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A woman in Chile holds a cloth with text that reads in Spanish ‘All violence.’ A woman holds a cloth with text that reads in Spanish ‘All violence’ during a march called by feminist activists, Santiago, Chile, May 11, 2018 (AP photo by Esteban Felix).

Despite Advances in Women’s Rights, Gender Equality Lags Around the World

Monday, Nov. 8, 2021

Despite progress in codifying women’s rights into law, advances in gender equality around the world have been halting, at best. This, despite the additional attention that the #MeToo movement brought to incidents of sexual assault and harassment in parts of the Global North—and increasingly in the Global South.

In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa made news in mid-2019 when he appointed a Cabinet that included as many women as men. Later the same year, the European Commission also achieved the European Union’s self-imposed goal of gender parity. The thinking behind gender parity in government is that with greater levels of representation, women policymakers and legislators will pay more attention to issues that are often ignored by men, like gender-based violence or inheritance laws that discriminate against women.

But where quotas are used, they have failed to achieve parity for women in all but a few cases. Nor are they a panacea. Even with increased representation, policymakers must figure out how to turn good intentions into change on the ground, so that removing restrictions on education, to take one example, actually leads to improved school attendance rates for girls and young women. Rwanda, for instance, is know for its high level of political representation for women, but that has not necessarily translated into social advances for women, as efforts to promote gender equality have not fostered an understanding of its importance, particularly among men.

And in places where women’s rights have advanced, they face persistent attacks. In the United States, a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy has been severely curtailed in some parts of the country. European countries, particularly France and Spain, have experienced high-profile incidents of gender-based violence and sexual assault that activists say call into question their commitment to ensuring women’s safety. More recently, the public health measures taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders, have further highlighted the particular challenges women face in developed and developing countries alike, from domestic violence to gender imbalances in child care responsibilities.

WPR has covered women’s rights in detail and continues to examine key questions about what will happen next. Will more countries institute quotas to guarantee female political representation? Will Argentina’s recent legalization of abortion lead other countries in Latin America and across the Global South to follow suit? And what can governments do to make sure their post-pandemic economic recovery plans don’t widen gaps in gender equality? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.

Our Most Recent Coverage

Quotas Get More Women Elected, but Gender Parity Is Still a Long Way Off

Female representation in legislatures is at an all-time high, but still averages only 25 percent worldwide. Gender quotas may not feel like the most satisfactory route to accomplish parity. But proponents argue that they can help women overcome obstacles that keep them from running for office or getting elected in many societies.

[SPECIAL OFFER: Want to learn more? Get full access to World Politics Review for 30 days for just $1 and read all the articles linked here to get up to speed on this important issue.]

The Politics of Women’s Rights

Increasingly, the fight for women’s rights has become a mainstream political issue in many countries around the world. But legal advances don’t necessary bring societal change. And hard-won gains often face a backlash, with the pandemic raising new fears of a widespread regression in women’s economic progress.

Confronting Gender-Based Violence

The #MeToo movement drew global attention to the scale of sexual harassment and gender-based violence that women regularly face in developed countries. A similar effort in the Global South has been slower to take shape, in part because accusations of violence and harassment are not taken seriously and the avenues to seek redress are not formalized. But recent protests in several developing countries suggest the issue is gaining traction as a focus of political debates.

Reproductive Rights

The push by southern U.S. states to virtually eliminate access to abortion underscores the constant tension that exists around the issue of reproductive rights. But those debates are not limited solely to access to abortion, as women and women’s rights activists around the world push for access to a broad array of reproductive health services, including contraception and other family planning tools.

[SPECIAL OFFER: Want to learn more? Get full access to World Politics Review for 30 days for just $1 and read all the articles linked here to get up to speed on this important issue.]

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2019 and is regularly updated.