1997 she eventually won watershed recognition of sexual harassment in the workplace, against which the Government had an obligation to provide legal protection.

• The Government of India introduced a long-awaited bill prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace in 2007.

• 173 countries guarantee paid maternity leave. 139 constitutions guarantee gender equality. 125 countries outlaw domestic violence. 117 countries outlaw sexual harassment. 117 countries have equal pay laws. 115 countries guarantee women's equal property rights. 93 countries have equal inheritance rights.

• A review of legislation in 126 countries and territories indicates that 42 have laws in place to guarantee paid paternity leave. The Government of Sweden has had a policy of paid parental leave since 1974, with women and men equally entitled to take time off.

• According to the World Bank, at least 115 countries specifically recognize women’s property rights on equal terms to men. Even in those countries with laws in place, women’s actual control over land is limited. In 1994, the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra in India amended the Hindu Succession Act to give daughters the same inheritance rights as their brothers.

• In Europe, abortion is rarely permitted in 2 out of 37 countries. In Asia, abortion is rarely permitted in 18 out of 47 countries. In Africa, abortion is rarely permitted in 21 out of 52 countries. In Latin America and the Carribean, abortion is rarely permitted in 14 out of 30 countries. One in seven maternal deaths is caused by unsafe abortion.

• Five countries outlaw abortion under any circumstances, even when the mother’s life is at risk and 61 countries only allow abortion under very rare circumstances. As a result of such restrictions, approximately 20 million unsafe abortions are carried out annually, killing an estimated 68,000 women each year.

• In 48 countries, there are limitations on the industries in which women can work. The most common restrictions are on jobs that involve heavy lifting or arduous work; jobs that threaten a woman’s mental and physical health; and work in mines, quarries or underground. In 11 countries, female employment is restricted in jobs that are ‘against women’s morals’.

• In 13 countries across six regions, laws specify that women must retire at a younger age than men. In 50 countries, the minimum legal age of marriage is lower for females, exposing girls to the risks of early marriage. In the developing world, more than one third of women aged 20 to 24 report that they were married or in a union by the age of 18. Early marriage curtails girls’ opportunities for education and exposes them to the risks of early pregnancy and childbirth, the leading causes of death for girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries.

• Same-sex activity between consenting adults is criminalized in 40 percent of the countries surveyed. In 53 countries, consensual homosexual acts between adult women are illegal. Such laws and policies deny lesbian, transgender and bisexual women the protection of the law and limit their access to services.

• Since 2000, a number of countries have decriminalized homosexuality, including Armenia, Fiji, Nepal and Nicaragua. Six countries prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in their Constitutions: the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Ecuador, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland.

• As of April 2011, 125 countries have passed legislation on domestic violence, including almost all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Two thirds of all countries have also taken steps to make workplaces and public spaces safer for women, by passing laws to prohibit sexual harassment.

• Two thirds of countries have laws in place against domestic violence, but many countries still do not explicitly criminalize rape within marriage.

• As of April 2011, 52 countries have amended their legislation to explicitly make marital rape a criminal offence.

• In 17 out of 41 countries, a quarter or more people think that it is justifiable for a man to beat his wife.

• Another area of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights that is increasingly being subject to criminal law is HIV transmission. Criminalization takes two forms: through the application of existing criminal law and through new laws that specifically criminalize HIV transmission. There are 63 countries that have HIV-specific criminal laws: 27 in Africa, 13 in Asia, 11 in Latin America and the Caribbean, nine in Europe, two in Oceania and one in North America. In 17 countries, these laws have been used to prosecute individuals for transmitting HIV.

• Across 57 countries, on average 10 percent of women say they have experienced sexual assault, but of these only 11 percent reported it. This compares to a similar incidence of robbery, on average 8 percent, but a reporting rate of 38 percent. A 2009 study of European countries found that, on average, 14 percent of reported rapes ended in a conviction, with rates falling as low as 5 percent.

• In 23 out of 52 countries, less than half of women and men say they have confidence in their country’s justice system. In 18 out of 30 countries, more than half of women have no say in household decisions.

• Data from 39 countries show that the presence of women police officers correlates positively with reporting of sexual assault, which confirms that recruiting women is an important component of a gender-responsive justice system. Globally, women average just 9 percent of the police, with rates falling as low as 2 percent in some parts of the world. On average, women do not make up more than 13 percent of the police force in any region. Since the opening of women’s police stations in 13 Latin American countries, the visibility of violence against women and levels of reporting have increased.

• Globally, women account for 27 percent of all judges. Women’s representation in the judiciary approaches 50 percent in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but in South Asia progress is less encouraging. One study in the United States found that women judges were 11 percent more likely to rule in favour of the plaintiff in employment discrimination cases.

• Significant advances have been made towards achieving universal primary education, with the number of out-of-school children falling from 106 million in 1999 to 67 million in 2009. In developing regions, there were 96 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in primary school, up from 91 in 1999. In 2009, girls accounted for 53 percent of all out-of-school children.

• Progress has been made on the goal of gender parity in secondary schooling, with 96 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in secondary school in 2009, up from 88 girls for every 100 boys in 1999.

• The global share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector was 40 percent in 2009, an increase of just 5 percentage points since 1990.

• When women access the labour market they are often unable to secure decent jobs. Globally, more than half of women (53 percent) work in vulnerable employment, rising to more than 80 percent of women in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

• The mortality rate for children under the age of five has dropped by more than a third from 89 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 60 per 1,000 in 2009.

• Early marriage puts mothers and children at risk. Pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries.

• Child mortality increases by 60 percent if the mother is under the age of 18, attributed to health complications in pregnancy and labour, and a lack of knowledge of and access to reproductive health care services.

• The economist Amartya Sen estimated that 100 million women were ‘missing’ in Asia in 1990 as a result of prenatal sex selection, infanticide and neglect. New estimates put the figure at 134 million. Developed regions have reached 30 percent critical mass for share of women in ministerial positions, but no region has achieved the mark for the proportion of women in parliament.

• Under-five mortality rates for girls are significantly higher in several countries in Asia, even though girls are physiologically predisposed to have higher survival rates than boys. For example, the underfive mortality rate for girls in India in 2008 was 73 per 1,000 live births, compared to 65 for boys. In China, the rate for girls was 24, compared to 18 for boys.

• Across all regions, under-five mortality is much higher among children from the poorest households than those from the richest. According to United Nations estimates, the sex ratio at birth has increased globally from a stable 105 in the early 1970s to a recent peak of 107.

• In 2008, it is estimated that 358,000 women died in pregnancy or childbirth. The number of maternal deaths has decreased by 2.3 percent per year since 1990, far below the 5.5 percent needed to reduce maternal deaths by three quarters by 2015.

• In addition to deaths, over 300 million women worldwide suffer long-term health problems and disability arising from complications in pregnancy or delivery.

• It is estimated that up to 70 percent of maternal deaths could be prevented through the availability of maternal and reproductive health care services and adequate family planning.

• Globally, there were 33.3 million people living with HIV in 2009 and women were 53 percent of those in developing countries and 21 percent in developed regions. Almost 80 percent of all women living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 5 million people received antiretroviral treatment in 2009. Although this represents a 30 percent increase since 2008, it is only 35 percent of those who needed it.

• In India, around 90 percent of women living with HIV acquired the virus while in a long-term relationship. Women’s risk of infection is increased by their lack of decision-making power.

• There are more than half a million women and girls in penal institutions around the world. Prisons are almost always designed for the majority male prison population and rarely meet women’s needs. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the ‘Bangkok Rules’, to provide guidance to Member States on the treatment of female prisoners.

• In most countries, women make up between 2 and 9 percent of the prison population, with the highest rates of imprisonment in China, the Russian Federation, Thailand and the United States. Female imprisonment rates are increasing rapidly.

• Sexual violence as a tactic of warfare has been used systematically and deliberately for centuries. It creates shame and stigma and has in the past been perpetrated with almost complete impunity. Sexual violence is used against civilian populations to destroy the social fabric of communities, as a deliberate vector of HIV, for the purpose of forced impregnation, to drive the forcible displacement of populations and to terrorize whole communities. In Rwanda, it is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped in less than 100 days, as part of the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 people were killed. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, between 20,000 and 60,000 mostly Muslim women were subjected to sexual violence in ‘rape camps’.

According to Women and Labour Markets in Asia: Rebalancing for Gender Equality (2011), which has been brought out by International Labour Organization (ILO) and Asian Development Bank (ADB), please click here to access:   

• The Asia and Pacific region is losing US$42 billion to US$47 billion annually because of women’s limited access to employment opportunities, and another US$16 billion to US$30 billion annually as a result of gender gaps in education. Failure to achieve Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target 3 on the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women could reduce per capita income growth rates by 0.1–0.3 percentage points.

• The annual average employment growth for 2000–2007 was higher for Asian women than for Asian men, and the employment-to-population ratio for Asian women was also higher than the world average for women. But 45 per cent of working-age Asian women were inactive compared to 19 per cent of men.

• 45 per cent of the productive potential of Asian women, as measured by the share of women outside the labour force, remained untapped compared to 19 percent of Asian men. And the likelihood of men working was much higher at 77 per cent relative to 53 per cent for women. Furthermore, when compared to Asia’s high GDP growth rate, overall employment growth was dismal for both women and men; and when compared to the global female employment elasticity of 0.47, the Asian figure of 0.27 suggests that Asian women gained less than women worldwide in terms of employment growth.

• The female LFPR was 55.5 while that of males was 80.7 per cent in 2009. The largest gender gaps were in Central Asia and South Asia, where the female LFPRs were the lowest in Asia. The labour force participation rate (LFPR) measures the proportion of a country’s working age population that engages actively in the labour market either by working or looking for work.

• Asia is unique in both its relatively low female unemployment rate and its positive male-female gap (the regional unemployment rate for women was 4.3 per cent in 2009, compared to 4.7 per cent for men and well below the global female rate of 6.5 per cent).

• Only 1 per cent of all women workers in Asia were running their own business with paid employees; the entrepreneurial capabilities of Asian women are far from being tapped.

• South Asia had the highest rate of vulnerable employment (which includes family workers and own-account workers) among all regions in the world at 84.5 per cent for women and 74.8 per cent for men.

• For Asia as a whole, 48.2 per cent of women worked in the agricultural sector in 2009, compared to 38.9 per cent of men. In the Pacific Islands and South Asia, the concentration of employed women in agriculture was especially heavy.

• The six service sectors in Asia where women accounted for more than 50 per cent of the workforce were health and social work, education, private households with employed persons, hotels and restaurants, and financial intermediation.

• The “feminization” of employment in labour-intensive manufacturing in Asia’s export processing zones/special economic zones (with women accounting for between 70 to 90 per cent of the workforce) was a hot topic especially in the 1990s and early 2000s.

• In India women represent only 31 per cent of the total workforce and 32 per cent of the informal workforce but of the female workforce, 96 per cent are informally employed.

• In India in the latest national labour force survey conducted in 2004/05, 36.1 per cent of employed women are considered working poor on the basis of US$ 1 per day versus a working poverty rate of 30 per cent for men; and 86.4 per cent of employed women live with their families on less than US$ 2 per person per day, versus 81.4 per cent of employed men.

• Gender earning differentials in the informal economy mirror, and in many cases surpass, those in the formal sector due to both vertical and horizontal segregation in employment and continuing gender inequalities associated with women’s unpaid reproductive work.


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