Seager, Joni & Olson, Ann. Women in the World: An International Atlas. New York, Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1986.

For women, there are no developed countries. Although some places are clearly better for them to live in than others, it is not always true that the relatively rich countries of the world provide better circumstances for them as women than do poorer countries.

While many countries provide formally for sexual equality in law, very few governments have legislated to protect specific job and marriage rights; and such law as exists is nullified or blunted in its effect by social and administrative practice. Nowhere do women have full equal rights with men.

Yet women are biologically stronger, live longer than men, and naturally outnumber them. Where they do not, it is only because of the effects of war, or because they have been forced to migrate in search of work, or because they have suffered severe and systematic discrimination.

This map introduces the general theme of the atlas as a whole: that while women represent more than half of the world's population, they nowhere share the same rights as men. Most of the specifics mapped in this atlas follow from this basic inequality.

The sex ratio shows the general demographic balance between men and women. It also gives information on the gendered geography of wars, migration and discrimination. Some of the countries where women greatly outnumber men reflect the loss of men in wars; others are countries with high rates of male out-migration. In the Arab Gulf states, women are greatly outnumbered by men because these countries have huge influxes of migrant male workers. But the general pattern showing where women are in the minority also reflects a more ominous influence: most of these are countries where women's status is very low. These are the countries where women work harder, die younger and die in childbirth, and where girl children are less valued.

There are many ways of summarizing women's status relative to men's. One is economic, and here the well-known United Nations quote from 1980 is still relevant: 'Women constitute half the world's population, perform nearly two-thirds of its work hours, receive one-tenth of the world's income, and own less than one-hundredth of the world's property.' Another indicator is women's legal status: nowhere in the world do women have the same legal or constitutional rights as men. The legal provision of rights does not guarantee 'equality', but it is an essential prerequisite for women's full participation in political, economic, social and cultural development-from which equality can follow.

To assess relative status among women themselves is more difficult. The status-of-women index shown on this map is meant to be used impressionistically. It elaborates on a method developed by A. Andrews (see Bibliography), whereby countries are ranked on a scale of 0 to 100, relative to the known worst case.

Young Brides

Most women and men in the world spend most of their lives as married people, but for women this is a way of life.

Marriage grants women adult status. But many women marry while themselves still children. Early marriages bring many hardships, resulting in many more births, less autonomy, and a greater likelihood of being widowed in mid-life.

Even though legal age minimums for marriage are rising everywhere, youthful weddings still take place, because marrying-off adolescent daughters rids older parents of useless cargo; because in many places there is no role for a single woman in society; and because other older men value young wives-for their virginity and social status.

Women marry youngest in the country, where there are fewer opportunities for independence and change than in the city.

Millions of consensual unions lack official blessing by church and state-a fact official statistics fail to take into account. In Latin America the percentage of women in consensual unions ranges from 3 per cent in Chile, and 14 per cent in Peru, to 33 per cent in Guatemala. In Africa most women are in traditional 'marriages' governed only by local custom. In Europe and North America millions of couples 'live together'. In Sweden, for example, among people aged 20-24, 29 per cent are cohabiting while only 22 per cent are married.

National marriage laws seldom apply to everyone, especially in countries where there is great cultural diversity. Legal marriage age minimums alter according to the traditional view of the nature of male-female relations in religious or ethnic groups. Where laws are meant to apply universally, the reach of the law may not be long enough to touch groups in physical isolation or those with very strong traditions (as India-see map).

Legal age minimums for marriage with parental consent range from a low of 12 (for girls) and 14 (for boys) in several Latin American countries, to a high of 22 for women and 20 for men in China. The latter statute is an integral part of China's one-child policy, probably the only country in the world with a higher marital age minimum for women than for men.

Marriage can be big business. In 1983 first-time brides and grooms in the US spent $US 20.1 billion on marriage-related goods and services; Bride's Magazines sells 400,000 copies every month. Although dowry has been illegal in India since 1961, a female doctor or civil servant comes with a $US 20-30,000 dowry, and the practice continues to flourish in general. Peasant girls in China fetch $US 150-300 for purchase into marriage, and bride sales are common elsewhere in the world. Arranged marriage also remains common; for example, in Anhui Province, China, it is estimated that 85 per cent are arranged; in South Korea, 40 per cent; in Sri Lanka, 50 per cent.

Marriage can lead to death. Dowry deaths (murder or suicide of a wife for insufficient dowry) are increasing in parts of India; the practice of sati (self-immolation or forced suicide by a widow on her husband's funeral pyre) continues.

Domestic Disorders

Men of all classes and countries use violence and coercion to 'keep women in their place'. Millions of women are beaten each year in their homes; many are killed. Some cultures encourage wife-beating as a man's right; in others, the problem is hidden away as a 'private' matter. There is little official recognition of this violence; but women throughout the world are organizing against it, and battered women's shelters now exist in many countries.

In Islamic states, the veiling and seclusion of women serve to keep them dependent on their husbands and exclusive to them. There is a current resurgence in the observance and enforcement of veiling practices; in two countries, the veil is compulsory for women in public.

Domestic coercion stems from the fact that in most countries women are considered to be men's property, and girls are less valued than boys.

It is hard to find information on domestic violence, which, like rape, is seriously under-reported. The information that is available hints at the magnitude of the problem: in Peru 70 per cent of all crimes reported to the police are of women being beaten by their partners; in one year (1980) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 772 women were killed by their husbands; in Japan wife-beating has been the second-most frequent reason given for divorce initiated by women. Information on domestic violence other than wife-beating-such as incest-is not available. For wife-rape see Map 37, 'Rape'.

It is only because of the efforts of determined women in a few countries that we know as much as we do about violence in the home. Battered-women's shelters, most of which are filled to capacity all the time, only exist because of women organizing locally. It takes a huge effort to open and sustain women's shelters-often in the face of much opposition and harassment, and usually without support from local or national governments. Statistics on battered-women'' shelters given on this map do NOT include various, sometimes numerous, 'hot-lines' and referral centers.

The law lags far behind these efforts. Men's violence against 'their' women and children is accepted (or ignored) across a wide spectrum of cultures. In most countries women have very little legal, or actual, protection from abusive husbands. Feminists are now pushing to have domestic violence recognized as a crime distinct from general assault laws-and for police to have powers of arrest and intervention in cases of domestic assault.

A resurgence in veiling practices is current in many Muslim countries, even where there had previously been no tradition of veiling (for example in Indonesia and Malaysia). Some Muslim women defend the veil, arguing that it is an important cultural identifier, and that it offers a degree of protection from male harassment. There is more general agreement though, that the veil is an enforced abridgment of women's rights , and exists more for men's benefit than women's. Seclusion is a related practice, whereby women are kept confined to their house or family compound. It is regarded as a symbol of a man's wealth and high status.

Domestic violence stems, in part, from the basic fact that women are widely less valued than men, girls less than boys. It is difficult to measure this imbalance. The information on son-preference shown on this map is one of the few sets of data on this topic: it shows 27 countries where parents were asked, as part of the World Fertility Survey, about their preferences for the sex of their children.

Social Surgery

Female genital mutilation-female circumcision as it is sometimes called-is extensively practiced in Africa and the Middle East. It may be performed by older village women on babies as young as a few days old or on girls in their late adolescence. The 'operation' is rarely performed with surgical tools or skill any knowledge of anatomy or the use of anesthesia.

Reasons given for the operation are varied, but wherever it is practiced, it prepares girls for marriage by helping to ensure their premarital purity. It lessens sexual desire, and so reduces the temptation for girls and women to have intercourse before marriage-very important where virginity is an absolute prerequisite for a bride-to-be.

Genital mutilation is justified in other ways too. Some Moslem groups believe it is demanded by the Islamic faith (and only Moslems practice infibulation). Other groups hold erroneous beliefs about human biology and use circumcision as contraception. In some cultures, female genitals are considered unclean, and circumcision serves literally to smooth and ritually purify them.

Genital mutilation has staggering physical and mental health consequences for women. Infections (frequently fatal), hemorrhage, and other extreme long-term physical complications, are common. The extent and degree of sexual and mental health problems can only be guessed at, though, because circumcised women are often hesitant to discuss a subject that means little to them or is embarrassing: their sexuality. In spite of growing worldwide concern about genital mutilation, the practice is not yet declining.

Female circumcision is practiced in the West, sometimes surreptitiously, but occurrences are sporadic and undocumented.

'Social surgery' refers to operations performed for social not medical reasons. (In industrialized nations 'social surgery' includes unnecessary obstetrical, gynecological and plastic surgery-see Map 35, 'Beauty Beat'.)

It is only a decade since African women first dared to speak publicly about female circumcision, but there has been little reduction in its incidence during that time. In Sudan and Somalia, for example, infibulation (the excising of the clitoris, the labia minora and the inner walls of the labia majora, and the suturing of the two sides of the vulva), the most extreme form of circumcision, is practiced on nine out of ten girls. Even though it is women who have begun to protest against the practice, it is traditionally women who perform it, and together with men, they encourage its continuation. For as long as women are dependent on marriage for survival, their sexuality will be defined by men, and they will do whatever they must to secure a husband-including mutilation and the preservation of virginity at any cost.

Doctors in Bombay's top hospitals report young upper class Arab and Muslim Indian women paying $US 1500-2000 for 'hymenoplasty', an operation restoring virginity. For all of these women, the question of sexual pleasure is moot.

Female circumcision-especially infibulation-is a major health problem in Africa and the Middle East. Thirty per cent of all Sudanese women have circumcision-related complications. During childbirth infibulated women must be opened surgically; they are sewn up again after birth. Complications can result in the death of the child or the mother. Infant mortality rates are particularly high where the incidence of circumcision if high.

The map shows the documented extent of female circumcision in Africa and the Middle East. It is also practiced by Muslims in Malaysia and on the island of Java in Indonesia. According to F. Hosken the map was developed from hospital field reports, the most reliable source of information. As she points out, female circumcision is an ethnic practice and its incidence does not correspond to modern political boundaries. Calculation of the number of women and girls mutilated is based on direct information about the ethnic groups and geographic regions where genital mutilation has been confirmed by local reports. Estimates for Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic in East and Central Africa, and for Benin, Togo, Ghana and Liberia in West Africa are considered very low.

Single States

Women marry for a variety of reasons: economic security, social status, and emotional well-being. But women who don't marry are often viewed as failures, even pariahs, and frequently see themselves that way.

Worst off by far are women once married, now single. The social status of widows and divorcees can be very low. In some cultures, widows are not even allowed to remarry; thus losing their one possible route back to security.

Divorce is not a universal right for men, much less for women. In most Muslim countries, a man can divorce simply by declaring his intentions, while his wife has no right to divorce at all.

Divorce is a mixed blessing for women: this important right can leave women and children and children worse off financially, while their ex-husbands gain. Divorce is increasing worldwide-for better or for worse.

The most widely available indicator of 'singleness' is the statistics on the proportion of 'women aged 45-49 never officially married'. These are the women who, in all probability, will never be married. Figures do exist on percentages of women who are single, but are not widely collected. The statistics that do exist obscure the fact that women who are inconsensual unions (married without benefit of official sanction) are counted-officially-as single. On the other hand, some women do not wish to be identified as single (marriage confers status-see text for Map 2, 'Young Brides'), and so do not reveal their true situation to census takers.

The right to divorce is important for women. Often, however, it means a precipitous drop in an ex-wife's (and usually her children's) standard of living. In the US it is estimated that divorce results in an average decrease of 42 per cent in a woman's income and an increase of 73 per cent in a man's.

Divorce rate statistics do not take into account both legal (for example, separation) and illegal (for example, abandonment) marital dissolution other than divorce. Though incomplete, figures do reflect the relative ease or difficulty of obtaining a divorce, including the ability to pay for one, as well as the authority of the prevailing religious system. Catholic countries which have only recently legalized divorce have low rates (for example, Italy). In Muslim countries also divorce is relatively rare; polygyny and social disapproval appear to lower men's need for divorce, while for women it is hardly an option. 'Talaq'-the Muslim practice of simply declaring intent to divorce-is a male prerogative.

In many countries poverty and social stigmatization leave divorced and widowed women in a very precarious social position. (Widows are not even allowed to remarry in some countries.) The 'confirmed bachelor' is a more accepted station than 'spinsterhood'.


Childbirth is one of the few true universals in women's lives. Women are the ones who bear children, a fact that is used everywhere to construct theories and institutions which define, limit, and dictate their roles in society.

But the conditions of pregnancy and motherhood vary widely. In some countries, women have an average of seven children; in others, fewer than two. This is the result of different population policies, varying standards of health and wealth, differing pressures from men who often see their manhood affirmed by the number of children they father, and the degree of autonomy accorded to women.

Many teenage women have children-as young brides, or as single mothers. Many women, in some places the majority, have children when single or in consensual unions. Official marital status has little influence on women's childbearing experiences.

One of the biggest differences between the rich and the poor world lies in the number of children that women have. (This is officially called the 'total fertility rate', and is defined as 'the average number of children that would be born to a woman if she lived through her childbearing years and bore children at the prevailing age-specific rates.) In Western Europe fertility rates are the lowest in the world-and in some cases have dropped below population replacement rates, much to the alarm of many government and military planners. Women in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab states have the world's highest fertility rates.

The world's 'population problem', therefore, is conventionally defined as a problem of certain countries-and of certain women. But high fertility rates are the consequence of many factors. It is closely related to age at marriage; where early marriage for girls is encouraged (see Map 2, 'Young Brides'), women will spend a longer part of their lives in childbearing, and will have more children. As it stands, the interval between the first and last birth for women in Kenya is almost 19 years; in Jordan, 18 years; in Syria and Mexico, 17 years-compared with 7 years in the United States. Fertility is linked to knowledge of and access to contraceptives-which is usually a function of state policy (see Map 7, "Population Policies' and Notes). Many population programs are designed only to persuade women to use contraceptives, not to educate them about contraception-resulting in a high failure rate. High fertility is linked to poverty and its related high infant mortality rates: to end up with a family of four or five, a woman may bear ten children. In poorer and agricultural economies children are an economic asset. In many countries a woman's status goes with the number of children she bears. More to the point, in many countries men feel that their 'manhood' is proved by the number of children they can father.

Infertility is less well documented, but affects a significant proportion of women with reproductive difficulties. In fact, the benefits are available to only a few, and the structure of these new reproductive technologies is such that women's control over the reproductive process is jeopardized; women become the providers of the raw materials (eggs, ovaries) for an industrial process of reproduction that is largely controlled by the male doctors and technicians developing the technologies.

Population Policies

Most governments support some family planning: some subsidize contraceptive supplies, others give tax relief to smaller families. But everywhere, such resources fall far short of demand and millions of women have no family planning support. Funding commitments are a good indicator of actual government support.

Government involvement in family planning is not always beneficial. Some governments wield population-control policies with little regard for women's rights or health. Coercive sterilization, especially of poorer women and women from ethnic minority groups, is sometimes used to effect a quick reduction in population growth.

Pro-natalist governments want to increase population, often to ensure the continued supply of military manpower; this is sometimes accomplished by denying women family planning services.

The population policies of most governments are difficult to interpret. Only a few governments have clearly defined and explicit policies. The one-child policy of China is well known, and is one of the most explicit population policies in the world. Romania currently has one of the most repressive-and also explicit-policies, limiting women's access to contraceptives and family planning services (see Notes to Map 9, 'Abortion').

Pro-natalist governments want women to have more children, usually to bolster military strength. Some governments, such as France, East Germany and Finland have official pro-natalism stances, but they do not enforce it. Other governments, such as Kuwait, Chad and Laos go to great lengths to bolster pro-natalism-by outlawing contraceptives, clamping down on abortions, and offering hefty incentives to women to have large numbers of children. At its worst, pro-natalism can effectively mean forced breeding for women.

The majority of the world's governments have policies designed to reduce or stabilize the population, and most support family planning to some extent. 'Strong' government support for family planning usually means that the government sponsors educational programs, supports clinics or encourage educational programs, but involvement ranges from being systematic to being quite casual. 'Indirect support' usually means simply that the government allows private family planning agencies to operate-of otherwise does not erect legislative barriers.

Like pro-natalism, population reduction policies can slip over into coercion. Sterilization abuse (which includes forced sterilization and sterilization without informed consent) is widespread, though can only be documented for a handful of countries. Other forms of reproductive abuses-for example the charges of forced abortions in China-are almost impossible to document. We make no attempt to map them here, but do note that they exist.

National government population policy is often influenced by and dependent upon international aid. With the exception of India and China (which mainly finance their own population programs), foreign aid pays for an average of 50 per cent of all population programs in poorer countries. International population aid is generally beneficial to women-and, in fact, more of it is needed since millions of women in the world have no access to family planning services. But dependency on foreign aid leaves women vulnerable to policies and decisions made well beyond their country and beyond their reach. Family planning aid becomes a political tool-it may be withdrawn, increased or decreased for reasons that have nothing to do with women's health or their reproductive choices. The US government is imposing an anti-abortion morality on all funding decisions, and has withdrawn support from major population agencies (including the International Federation for Planned Parenthood and the UN Fund for Population Activities) because these agencies do not condemn abortion. Family planning for millions of women hangs in the balance.


Most women are expected to exercise some control over the number of children they bear. But what seems to be a personal choice of contraceptive methods is strongly influenced by many factors over which women have little control: national population policies (see 7. Population Policies), international contraceptive-aid policies, religious taboos, the dominant role of men in family decision-making, and the economics of the production and distribution of contraceptives. Wealthy women, women in wealthy countries, and urban women generally have the best access to contraceptive services.

Private industry has largely withdrawn from research into contraception in order to avoid legal liability for faulty or dangerous products. Research is now mostly paid for by governments.

Little research money goes into the development of male contraceptives.

Women the world over face the dilemma that effective contraceptives tend to be unsafe, and safe contraceptives tend not to be effective. For many women contraceptives are not available at all. Making contraceptives and making them available to women rests in the hands of governments, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and international aid agencies-all of which may be working at odds with one another and with the women for whom the contraceptives are intended. Women's voices and women's needs often get lost in the labyrinth of big business, big bureaucracy, and international policy-making.

Virtually all contraceptives manufacturers are subsidiaries of large multinational pharmaceutical firms. The world market is dominated by five companies: Wyeth Labs (USA), Ortho Pharmaceuticals (USA), G.D. Searle (USA), Syntex (USA), and Schering AG (West Germany). The most profitable contraceptive is 'the Pill', an estimated 54 million women worldwide are on it. But new products are constantly being tested-often by the dubious means of trying it out on women in poor countries before marketing it in industrial nations. The current controversy over the new injectable contraceptive, 'DepoProvera', is due in part to this sort of testing program. Lawsuits and public outcry over the DepoProvera case and the faulty and dangerous IUD, the 'Dalkon Shield', have prompted the major manufacturers to retreat from product development and testing. There are few developments in male contraceptives since neither private nor public research money is directed toward it.

In Third World countries most contraceptives are distributed through the public sector. Governments and family planning agencies buy contraceptives from the pharmaceutical companies and distribute them free or at cost. The major world suppliers of contraceptive aid are: Agency for International Development (AID), the UN Fund for Population Activities, Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA), and International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). Millions of women are dependent on these four for contraceptives supply-which also means that these women are vulnerable to policy changes made thousands of miles away, shifts in funding priorities, or shifting political favors.


Abortion is an old and common form of birth control. The past two decades have seen a liberalizing trend in abortion laws.

Legal abortion gives women the right to control their own bodies and helps them avoid the health risks of 'back-street' operations, giving poor women access to what rich women have always had. Abortion has also been used to promote government population policies.

But even in 'legal' countries, women often cannot afford, get access to, get away with abortion. And in 'illegal' countries, abortions are still performed: by unskilled people under conditions, resulting in death and disease among desperate women.

Opponents of abortion argue on religious, moral and even political grounds. Emotions run high where abortion is a matter of public debate, and the backlash has sometimes taken violent forms.

Thirty to fifty-five million abortions occur annually, about half of which are illegal, and half of which take place in poor countries.

Most abortions are undergone by married, older women with completed families. In the West and in urban Africa it is mostly younger, unmarried women who have abortions in order to postpone childbearing. The main reasons for women choosing abortion are lack or failure of contraception, a change in personal circumstances (for example, desertion, widowhood, financial problems), or detection of birth defects. (In India amniocentesis-originally developed to detect fetal abnormalities-is increasingly being used to establish fetal gender, followed by abortion of females.)

In poor countries illegal abortion kills 50-1000 women per 100,000 procedures. It is 10-250 times more dangerous to have an abortion there as it is to use any form of birth control. Up to 70 per cent of maternal deaths are due to complications following illegal abortion. Legalization of abortion reduces maternal mortality, especially where abortions are also affordable and widely available (legalization does not guarantee access).

Some religions tolerate abortion, some do not. Where church and state are intertwined, abortion laws follow religious dictates, as in Muslim and some Catholic countries. Government population policy can also determine abortion law: on International Women's Day in 1984, Romanian President Ceausescu declared that 'it is every healthy Romanian woman's duty to have four children'. In an attempt to increase the labor force, stringent anti-abortion laws were suddenly brought in. Monthly gynecological checks for women in the state's industrial complexes were the perceived need to reduce population in Singapore and Tunisia resulted in liberalized laws. In Cyprus abortion following rape was legalized after that country's civil war; war-time rape of women by soldiers necessitated the change. Doctors and midwives making a good living off illegal abortion effectively oppose abortion and contraception availability in some countries in the Middle East and South East Asia.

Reliable data on abortion is hard to come by. Reported, legal abortions are often a fraction of the true abortion rate; and there is no reliable data on the incidence of illegal abortion-only best guesses.

Birth and Death

Pregnancy and childbirth are major causes of death for women and children in all of the world's poorer countries. These countries constitute a recognized danger zone for childbearing women and their children. But even in the world's richest countries, maternal and infant mortality rates can be almost as high-for women and women from ethnic minorities. Everywhere, high death rates are associated with early marriage and childbearing (see 2. Young Brides), and with low levels of education for women.

The preference for boys throughout much of the world means that girls sometimes suffer severe neglect; this is reflected in patterns of child mortality. Girls are biologically stronger than boys at birth; in early infancy, their death rates are lower. But the balance shifts in early childhood, when death rates for girls surpass those for boys.

One-quarter of all deaths in the world occur among children under five, two-thirds of whom are infants. Ninety-seven per cent of infant deaths happen in developing countries. Three million infants die each year in India alone; another two million in Bangladesh, Nigeria, Indonesia and Pakistan combined.

Infant mortality rates could be dramatically lowered through primary health care (see Notes to Map 26, 'Illness and Health') providing midwifery, encouragement to breast feed, vaccinations, ORT (oral-rehydration therapy against diarrhea), and antibiotics against infection.

Changes in women's social condition would also make a difference. Girls and women in school delay childbearing. This results in both lowered infant (and maternal) mortality rates and educated mothers with greater opportunities in life. High infant mortality rates and educated mothers with greater opportunities in life. High infant mortality itself encourages high birth rates-to replace children who have died. When infant mortality rates drop, fewer and healthier children are born.

The infant mortality rate statistics used here represent five-year averages to avoid using occasionally skewed single-year figures. The USSR rate is considered very conservative; it is known to be rising as a result of annual flu epidemics, increasing alcoholism, poor prenatal care, high abortion rates an declining breast feeding. Official statistics have been unavailable since 1974.

Abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality in some countries. Where abortion is legal abortion rates do not necessarily decline, but maternal deaths from abortion do. In Latin America abortion accounts for 30-50 per cent of all maternal deaths; it is the leading cause in Caracas, according to estimates. In India one woman dies from a septic abortion every ten minutes.

Maternal mortality is an important index of community's commitment to women's health care. Maternal-related deaths are among the leading causes of death for women aged 15-44 in poor countries. It is the leading or second-leading cause of death in one-third of these countries. Adequate prenatal and birth care could prevent most labor and other complications. Teenage women having too many babies too quickly, who are inadequately nourished and rested, face an unacceptable high risk of death in childbirth.

Maternal mortality statistics are often not collected, or if collected are not reported (for example in the USSR, mentioned above), especially where rates are known to be high. Where rates are reported, they are often under-reported. In countries with well-developed health care systems and well-documented statistics, rates average 5-30 deaths per 100,000 live births. In parts of Africa rates of 1000 per 100,000 live births have been reported. Everywhere rates are higher for poor and minority women.

Birth Care

Midwives and traditional birth attendants deliver most of the world's babies. They are the primary source of health care and advice for most women during pregnancy, birth, and early childcare. 'Modern medicine' serves only a wealthier minority in the world, and is seldom available to rural women or the urban poor.

Until recently, most governments ignored or legislated against traditional birth attendants. Now, increasingly, they are being recognized as important primary health care providers, and they are being given medical training. But progress is slow, and the World Health Organization estimates that two-thirds of women in poor countries have no access to a trained health worker.

In rich countries, growing disenchantment with modern medicine's approach to birth care is leading to a resurgence of midwifery.

'Midwife' is an umbrella term that actually includes two different types of birth attendants: a) 'traditional birth attendants', usually rural women, midwives by practice and by tradition, but without medical training; b) 'midwife', usually women with some medical training, and often with some sort of accreditation.

The percentage of births attended by trained personnel (doctors, nurses, trained midwives) varies considerably according to region. In Africa only 34 per cent of all births are attended by a medically-trained attendant; in Asia the figure is 49 per cent; in Latin America, 64 per cent; in Europe, 97 per cent; and in North America, 100 per cent. These figures reflect the role of traditional birth attendants in providing maternity support to the world's women. The World Health Organization estimates that 45 per cent of all babies in the world are delivered by traditional birth attendants. Midwives and traditional birth attendants (the overwhelming majority of whom are women) together deliver about 80 per cent of all babies in the Third World.

The aim of most governments is to turn their traditional birth attendants into midwives. To this end, traditional birth attendants have been outlawed in a number of countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, and the Sudan. Until recently, midwives were outlawed in North America. Over the past century the powerful medical establishment there went to great lengths to eradicate midwives; doctors saw midwives as competition and as a threat to their monopoly on medical knowledge. Midwifery survived, though, and is now enjoying a comeback in most industrial countries.


Families and households are created and maintained almost entirely by women's labor. Many women, starting as young brides, spend their entire lives caring for them. There are a number of reasons, especially in poor countries, for having large families-they provide social security and a labor supply, for example. But families with many dependent children also place excessive demands on women's daily labor.

Worldwide, the nuclear family is replacing extended family living, and global trends are toward smaller families; but it is still true that one-third of the world's population live in households of five or more people.

Childcare accounts for the largest share of women's household labor-and limits their ability to take paid work outside the home. In only a few countries are there alternative childcare facilities.

Conventional definitions of 'family' revolve around the presence of children. Because women everywhere have primary responsibility for childcare, 'the family' for them is as much a work unit as an emotional one. But the workload on women varies widely. This is suggested by the dependency ratio presented on the main map: the ratio of preschool children (under age five) to women. Higher dependency ratios mean that direct child care demands (feeding, health care, etc.) are greater, and indirect demands, such as agricultural labor, and water and firewood collecting are also greater.

The demands of child care are what keep women most confined to the home, and keep them out of the waged workforce. Out-of -the-home child care is radically short of the need for it, worldwide. Only the Scandinavian and Eastern European governments recognize child care as a legitimate public policy responsibility. Elsewhere women must either patch together whatever help they can find (usually relying on older family members) or pay a large share of their income on private child care (a growing problem now in the USA). As more and more women from single-parent households (see Map 28, 'Poverty') through divorce or choice, the child care crisis will grow.

Global trends indicate that the nuclear family is slowly replacing the extended family as the standard household configuration. Consequently, household sizes are shrinking. The smallest households are found in Europe; the largest in the Arab states. Twelve countries report an average household size of over six people: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Botswana, Fiji, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Maldives, Nicaragua, Surinam, Syria.

With the notable exception of North American it is unusual-and often unacceptable-for anyone, but especially women, to live alone-women's lives in most places are lived entirely in the context of a family. Although it is women's role as mothers that appears to give 'families' their raison d'etre, control of the family usually runs through the men involved. Women live in the house and in the family of their father/husband/brother. In this way the family forms the primary unit of social control, particularly over women. It is for this reason that many feminists argue that social change for women must start with the family-and the conclusion that 'the personal is political' derives largely from this sort of analysis.

Time Budgets

Women work longer hours than men do. Women do the household chores and take care of the children. They tend the goats, till the family garden, collect water, gather firewood.

Women are also entering the paid workforce in increasing numbers, but no one is taking over at home. Busy, fatigued mothers cannot pursue training or education that might help develop their self-sufficiency or alleviate drudgery. Only one side of the traditional division of labor is breaking down and only three countries in the world have made the sharing of housework official public policy.

Women everywhere get little financial or social recognition for working more, resting less, and doing a greater variety of work than men. Their work is often statistically invisible: it is estimated that the official enumerators count only about two-thirds of women's work.

The unequal division of labor is universal. Our most deeply ingrained assumptions about a woman's proper place-in the home and taking care of children-determine the way women spend their time. In poor and rich countries alike it is women-with a few exceptions-who do the subsistence work: feeding, clothing, tending and tilling-in short, managing their families' survival. And very few women see themselves as 'just housewives'; in Tamil Nadu, India, for example, poor women see their role as 'earning for and supporting the family'.

All over the globe there is still 'women's work' and 'men's work'; but the traditional divisions of labor by sex are breaking down-on women's side. In rich countries, where women are increasingly part of the workforce, they do a double shift: in the office or factory by day and then at domestic chores by night. In Italy, 85 per cent of husbands do no housework; in the UK 72 per cent of housework is done 'mostly by women'. In the US more than half of the female labor force is married and the biggest increase in employment has been among women with pre-school children. This results not only in overwork but also in handicapped job prospects: a young mother cannot work overtime, travel or be flexible enough for company promotions.

In poor countries traditional family structures are breaking down as men are drawn to the cities and into the cash economy. Yet for women 'economic development' often means more work and less control of resources. Husbands are less likely to help out as they are freed from traditional male domestic responsibilities-but women are expected to assist in their husband's cash crop production in addition to maintaining their own family plots. Training for double-duty begins early, as children imitate their parents. In Zaire, for example, girls do 55 per cent as much work around the house as their mothers, boys only 15 per cent.

The value of women's unpaid labor is estimated at 25-40 per cent of measured GNP in industrialized countries. Another estimate values it as adding one-third-or $US 4000 billion-to the world's economic product.

'Equal opportunity' and 'economic development' must not merely translate into an opportunity for women to work more and control less. The greatest injustice is perhaps to be found as much in inequality in the home as in the workplace.

Information for this spread mostly comes from individual researchers' field data, sometimes published by the international development agencies or the UN. Governments in the West are just beginning to sponsor collection of time-use data; until recently what went on behind closed doors held no interest for official statisticians.


Women produce at least half the world's output of food, mostly in poor, agricultural countries where they grow, harvest and prepare virtually all the food consumed by families. In Africa they perform 60-80 per cent of agricultural work.

In Asia and Africa , almost all women who are employed work in agriculture: in Mozambique, for example, 90 per cent of working women are engaged in the production of food.

Because much of women's agricultural work is done in or near the home, is small in scale, part-time or seasonal, it is considered unimportant by official agencies. As a result, women are often left out of economic development schemes.

Women are at the bottom of the pay and power scales in agriculture: they are employees, not employers; unpaid sowers, reapers and breadmakers; not breadwinners on the human 'family farm'.

Women produce most of the food for home consumption and are an important part of the paid agricultural labor force. They harvest coffee in Rwanda, pick bananas and pineapples in Martinique and tea in Sri Lanka and farm shrimp in coastal India. They are also active traders and marketers. In Ghana, over 87 per cent of traders are women. Women also keep small animals for sale at market and use at home. Women's agricultural labor is not normally given much consideration in agricultural development schemes or in education, training, financial credit and extension programs. Yet it is women who make many of the most critical agricultural decisions, from which seed to plant to when and how to harvest.

In Africa, only five per cent of all trained agricultural personnel are female. In 13 African countries they make up less than one per cent, and in only four countries are they over ten per cent. Women represent approximately half of all agricultural students in the USSR and Romania; in the UK and Australia, around 15 per cent and in Ecuador and Swaziland, fewer than five per cent. In Africa, technical and credit assistance for women, such as it is, is concentrated in home economics (where 100 per cent of students are female).

Modernization of agriculture often means mechanization of production and land 'reform'. The new (high) technology lightens men's workloads because it is used to help produce cash crops and shift male work patterns away from home. Women's work increases because of the loss of male help in subsistence farming and the loss of control over any crops which may have started to procure money. Land 'reform' often means a shift from traditional (often communal of even matrilineal) to private and/or patrilineal land ownership, denying women access to land they have long farmed for their families and to any cash it might generate.

In the USA the role of farmers' wives in farm management and agricultural production is often overlooked. Women in the USA only own five per cent of all farms, though this is a two-fold increase over the past decade.

Labor Force

Women represent about one-third of the paid labor force worldwide. This share is slowly growing in most places, with the largest increases occurring in industrializing countries. In two regions, women's labor force rates appear to have decreased over the past thirty years.

The pictures of women's work that can be drawn from official labor force statistics, however, is unreliable and incomplete. It is widely understood that more women are working for wages, and at a greater rate of increase, than is revealed by these numbers. Increasingly, when women enter waged work, they do so in the 'informal' sector, as domestic servants and markets traders, for example-labor that is often uncounted.

Several countries with unusually high records of women in the paid work force are also those with high rates of male emigration.

Official statistics on women in the labor force are the only broad-based economic indicators according to sex available internationally. But there are serious flaws in the definitions of 'work', 'labor force', and 'economic activity'-flaws that tend to mean that much of women's work is overlooked. Further, the quality of data and the definitions used vary from country to country. So, while the general impression of labor force activity worldwide is fairly reliably portrayed, the figures are not sufficiently accurate to support elaborate interpretations. Since the International Labor Organization (ILO) is virtually the only agency that collects and compiles their figures using alternative sources. The ILO has consistently made an effort to collect and report data by sex-and they have done better at this than almost any other of the large international agencies.

Labor force statistics generally include only formally structured waged work-work, for example, for which there is official employee registration. Much of women's work falls beyond these boundaries. Millions of women work in the informal sector (as domestic servants or market traders, for example) and this labor goes uncounted. At the far end of the work continuum is all of the unpaid labor done by women; Maps 13, 'Time Budgets', and 14, 'Agriculture', deal with this phenomenon and help to provide a more balanced view of the world's work done by women.

The reported decrease over time in African women's labor force participation is most likely due to methods of counting and compiling labor statistics. The decrease in the USSR is more likely explained by shifts in the demographic balance between women and men since the end of World War Two.

Out of Work

Most women who work outside the home do so because they have to-this is true whether the work is trading beans in a market, or typing in an office. Women's wages, increasingly, are essential for family survival. At the same time, women have primary responsibility for maintaining their families and households-work outside must be fitted around domestic duties. For many women, this means working a double day.

The proportion of women who work outside the home varies widely from country to country. Although more women are now working, in almost all cultures, there is resistance to it. This is especially true with regard to married women; men commonly feel it a dishonor for their wives to work. Employers often will not hire married women.

The strongest constraints on women being active outside the home exist in Islamic countries.

One of the biggest worldwide economic shifts this century is the entry of women into the paid labor market. Some women have always worked for wages; the big change is that now women of all classes and ages work. However, it is still much more true for women than men that participation in the labor force is influenced by such factors as marital status, age and family responsibilities. Marriage and childbearing are the two most important influences that keep women out of the waged workforce. In a number of countries (among them, Lichtenstein, Rwanda, Burundi, Swaziland, and the Philippines) husbands have the legal right to restrict their wives' choice to work outside the home and, in some cases, to prohibit it altogether. Many employers discriminate against hiring married women, whether or not this is within the law.

Women's wages are vital to their own survival and that of their families. This is clearly the case in single-parent families. A 1984 study in the UK showed that homes with married women working are 35 per cent better off than homes without. Other studies show that women spend a greater proportion of their income than men on family necessities such as food and shelter.

While more and more women go out to work, most social structures and government policies are constructed as though the stay-at-home wife was the norm. The lack of child care facilities (see Map 12, 'Families') is the most striking indication of this conflict.

The cautions about data in the notes for Map 15, 'Labor Force', generally apply to the data on this map too.

Migrant Workers

There is a huge rural to urban migration currently underway throughout the Third World. In some places, it is mostly the men who move to cities for work-sometimes never returning, and leaving in their wake a large population of poor, women-headed families (see 28. Poverty). In Latin America and parts of Asia, women outnumber men in the search for a new life and work in the cities.

Women also make up a large proportion of international migrants, as part of families or on their own. Some migrant streams are created by employers or governments recruiting 'cheap labor', such as the thousands of women brought from Sri Lanka to be domestic servants in the Middle East.

For many women, their new life is no better than the one they left behind, and may be worse. Migrant women are among the poorest of the poor, triply burdened by race, class and gender barriers.

Migration is usually treated as though it were a predominantly male experience. In fact, women are an important and growing proportion of the world's migrants, and some migrant streams consist almost entirely of women. A 1985 study by the US Department of Labor showed that 66 per cent of all immigrants to the United States are now women-a rise from 41 per cent at the turn of the century.

The patterns of women's migration, and of work in the host country, are distinctive. Women who move to cities from rural areas typically face severe discrimination, and end up being employed in the worst paid and least regulated work sectors. Domestic service and the garment industry are, universally, job ghettoes for migrant women. Prostitution is often taken up as a last resort. Women's migration is closely linked to the growing feminization of poverty, the increasing feminization of agriculture, and increasing prostitute exploitation (see related Maps 28, 'Poverty', and 36, 'Sex for Sale').

The line between voluntary and forced migrations is sometimes very thin. Migrants who are fleeing harsh economic conditions are often no better off than refugees. Governments occasionally encourage migration as part of a planned economic program: overseas workers can be a major source of foreign currency, and migration even when they themselves do not move. Male migration is an important factor in increasing rural female poverty and in the increase in women-headed households.

Some migration patterns change rapidly, and international reporting cannot keep pace. Statistics on migrants, therefore, should be used with caution, and may indicate migrant streams that are no longer current.

Job Ghettos

The range of jobs that women fill in the workforce is much narrower than for men. And, in every country and every region of the world, there are jobs that are specifically defined as 'women's work'. These are the jobs that are filled almost exclusively by women-and are usually considered beneath men's station.

In some countries, almost all bank tellers and secretaries are women. In other countries, tea picking and cotton harvesting are considered women's work. In Latin America and the Caribbean, domestic service is almost entirely feminized, and up to 80 per cent of all women who earn wages work as servants. In South East Asia, textile manufacturing and electronics assembly rely heavily on female labor-and, especially, on a young, female workforce.

Although specifics vary, it is universally true that jobs defined as women's work carry low pay, low status, and little security: thus termed, 'job ghettos'.

Women are ghettoized in low-paying jobs (see 18. Job Ghettos), are often denied promotions, and commonly face outright wage discrimination. They have little job protection (see 20. Job Protection), and form the bulk of part-time workers. As a result, women everywhere earn less than men, and true even when they do the same work as men, and true even in occupations where women form the majority of workers (such as clerical work).

The earnings gap is universal and growing-in spite of equal pay laws which exist in a great number of countries. Such laws are not often enforced, nor do they generally apply to part-time workers or workers in the informal sector, where women predominate. Wage legislation by itself does not remove the inequalities that create the gap in the first place.

Women's relative underpayment in work is a major factor in the growing feminization of poverty.

The map depicting job ghettos around the world does NOT show 'the jobs where most women work'; it shows the jobs where most of the workers are women-it shows the jobs that are typically feminized. We are not suggesting, for example, that most women who work in the UK work at office cleaning, but we are saying that most office cleaners are women.

There is a marked worldwide division into 'women's' and 'men's' jobs, but the set of women's jobs is not the same in every country. 'Women's work' in Sri Lanka is tea picking; in Nigeria it is market trading; in the USA it is nursing, child care, primary school teaching, for example. 'Women's work' is usually considered undignified for men to do, and in any event it is usually too poorly paid and menial to attract competition from male workers. Men's jobs, on the other hand, are often well-paid and highly respected, and women have a very hard time breaking into their ranks.

The increasingly internationalized industrial production system in textiles and electronics has created a widespread common job ghetto: women in electronics workers in the USA and in Singapore often work for the same employer. The creation of these female job ghettos is often an integral part of government economic planning. Many governments in South East Asia, for example, actively try to attract foreign investment by promising a docile, willing, hard working labor pool of young women.


Women are ghettoized in low-paying jobs (see 18. Job Ghettos), are often denied promotions, and commonly face outright wage discrimination. They have little job protection (see 20. Job Protection), and form the bulk of part-time workers. As a result, women everywhere earn less than men. This is true even when they do the same work as men, and true even in occupations where women form the majority of workers (such as clerical work).

The earnings gap is universal and growing-in spite of equal pay laws which exist in a great number of countries. Such laws are not often enforced, nor do they generally apply to part-time workers or workers in the informal sector, where women predominate. Wage legislation by itself does not remove the inequalities that create the gap in the first place.

Women's relative underpayment in work is a major factor in the growing feminization of poverty.

Women's experience of the workplace is different from men's. The earnings gap is among those differences-and derives from a set of interconnections that describe many women's working conditions. Women's low wages result in part from their ghettoization in certain jobs, the fact that most part-time work is done by women, and lack of job training provided by menial and part-time work. In turn, low wages prevent women from 'getting ahead' and escaping their restrictive job choices.

An increasing proportion of all people who are 'poor' are the wage-earning poor: people who work, but whose wages fall below minimum needs. Women are a large proportion of this new class. Since pensions and other benefits are usually based on earnings, women's low earning at work has ripple effects throughout their lives.

Figures on wage comparison represent the total wage earnings of women and men-that is, what the average woman and man bring home as pay packet at the end of a day, week or year. They do not necessarily represent wage per hour (or wage per week) comparisons.

The job categories used for specific wage comparisons include a wide range. 'Professional and technical worker' include librarians, lawyers, doctors, nurses, writers, engineers, teachers. 'Managers and administrators' include sales managers and all administrators in both private and public sector jobs. 'Craft workers' mostly consist of bakers, brick masons, carpenters, machinists, and electricians.

Part-time work is a mixed blessing for women: it offers a way for them to combine waged work with domestic responsibilities, but it leaves them economically marginalized. Women who work part-time are more ghettoized into low-esteem, low-paying jobs than women working full-time. Part-time workers usually receive no benefits, pension coverage or union protection. Because women are encouraged to work part-time-to be exploited workers and 'superwomen'-men are allowed to continue avoiding family and household responsibilities. The fact that part-time work is mainly a female phenomenon reflects, in part, the attitudes of men to family responsibilities. Of all part-time workers in the UK, 94 per cent are women; in West Germany, also 94 per cent; in Sweden, 85 per cent; in Australia, 79 per cent; in the USA, 70 per cent. In 1984, the Iranian government legislated that women who work in offices or factories can work only half-time-on the basis that women's work is not very vulnerable in the first place, and that women should properly be devoting most of their time to being wives and mothers.

Job Protection

As more women become employed in the formal economy, more of them also become unemployed-at a rate that is rising faster then the rate for men. Women's unemployment is considered to be a less serious problem than men's, but in many countries recent increases in unemployment have been borne almost entirely by women. It is not unusual to find that women's share of registered unemployment is greater than their share of employment.

Many women lose their jobs in trying to balance the conflicting demands that come from having to be both mothers and waged workers. While expected to perform both roles fully and effectively, women receive little support to do so. Maternity policies in most countries leave women with no job protection. And unions generally do not take up issues of women's rights, partly because there are few women in policy-making positions within them.

Women are more likely than men to become unemployed, especially when jobs are scarce-so, 'hard times' often hit women hardest of all. 'Youth unemployment' is usually portrayed as mostly a male problem, but in fact it is as much, or more, of a problem for women: The prevailing attitude that work is less serious and less important for women than for men, often means that women's unemployment is treated as a trivial concern. But with more and more families relying wholly or partly on women's wages, unemployment is a major problem-and, in turn, fuels the growing feminization of poverty (see Map 28, 'Poverty').

As a general rule, official records of unemployment undercount the unemployed-and never take into account the 'underemployed' (people who are working a part-time or poorly paid job simply because no appropriate job exists): this means that women's actual unemployment could be as much as two-times higher than reported.

Maternity often brings unemployment for women. There are very few safeguards to protect women's right to a job-and to maternity leave-during and after pregnancy. In many countries the maternity leave-during and after pregnancy. In many countries the maternity leave policies on the books remain unenforced and have little effect on private employers who routinely fire of 'ease out' pregnant workers. The USA stands worst among industrial nations in providing maternity protection-the only protection that women in the USA have is whatever they can work out privately with their employer. Maternity leave has yet to be taken seriously as a public policy issue.

Women at work tend to be much less unionized than men-in part because many women work in socially-isolated, hard-to-organize jobs: domestic service, or homework piece-assembly, for example. Sometimes men, fearing competition, act to block women's entry to unionized labor. The end result is that women's rate of participation in unions lags far behind their participation in the labor market. Furthermore, with the exception of Eastern European countries, women have little voice in union power structures.

Access to Means

In much of the world, property is the key to survival and women do not have the same rights to property as men. Where women do not share equal rights in marriage, they do not have equal access to property. Where property is held jointly it is almost everywhere controlled by the husband. And amongst the many without property in the world, women are the most destitute.

The ownership of land is a particularly important case. In many countries women are not permitted to own land in their own right, or to control land-use rights without the permission of a male relative. In others where, by custom or practice, they do control land or land-use, land reform is undermining their position because it introduces formal entitlements which almost invariably go to men. Land reform, an important part of many development schemes, benefits women least. Worldwide, women are losing land rights.

In many countries, women cannot inherit either property or wealth, or cannot do so on equal terms with men. In the Islamic code, a daughter's inheritance is limited to one-half of the son's share. In other countries, women are not entitled to an equal share of resources accumulated during marriage.

Women are also denied one of the most basic rights, to choose their domicile. In many countries, it is still a man's prerogative to choose where the family will live. This is usually the right of husband or father, but in some countries it may even pass to a son or a brother.

Even in countries where women are free to own productive assets, they have little and control less. In mining, manufacturing and transport, women are very nearly invisible in the upper reaches of authority. Even in the service industries, normally a more welcoming environment for women, the most important areas, like financial dealings and transactions in landed property, are almost always entirely male preserves.

It is difficult to make cross-cultural comparisons of women's land rights. There is no international survey of these rights, and there is often little uniformity within a single country: women's land rights may vary according to local tribal religious, or customary laws. On related topics, such as women's access to credit, there is no international data at all.

The status of women with regard to property is closely related to the concept 'head of household'-the head of household is generally accorded authority over joint property. If men are automatically assumed to be the household head, then in the normal state of affairs it is assumed that men will control all property, even property jointly acquired.

In most countries men still have the right to determine choice of married domicile. For most women this means that when they get married they leave their home and family to join the household of their husband. In doing this they forfeit any property rights they may have held in their name. For many women in the world, becoming married also means becoming landless. In countries where women have an equal right to choose the married domicile, this is a very recent change: almost nowhere did women have this right before the 1970s. In Switzerland women only won this right in 1983. The idea that women should be entitled to a share of their husband's wealth acquired during marriage is an even more recent and more radical legal departure-and in most countries women do not have this protection.

In general women worldwide have access to wealth and resources primarily through their husbands or fathers-they do not have independent means. International aid is also generally directed to, and by, men. Two international organizations are working to change this: Women's World Banking is an international banking organization offering loans to Third World women; the UN Voluntary Fund for Women raises money for development projects for women.

School Days

Education is one of the greatest forces for change for women. A woman who can read, write and add numbers has a better chance in life.

In the past twenty-five years, tremendous strides have been made in primary school enrollment; in many countries formal education is no longer seen as wasted on girls.

But the female-male gap still exists at secondary level: in 76 poor countries, less than half of eligible girls are enrolled in secondary school. Where school slots are scarce, boys must complete-but girls are not even expected to try.

Where girls do go to school, they droop out more than boys do. Especially in poor, rural settings, girls are needed at home for chores, or parents do not want their adolescent daughters to mingle with boys. The educational investment is thought to be better spent on sons.

Girls' access to basic education has improved greatly over the past two decades. There was an 'enrollment boom' in the 1960s and 1970s that pushed girls into the classroom as never before. But inequities still exist: boys are more educated than girls, and girls in rich countries and in cities are more educated than those in poor countries or rural settings.

In Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Papua New Guinea, among others, fewer than 10 per cent of primary age girls were in school in 1960. In 1980 percentages ranged from a virtually unchanged 11 per cent in Afghanistan to an impressive 54 per cent in Papua New Guinea. By contrast, in countries as diverse as Guyana, Portugal, the USSR, Kuwait and New Zealand, virtually all eligible girls attended primary school then as they do now. In cities all over the globe, more girls go to school than do their rural counterparts; in Burundi, 60 per cent of eligible urban girls attend school compared with 7 per cent of rural girls; in Guatemala the ratio is 66 per cent to 30 per cent to 4 per cent. These differences are most acute in countries where enrollments are low overall.

Educational 'ghettos' exist for girls and for boys, but boys have more and better choices than do girls. In vocational secondary schools in France in 1980, for every 100 boys, there were 5 girls in horticulture, 58 in arts and crafts and 14,000 in secretarial schools. Less than one girl per 100 boys registered for electrical or engineering trades training.

Data is based on 'enrollment ratios'-the proportion of eligible children attending schools-not rates (the actual number of children attending).

Higher Education

For women to perform effectively in a world of professionals, they need access to higher education. While girls have made great progress in school enrollment, almost nowhere do women match men on the university campus. This is true despite dramatic enrollment increase in some countries.

Often, women cannot afford to go to university, do not believe in their own abilities, and are not encouraged to succeed academically. Where women do attend, they are often encouraged into female disciplinary ghettos such as social work, education and library science. This is now beginning to change, however, as more and more women turn to the sciences and enter the professions.

The oldest and most famous universities long excluded women. It is only recently, since the wave of women's liberation at the turn of the century, that women have appeared on campus at all.

Women began entering university in the mid- to late-19th century in the USA, Canada, and the UK. Elsewhere in the world universities opened up in the post World War Two period. Dramatic enrollment increases occurred, averaging 30 per cent of the total for poor countries worldwide. Between 1965 and 1985 estimated enrollment in Qatar and South Yemen increased from naught to 57 per cent and 19 per cent of the total respectively; in Guatemala from 9 per cent to 28 per cent; and in Brazil from25 per cent to 48 per cent.

The percentage of women faculty instructors has not increased nearly as dramatically as have student enrollments. In the USA in 1870 women represented 12 per cent of the teaching staff in universities; in 1880, 36 per cent; and in 1890, dropped to 20 per cent, averaging about one-quarter from then until today. The proportion has not increased since 1910.

In 1870 in the US, 21 per cent of all university students were women. Since then enrollment rates have fluctuated, peaking around 1930 and again in the 1940s. In 1944 50 per cent of BAs and MAs were awarded to women. A sharp postwar decline followed when war veterans flooded the schools. Women were encouraged to stay at home instead of competing with 'needier' men for school slots and jobs.

The terms university, college, post-secondary, third-level and higher education are used almost interchangeably in the literature; but the last two are the most inclusive.

Words for Women

Adults who can neither read nor write also cannot participate fully in modern life. More adult women than men fall into this category: two-thirds of the world's illiterates are women; in seventeen countries over 90 per cent of women are illiterate.

This is largely the legacy of women's relative confinement to domestic and private life, and the widespread prejudice against educating girls.

Almost everywhere the gap in literacy between women and men is widening. This is especially true in cities, where men have more opportunities-often at work-to learn to read and write. So, while literacy for both women and men is higher in cities than in rural areas, urbanization more often than not leaves women at a relative disadvantage. Women's illiteracy is also more hidden than men's, and official figures are known to underestimate the problem.

The official UNESCO definition of literacy is 'the ability to read and write a sentence in daily life'. Using this definition, most industrialized countries report illiteracy rates of near naught per cent. This clearly ignores the problem of functional illiteracy, which is serious and growing problem. Recent estimates in the USA, for example, conclude that 16 per cent of all whites, 44 per cent of all blacks, and 56 per cent of all Hispanics fall into the category of functional illiterates-and that 60 per cent of these are women.

There is a lot of international data on literacy rates, but illiteracy is also known to be widely under-reported-and underestimation usually means that information on women is more masked than that on men. It is generally safe to assume that illiteracy-and especially women's illiteracy-is a bigger problem than official statistics reveal.

The gap in illiteracy between men and women (not just absolute literacy rates) reveals the most about the relative burden of illiteracy borne by women. The map shows both indicators. In many countries few girls or boys go to school, and illiteracy for both runs high. But as adults, men have more opportunities than women to learn to read and write. Domestic duties and restrictive presumptions about women's roles often keep women too busy in, and confined to, the home for participation in adult literacy programs. If literacy programs are to help women, they must be designed for them.

There is little disagreement that literacy is a 'good thing', and that full literacy for all is an important social goal. However, some literacy programs can be quite damaging-especially in countries with multiple languages and ethnic divisions. In many instances, ethnic children are taught in only one language, in an effort by the State to undermine ethnic identity. In other instances, certain groups have been excluded from the language of power; this is especially true of women. In Latin America, for example, more Indian men that women speak Spanish, and thus are better equipped to participate in national politics and power struggles.

Bread and Water

The world's women are chronically fatigued, and many are anemic from mal nourishment. This means that when women are exposed to disease they are especially susceptible.

It is women who collect, cook with, and wash family and home using local water. If the water source is far away, unclean, or in short supply, it is primarily women who suffer from the resulting fatigue and disease. And it is women who are held responsible for the poor health of their families when polluted water and inadequate san9itation make the practice of good hygiene either difficult or well-nigh impossible.

Women sow, reap, harvest and cook the world's food, but serve themselves last and least. When food is scarce, women suffer most and future generations are handicapped from birth by malnourished pregnant and nursing mothers.

Fatigue is the most common chronic health problem for women. A male doctor in Mexico is quoted by Perdita Huston, 'Anemia in women is extremely high. I don't really understand how they keep going'.

Anemia is caused primarily by malnutrition. Half of all women, and two-thirds of all pregnant women in poor countries (not including China), suffer from iron-deficiency anemia. It can be a mild condition, but does lead to higher maternal mortality and morbidity and a lowered work capacity. Anemia affects women (and children) most because of their higher requirements for iron, in combination with their inadequate intake. Continuous childbearing and infection also contribute.

Women eat less and last, men and children are served first and best. It is estimated that there is a 42 per cent gap between the daily calorie requirement and actual daily calorie intake for women in India. Food taboos (for example no eggs during pregnancy for fear of developing a large fetus and having a painful birth) contribute to female malnutrition. Generally it is thought that women do not need-or deserve-as much food as others. The low birth weight of a mother's baby is an accurate reflection of her own poor physical condition.

Hard work, childbearing, and too little food cause anemia; but 80 per cent of all disease in poor countries is caused by contaminated water. A billion people in the world lack safe drinking water, including 25 per cent of all city-dwellers and 71 per cent of urban-dwellers.

Illness and Health

Women are biologically stronger than men. But where girls' and women's health is neglected, that edge is lost. In poor countries and in rural settings, constant childbearing, lack of village-level health care, and the neglect of infant girls in favor of boys, all make living more hazardous for women.

Working harder and longer, eating less and worse, earning less and having little control over resources-all while giving birth and nursing-make women more vulnerable to disease. This is particularly true in poor countries, where death from infectious and parasitic disease is prevalent.

In the rich world, where women live long enough to develop degenerative and environmental diseases, they are increasingly taking the same chances as men-smoking, drinking and taking drugs-and are increasingly in danger from cancer, heart disease and strokes.

Women contribute most of the world's informal health care-far exceeding that given in the formal medical sector. Yet their own health needs have often been neglected or ignored by health planners.

Primary health care-local-level, semi-professional, preventative and low cost-is the key to improving the health of women around the world. Extending it to everyone in the world would cost $US 10 billion annually, one-twenty-fifth as much as the world spends on cigarettes. Nevertheless, this would represent a doubling of health expenditures for some countries.

As it is, public health spending priorities are skewed towards the inappropriate technology of the modern urban hospital, to which women seldom have access (figures from UNICEF).


It is war, famine, drought, and oppression that turn people into international refugees. There are now over 15 million refugees in the world; the large majority are women and their dependent children.

Refugees often escape from one state of misery only to enter another of equal, if not greater misery. Countries of asylum are often as poor as the countries they flee. Women often flee from one country where their status is low, to another where it is no better; as refugees, they sink even lower. Refugee women are among the poorest of the world's poor, and they have little control over their fate: women generally have no say in the administration of refugee camps, or in the development of national and international refugee policies.

With no protection of family or state, women refugees are under constant threats-of which rape is the most generally pervasive.

Not only do women comprise the majority of refugees, but they also suffer greater hardships as refugees. Women as refugees are still expected to perform the tasks of child care, cleaning, cooking and collecting fuel and water, but often without resources. Family survival depends on women's ability to adjust and compensate for impoverishment. Women also suffer considerable abuse. Raped by camp guards, border guards, and other refugees is all too common; the most publicized case of refugee rape is the constant marauding of refugee boats in the china Sea, where it is estimated that over 2400 women have been raped by pirates.

Though about 80 per cent of the world's refugees are women and women also represent about 80 per cent of health care workers in refugee camps, they have little control over the administration of camps and little voice in the development of national and international refugee policies. Only about one-quarter of the UNHCR budget is earmarked for women's refugee programs. More generally, women have little influence over the policies that bring about the wars and famines that produce refugees in the first place.

Countries that receive refugees are often in no position to help them. Somalia, for example, is facing drought at the same time that it is hosting over half a million Ethiopian refugees. The ratio of refugees to local population in Somalia is 1 in 7; in the Sudan, the ratio is 1 in 32. Generally, this means that life for refugees is almost as bad in the host country as in the country they fled. When resources are stretched thin, it is the women, the most marginalized in the first place, who suffer first and most. Women have the smallest share of the 'resources pie' of the world; when the pie shrinks, women's losses are greatest.

Statistics on international refugees should be treated with caution. In the first place, refugee numbers are very fluid and reporting does not keep pace with fast-changing refugee situations. More important, it is known that refugee reporting is very susceptible to manipulation for political gain. Refugee statistics should be used for the general picture they offer, not the precision.

This map shows international refugees only. Many countries have large internal refugee populations that are as badly off as the international refugees. Cyprus, Angola, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, among others, have very large populations of internal refugees.


Women everywhere control fewer resources and reap a lesser share of the world's wealth than men; it follows from this that when women have to support families and themselves on their own, they end up poorer than men.

In the USA, 78 per cent of all people living in poverty are women or children under 18 years old. Statistics from all over the world tell the same story: no matter how poverty is measured, the poor population is largely and increasingly comprised of women and their dependent children. This is what is known as the feminization of poverty.

Worldwide, one-third of all households are now headed by women. Women outlive men and commonly spend some of their older years alone.

The poverty that is disproportionately borne by women, is especially borne by those with children and by older women.

Worldwide, the largest poverty groups are, first, women-headed households, and second, the elderly (a greater proportion of whom are women because women live longer than men). Together, these two groups represent on average 70 per cent of the poor in most countries in the world. Poverty is rapidly being feminized. The scattered statistics that are available tell the same story worldwide in the USA, 78 per cent of all people living in poverty are women or children under the age of 18; in Australia, the proportion is 75 per cent; in Canada, 60 per cent of all women over age 65 live in poverty.

The reasons for women-headed households being poor can be found in the maps in the 'Work' section (Maps 15 through 20). Women who are solely responsible for their families often cannot go out to work because there are no child care facilities available (or because child care is too expensive). When women do work for wages, they get paid less, they are ghettoized into low-paying jobs with little job security, and have fewer job benefits. In agricultural economies, credit, money and land ownership are often denied women (see Map 21, 'Access to Means'); women are dependent on men for access to the resources and rewards of the formal economy. In the absence of men, women are cut off from access to resources.

There are great income differences between women-headed and men-headed households. In 1981 in the USA, the average income of women-headed households was $US 10,960; for men-headed households, it was $US 19,889; for husband-wife households, it was $US 25,065. In Chile 29 per cent of women-headed households fall into the lowest income bracket, compared with 10 per cent of men-headed households.

Recessions and other economic hardships strike hardest at those with the least income: women and their children feel 'hard times' first and most. The poorer a family is, the larger is the proportion of income spent on necessities, such as food, fuel and health care. For poor families, then, any decline in income threatens survival.

The poorer women are, the more vulnerable they are to exploitation, especially prostitution. There is a very strong connection between women's poverty and prostitution.

The number of women-headed households is everywhere increasing rapidly. In rich countries divorce is the major cause of the rise in single-parent families (see Map 5, 'Single States'); in poor countries, it is due to both divorce and the migration (either seasonal or permanent) of men seeking work.

The Vote

The right to vote is an important measure of full citizenship, and an important means for women to gain other rights.

Voting rights for women were often strongly resisted almost everywhere, and men gained the vote before women; in a few countries this is still so. In some countries, white women or women with property or education had the vote before others. In many, women won the vote as part of a larger social reordering, such as the transfer from colonial to national rule. For many women, then, voting is a recent privilege.

Worldwide, women tend to vote less than men, but the gap is narrowing.

Since women everywhere are a slight majority of the population, if women voted in equal proportion to men they would actually represent an electoral majority.

Women are still not fully enfranchised worldwide. Despite growing protests, the Kuwaiti government refuses to grant women the vote; in a 1985 debate, the Interpretation Committee of Kuwait'' Ministry of Islamic Affairs concluded that, 'the nature of the electoral process befits men, who are endowed with ability and expertise: it is not permissible that women nominate women or men'. In Bhutan, a 'one vote per family' rule means that men almost exclusively claim that right. Hong Kong has property restrictions that prevent some men, and a lot of women, from voting. And in South Africa,, black women and men are still denied the vote.

The biggest surge in voting rights came during the late 1950s-in the wake of decolonization. But in many countries women's suffrage is even more recent: in Lichtenstein, women only won the vote in 1984; in Jordan, it was in 1982.

Partly because women do not have such a long history of political participation they tend to vote less than men. In many countries, and in many families, there is little encouragement for women to act autonomously and politically.

When women do vote, they increasingly vote differently than men on certain issues. These differences in political attitudes first began to be noticed consistently in the mid-1970s in American elections. The 'gender gap' at the polls has since become an important factor in elections in the USA. Women's voting records show that they are more likely to favor stronger environmental protection regulation, gun control, abolition of the death penalty, and are more likely to vote against weapons build-ups.

Historical information on women's suffrage is often hard to interpret. In many cases there is simply no record in standard historical source. More often the dates in various sources are conflicting. This is because in many countries some women had the vote before others-and different sources record different benchmarks. For this map, we mark suffrage from the date that all women won the vote on equal terms with each other and on equal terms with men.


Most governments are governments of men. Nowhere do women hold more than a minority of seats in national legislatures. In many of the countries where they appear to have a greater voice, the legislatures they serve are in fact powerless or symbolic. There are only a handful of countries in which women have significant representation in a significant legislature. In Scandinavia, women have the best-and the earliest-record of representation in government.

That women have the right to participate in government does not mean they exercise much power in most countries. The gender gap in government is greatest at the top of the hierarchy. The powerful and prestigious government posts are typically held by men across the entire spectrum of political systems. Women in cabinet-level positions remain exceptions to the rule everywhere.

The importance of women's recent gains in political power must be measured against the tact that even in the best cases women represent only about 25 per cent of elected national officials. In many countries women have no share of political power. This is certainly true of all countries ruled by militaries (since women are nowhere in power in militaries-see Map 22, 'Military Service'), and in many countries where women only recently won the vote. Liechtenstein, for example, has only one woman member of parliament elected in 1986.

A widespread pattern shows women to have made some gains in lower levels of legislature, but to the excluded from the upper echelons where real power lies. The most obvious example of this is in the Eastern European countries.

When women do hold cabinet posts, they are often appointments in areas considered to lie within women's traditional interests-considered to be very serious: women get appointed to be Ministers of Consumer Affairs, not Ministers of Defense. There are many countries where no woman has yet made it to the level of a cabinet position.

Women tend to fare better in local politics. They typically have better representation in municipal councils than in national bodies. In the national legislatures in Scandinavian countries, women had achieved over 20 per cent representation by the early 1970s. They remain in the lead today. The 1985 figures are Denmark, 26 per cent; Finland, 31 per cent; Norway, 26 per cent; and Sweden, 29 per cent.

Data on women in government is generally reliable, and coverage is fairly good-but a surprising number of countries still do not collect or report data on this topic.


There are wide differences in how 'crimes' and 'criminals' are officially defined and reported. But, regardless of definition, most crimes are committed by men, and everywhere, women constitute a very small proportion of criminals.

In most countries, women's crime rates are now increasing rapidly and at a much faster rate than men's. But women's share of total crimes remains minor.

The gap between women and men is greatest in violent crimes. Typically, more than 90 per cent of incidents involving violence are committed by men. Theft and larceny are the crimes most commonly attributed to women.

Women have very little representation in the administration of law. They are banned from studying law in two countries, but in general they are a small and growing proportion of all lawyers.

Cross-cultural data on crime must be treated with caution. For one thing, there is considerable variation in what type of behavior is defined as 'criminal'-and definitions change over time. In addition, there is little uniformity in national governments' methods of reporting their 'crime rate' to international authorities: in some instances anyone who is arrested is listed as a 'criminal'; in other countries 'criminals' are those convicted of crimes. On this map the crime rate is based on arrest records.

In addition to these interpretation problems there are major gaps in international data on the law and its enforcement. Very little information is broken down according to gender. For example, while there is some data on reported crimes, there is no information on women as political prisoners. (Amnesty International, which is the primary group monitoring political prisoners, does not collect information by sex.) There is little information on women in police forces, though in the USA women reportedly comprise six per cent of police forces nationwide.

The little information that exists on women in prisons suggests that overall they comprise a very small proportion of inmates. In Pakistan women are less than one per cent of all prison inmates; in Sweden, two per cent; in the Netherlands and the UK, three per cent; in China five per cent. Contrary to commonly held beliefs, women do not get off lightly in the courts: a 1975 study in the UK showed that five times as many women with no previous convictions were jailed as men with no previous convictions.

Women are a small but growing proportion of lawyers and judges. Here, too, job ghettoization exists. Women judges are much more likely than men to be appointed to family courts. Very few women rise to posts in the upper courts.

Military Service

Serving one's country as part of the military is widely held to be an honor and an act of patriotism. Military service also brings economic and social rewards, especially in countries where the armed forces are politically powerful or where they form the government.

Most governments do not want women in their armed forces. But many feel that they are running short on acceptable male recruits. So an uneasy compromise adopted in many countries is to permit women into the services, but to deny them certain roles. Combat, in particular, is considered unnatural for women, although large numbers of them have fought in civil wars and revolutionary armies.

In wartime, even the regular armies resort to using women in service, but after the war they are expected to return home.

All over the world, there is controversy about whether women should be allowed to participate in militaries-and if so, to what extent. In some countries women are completely excluded from military service; in others, women can join the military, but are restricted to the lowest levels in the power hierarchy and slotted into typically 'feminized' jobs.

Notions of femininity are at the center of all arguments against allowing women into the military. Women are portrayed as a weaker species who mast be protected-indeed, men are encouraged to fight for their country in order to 'protect' women. The idea of women serving in the military, then, is discordant with the ideals of behavior for both men and women: women shouldn't' be in the military because it is unfeminine, and because it undermines the rationales used to keep men as soldiers. The idea of women being allowed to serve in combat is considered to be even further beyond the pale. Ideologies about femininity and the inappropriateness of women in the military are virtually universal: the same arguments are used by revolutionary governments. Communist governments, free market governments, in rich countries and poor.

Among feminists, too, the issue of where women should be in the military is controversial; much of the feminist debate focuses specifically on conscription. In some countries, women argue against the conscription of women on the grounds that they should not be compelled to join male institutions of violence; there has been strong anti-conscription rallying in Italy, Greece, East and West Germany,, and the USA. Increasingly European governments facing a decline in military manpower are considering the conscription of women. Yet in other countries women have argues on the basis of equal rights that they should be conscripted. For example, the recent decision of the Nicaraguan government not to conscript women was taken by many women as a snub, given their service in combat in the struggle to overthrow Somoza.

When women do break into the ranks, they are usually confined to 'women's roles', which (as in society at large) tend to be the least skilled, the lowest paid and have the least potential for promotion. Most militaries use women to provide 'support services', as nurses, secretaries and communication aides.

It is generally true that military service brings some social and economic benefits; by excluding women from service, they are excluded from these benefits too. In many countries, the military is the government-which means that the government is exclusively male, and women are held as a great distance from power.

Body and Mind

Women constitute by far the greater number of health car workers in most countries, but they are not represented evenly throughout the profession. They are concentrated mostly in one sector: nursing, which being 'women's work', is accorded the lowest pay, the least prestige and the least power. So while they do the greater share of health care work, women receive the smaller share of benefits.

The status, pay and power imbalance in health care is shifting slowly as more women become doctors, and as nurses press demands for better recognition of the work they do. But the gap is still large, even in that part of the profession that deals exclusively with women, gynecology.

The picture is much the same in teaching. Most teachers in the world are women, but most women teachers occupy the bottom rung of the educational ladder.

The status of women in the health and education professions reflects an observation made by Margaret Mead about men's work and women's work. 'There are villages in which men fish and women weave, and those in which women fish and men weave, but in either type of village, the work done by men is valued higher than the work done by women.' In both health and education, the ranks with the greatest numbers of women-nursing and pre-primary school education -have the lowest status.

In most countries more than 90 per cent of nurses are women. In a few places, such as the UK and the USA, the proportion of male nurses is slowly increasing. And when this happens, the men rise to the top: although they are a minority of all nurses, they hold a disproportionate share of senior nursing posts-and nursing unions and organizations are generally dominated by the few men in them. In a few countries severe restrictions imposed on women's education and their activities outside the home has meant that nursing has never been feminized.

The proportion of women doctors worldwide has been rising steadily since World War Two, with the greatest increases appearing in the Communist countries-this is the result of a deliberate policy, and now in some parts of Eastern Europe the majority of doctors are women.

Many countries, notable in Europe and the USA, fail to report educational staff data to UNESCO, the only agency that keeps track of this information internationally. Thus on the education 'ladders' graphic there are some surprising countries for which the data is listed as 'unknown'-entirely the result of national policy on reporting to the UN.

Information on the proportion of women in the various parts of the health professions is surprisingly hard to find. The World Health Organization does not collect or report this data (with the exception of one listing made in 1977). Although it would seem an easy task to collect information on women as nurses and doctors (since health professionals everywhere are registered with the national health authorities), we were told by WHO that this information was 'not considered important to collect'.

Information on the important role of women as primary health-care providers is included on several maps, especially Map 11, 'Birth Care'.

The Media

Radio, television, newspapers and magazines entertain and educate. They are also important means for maintaining or changing the status quo. The mass media are growing rapidly, but small media are flourishing, too. Mass media means male media.

Women's media image is predominantly passive, domestic and, especially in advertisements, sexual. Women's news is considered to be fashion, style, social trends. Women do not appear to make the news, either as features or writers. Women working in the media are predominantly in low-paid, low-status jobs.

There is growing feminist media addressing the concerns of women worldwide, but it is small compared to the reach of traditional women's media. Most pervasive of all are the sex magazines for men: a highly profitable industry selling a perverse, widely accepted image of women.

In the USA there is only one mass-media magazine owned and operated by women (Ms.) So-called 'women's' magazines are owned by men, almost always published by men, and usually edited by men. By contrast, all the feminist print media listed in 'The Furthest Reach' graphic are owned and operated by women. Not surprisingly the sex magazines are owned and operated almost completely by men.

At their best, 'women's magazines' provide a wealth of practical information; at their worst they aggressively reinforce what is most negative about traditional notions of femininity. It matters; 29,500,000 people received the magazines listed in the 'Reach' graphic alone. Compare this with the 943,000 recipients of the feminist magazines and the 13.8 million pornography readers listed.

Much of the pornography industry is outside the regular economy and thus is hard to document. Figures used to estimate its size are thought to be very low (the US industry is estimated as $US 8 billion in 1984). The industry barely existed before the 1960s, but its growth since then has been explosive. There are well over 165 pornographic magazines in the USA alone and their content is increasingly violent and explicit, and the women featured continue to be exploited. One issue of Penthouse netted the publisher $US 37 million and Miss America nothing but the loss of her crown for unbecoming behavior. A content analysis of pornographic paperbacks found that depiction's of rape had doubled between 1968 and 1974; depiction's of bondage and domination have also increased dramatically. Pornography is anathema because it dehumanizes people; it has nothing to do with healthy adult sexuality.

For many women, especially the millions of poor and illiterate women, print media is irrelevant to their lives. Radio is the most accessible of all the media; in Europe and parts of Africa, for example, more women listen to radio than do men.

Beauty Beat

The quest for beauty is used to exalt and to degrade women, and as a distraction from reality. Presented as entertainment it has been turned into a serious preoccupation. Beauty contests attempt to create fantasy world where women are meant to be ogled and men are polite voyeurs. These contests can be seen as simply part of the pornography continuum.

International beauty contests promote the export of culturally-specific notions of beauty that women everywhere are expected to meet: mostly, a white, European standard. The idea of women as beauty-objects transcends economic and political differences: rich and poor countries, communist and capitalist, all participate in the beauty beat.

Beauty is big business. Beauty contests are very profitable, and more are spawned each year. The cosmetics market is enormous. The demand for cosmetic surgery grows yearly.

In addition to the two major international contests, hundreds of beauty contests are held around the world each year. Contests present a women and 'beauty' as commodities-and are in this way directly related to the images of women presented in pornography and in the mass media. A wide range of countries participate in the beauty beat. Ideologies of beauty-and of women as objects of beauty-transcend all sorts of other political and economic differences. The beauty beat seems to be gathering momentum. Beauty contests were begun in china in 1985; Hungary also started to hold contests in 1985; in 1983 Poland was the first Eastern bloc country to send a contestant to Miss World. Muslim countries are the only ones that do not host beauty contests.

Although beauty contests are supposed to be non-political 'entertainment', they are at the center of much controversy and acrimony. Feminists uniformly condemn beauty contests. Criticism is also more widespread-for example in 1984 the BBC ended coverage of beauty contests, calling them 'anachronistic and offensive'. Hosting a pageant can be very controversial-especially in poorer countries, since governments spend a lot of money preparing sites and promoting contests held in their country; the sites of beauty contests are almost always the sites of protests. Most contests are riven with internal contradictions; there is always a furore, for example, when it is discovered that one of the contestants has posed nude for modeling or pornography magazines, or that one of the contestants had a teenage pregnancy. Every year there are a number of beauty queens deposed for one transgression or another.

A staggering amount of money and suffering is spent on the pursuit of beauty. Some cosmetic surgery is essential-reconstruction following surgery, for example. But the overwhelming proportion of cosmetic surgery is non-essential, and indicates the extent to which women have been socialized to pursue the elusive ideal of beauty at any cost.

Sex for Sale

Prostitution is not a women's institution. It has always been controlled by men and sustained by violence. The image of the 'happy hooker' has little to do with reality. Poverty drives most women who 'choose' prostitution. Many girls are sold into prostitution by poor families. Once in the system, it is hard to get out.

In the international prostitution network, women are commodities. Prostitutes are traded, girls are bought and exchanged among pimps, marriage catalogues offer women for sale. Despite growing protests and exposure, the trade is flourishing and widespread.

Sex tours to South-East Asia for men represent an extreme of exploitation for women.

Prostitution exists in all countries, regardless of its legal status-but under different laws the treatment of prostitutes varies widely.

Prostitution is as old as patriarchy. Prostitution flourishes in an economic context where women are paid less than men for their labor power, and the one commodity they possess for which men are willing to pay a price is their bodies. Prostitution exists everywhere. But to say simply that it 'exists' masks the processes through which prostitution is perpetuated-economic processes, male networks of control and trade in women, and the violence and coercion that permeates all systems of prostitution.

International traffic in women is flourishing; trafficking means simply the transport, exchange, and sale of women through networks set up and controlled by men. Most trafficking takes one of three forms. Firstly, women who are already prostitutes in one country are often 'exchanged' to another country. Since most prostitutes are in the control of pimps, they have no say in these transfers-they are merely commodities being exchanged between men. Secondly, girls are often sold into prostitution by poor families; the families are in some instances aware that they are selling their daughter into prostitution, but more often than not they are told that the child will be employed as a domestic servant in a patron's home. Once prostituted, the already low value of girls to their families drops even lower. Thirdly, there is evidence of women being recruited from poverty under false pretenses-they are hired to be 'waitresses' or domestic servants', and are then forced into prostitution. Much of the international traffic in women takes the form of sexual slavery.

Marriage bureau which offer women for sale to prospective husbands-a supposedly legitimate business-are often little more than fronts for prostitute networks. Women bought through these marriage brokers are often put to work as prostitutes in foreign countries. Even when marriage bureau do not serve to supply prostitute networks, the fact that they are established in order to sell women closely relates them to the business of prostitution.

Sex tourism is literally that; hundred of thousands of men each year flock to various centers in Southeast Asia for 'sex holidays'. Tours are arranged by 'legitimate' travel operators in Japan, West Germany and Scandinavia, who for one all-in price offer airfare, a hotel room and a pre-arranged number of women 'for the men to do as they like with'. The women who are offered up for these sex tours are often kept in conditions of near-slavery, and one common practice is to parade women with numbers around their necks through hotel viewing rooms so the men can pick whom they want. Many of the prostitutes are children: there are an estimated 30,000 prostitutes in Bangkok under the age of 16, for example. Sex tourism is big business, and in most instances has the implicit (or even direct) support of the host government: sex tourism is a major source of foreign currency and, in many cases, props up a failing economy. Sex tourism in many countries started with brothels established to service military bases.

Prostitution and/or related activities are illegal in most countries. Even where prostitution itself is technically not a crime, it is always the prostitutes-not the pimps or customers-who are harassed or arrested. Nowhere is there legal protection for prostitutes, not prosecution of the men who exploit prostitutes.


Rape is probably the most under-reported, fastest growing and least convicted crime in the world. It has long been considered as only a crime against property-the woman as man's property. Now it is beginning to be recognized for what it is: a crime of violence and power, and a violation of women's civil rights.

Men of all ages and backgrounds rape women of all ages and backgrounds. Women everywhere live under the threat of rape, especially in their own homes. Rape in families is not a secret any more: wife-rape is now prosecutable in parts of Europe and the USA, and is slowly being recognized as a crime elsewhere. Grass-roots organizing by women has brought about these legal and social changes, including the setting up of rape-crisis centers.

But in most countries, rape is still not properly recognized as a serious problem for women.

Rape is not uncontrolled lust and it is not 'having sex'. Rape is a violent act done by a man to a woman-sometimes to a child-in order to establish power over her or women in general. It is committed mostly when and where men can get away with it-often in the home-and without regard to a woman's age or appearance. It is not true that most rapes are committed by strangers, only on pretty women, when the woman is 'asking for it'. If a woman fights back she may be seriously injured or killed; but if she doesn't, she is assumed to have been complicit in the act. This puts women in a no-win situation. Because some men rape, all women are threatened by rape and are thus unable to move about freely.

Rape is not an impulse act in most cases. In the USA one study showed 90 per cent of gang rapes, 83 per cent of pair rapes and 58 per cent of single rapes to be premeditated. Most cultures either condone rape or legitimize it by ignoring it in reality and enjoying it in fantasy. As some feminists say, 'Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice'. The 'ideal' woman in the media's image is very similar to the 'ideal' rape victim: docile, selfless, a sex object.

The Dublin rape crisis center in Ireland experienced a two-fold increase in women seeking help between 1983 and 1984. As rape rates and reporting increase, pressure by women's groups is forcing legal systems to respond to rape as serious social problem. In many countries, however, the legal system is part of the problem. Institutional rape by jail guards and police in prisons, by 'orderlies' in mental hospitals, by authorities in refugee camps (see Notes to Map 27, 'Refugees'), is used to remind women of their powerlessness and to keep them powerless. It is also used by men against other men, as in war: the conquering soldier rapes and plunders to establish his dominance over his counterpart through property. Where rape is severely punished, as in Muslim countries, the crime is seen as an affront to the possessing male, not to the woman victim. In every case the punishment of rape is contingent on its being reported, which in turn is contingent upon a woman being able to recognize rape as the unjustifiable assault it is, not something deserved-particularly as in wife-rape or 'date-rape'. Men and women still assume on some level that the rape victim is guilty of enticement or some other attitude which legitimately provokes a man to rape. Women hesitate to report rape for other reasons, too: fear of reprisal from her attacker or his compatriots and lack of faith in the criminal justice system which might put her on trial for her sexuality. In the USA ten rapes are reported every hour. This probably represents-a conservative estimate-ten per cent of those occurring.

Historically the criminalization of rape was not designed to protect women but to protect male property. The rape of a man's wife or daughter was and is considered a serious crime; wife-as-property lingers as a category in the law. This is evident in the recent and still rare acceptance of wife-rape as prosecutable. (You cannot violate the rights of someone who-in your mind or in the law-has no independent civil rights of her own.) Some countries only recognize wife-rape when a husband and wife are separated, thereby failing to accept the basic concept. Canada and Yugoslavia are examples. In general socialist law protects wives from rape most, Muslim law the least. The insistence by some on calling wife-rape 'spousal rape' begs the issue, which is most certainly not gender-neutral.

Because rape is so under-reported, statistics are unreliable. This is as true of small-sample studies as it is of Interpol statistics. There is extreme hesitancy on the part of women to report rape, and a certain lack of determination by authorities to collect accurate numbers. The definition of 'sex offenses' varies widely too. The 'sex offense' figure for the USA includes only rape, while in other countries, prostitution, the traffic in women and other crimes are included. It is thus difficult to make any generalizations about cultural patterns based on these statistics.

Channels of Change

The women's movement has affected government and bureaucratic machinery internationally. Agendas now routinely include women's issue, and policy-making groups have women's advisory boards. These changes are often made reluctantly and may be primarily symbolic, but they are steps towards some improvement of women's status.

Ironically, channels of change for women are often not run by women. In most cases, women are barely represented in policy-making posts in governments or agencies, even those dealing mostly with women's issues.

Often the most effective channels are those that women set up themselves. Organizing by women is not new, but has certainly accelerated in the past decade. Conferences, international networks, non-government organizations and political action groups are at the forefront of change.

Women have created powerful channels of change over the past decade. The women's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) took key roles in forging resolutions and recommendations at the three UN decade of women conferences. In most countries women's political action groups have become important lobbying forces. Women's research centers have been founded in more than 25 countries.

They have fared less well inside conventional channels. Only a few governments have established women's ministries-and in some (for example Canada), the minister is a man. Women are not represented in senior posts or policy-making positions within any of the major international agencies.

In most countries women have been forming professional and political organizations since the mid-19th century. Suffrage organizations began in the 1860s in England and the USA, and in the 1880s and the 1990s in the Scandinavian countries. Some of the earliest international women's organizations were created around peace issues. A note of irony is that in some women's organizations, men hold the top posts: the League of Women Voters (US) for example, founded in 1920, just elected-in 1986-a man as its executive director.


Women engage in many forms of protest: by challenging conventions in their marriages and workplaces; by opening battered women's refuges and women's bookstores; by starting alternative healthcare networks. Sometimes they take to the streets to make their voices heard on issues of violence, pornography, abortion, social security and peace.

Nowhere is there much support for women, as such, to organize. In many countries, a women's protest is in itself major breakthrough, and flouts conventions of how women are supposed to behave. But almost all the advances in women's rights in the last century have been won only because women have been active on their own behalf.

Peace has always been a women's issue: women have been in the lead in anti-war and anti-militarist movements for the last century, as in the current women's peace camp movement.

Women's protests are not new-women have always struggled against their oppression. Contemporary movements have links back to early women textile-workers' strikes, and prohibition and temperance movements.

Many women's street demonstrations have been called to protest for reproductive rights and legal equality, and against male violence. Recently, in the Arab states women have organized against repressive 'Family Codes'. In Iceland women organized a one-day strike (in 1975 and again in 1985) against 'male privilege'.

The list of street demonstrations was gleaned from the back-issues of several feminist magazines and newspaper indexes-but we know it is not complete. We have not mapped the various and numerous 'Take Back the Night' marches that have occurred throughout Europe, Australia, Canada, and the USA.

Mapping the Patriarchy

When official international agencies such as the United Nations gather statistics, they choose the subjects they consider important and accessible.

The statistics that exist on women reflect those choices. Information about women's fertility and use of contraceptives is considered critical, but data on maternal mortality is not. Similarly, conventional labor force statistics on women are systematically gathered, but data on women's unpaid labor is collected only sporadically. The 'official' woman is thus an incomplete one. Many aspects of her life are invisible including domestic violence, rape and poverty. Feminists and their organizations are still virtually the only sources for this officially unimportant information. Even when governments and agencies have the opportunity to collect or publish gender-specific data they sometimes choose not to.

Men in power still ignore women in numbers.

The collection and dissemination of statistics about people is political. The collecting agency must decide how, where and why to collect information, and what it should be. These choices are made, by and large, by men. As a result women are often absent from compendia of international statistics. Where information on women is included it is often incomplete and concerns either what the collectors consider important about women or what is most easily obtained. (It is also true that certain information about men-for example men as fathers-is not collected.)

The lack of data on issues of concern to women certainly frustrates researchers, but its implications go far beyond that. Decisions affecting millions of people-as in international development planning-hinge on the nature of the information used by the decision-makers. The failure to recognize that women are half the labor force, all of the reproducing force and almost all of the food preparation force-among other things-has contributed to failure of many development schemes by effectively keeping out of the picture half of the society supposedly being helped.