The Global Treatment of Women: Spring 2011

Immediate Events & Short Term Trends to 2015

1. A horrifying report (see Reuters) alleging more than 400,000 women are raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo every year made waves, although the UN has expressed doubt about the findings, claiming the sample size of the study was too small. Most of the women were raped by their husbands or partners. War rape has also been an issue in the Congo (see this 2008 report from CBS News).


Medium Term Trends to 2025

2. Women number 3.4 billion and growing.

a) The world’s population is growing, having reached 7 billion in 2010.

b) Most of the growth has occurred in Africa and Asia. Demographic declines have been found in many European and American regions.

b) As one might expect, about half this total is women: slightly more than 3.4 billion in all.

3. There are slightly more men than women – in some parts of the world, and only until about age 50.

a) Globally, there are 57 million more men than women. However, most of the surplus of men can be found in India and China. And, because women outlive men, most of the gender imbalance in favor of men is in the younger age brackets.

b) Gender imbalances by region:

  • Europe has more women than men; Eastern Europe, particularly so (88 men per 100 women).
  • Asia generally has more men than women, except in Southeastern Asia, where the numbers are about equal.
  • The Americas are close to a gender balance, slightly favoring women.
  • Africa is generally balanced, but slightly in favor of women.
  • The worst male-leaning imbalances by country: China (108 men per 100 women), India (107:100), Pakistan (106:100) and Bangladesh (102:100). This means that in China, 8% of the men will not have the opportunity of local wives (assume everyone married).
  • The worst female-leading imbalances by country: Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and the Netherlands (all 86 men per 100 women). This means that all things being equal some 14% of the women in these countries have no opportunity of local husbands.

c) Gender imbalances that favor men tend to indicate prenatal sex determination and abortion if the fetus is female. (For example, the sex ratio for the second birth when the preceding child was a girl was 132 boys per 100 girls—clearly indicating that if one girl is already had, a second girl is not desired).

d) Gender imbalances that favor women are the result of a different trend. If you examine the age distributions of the population in, for example, Eastern Europe, you see that most of the additional women are over the age of 30. Quite simply, the women are outliving the men by a substantial margin, and thus the society builds an imbalance of significantly older women.

4. First marriages are occurring later in life: but this varies by region.

a) In more developed countries, two-thirds or more of women do not marry for the first time until after the age of 20.

b) In less-developed countries, two-thirds of young women will marry before the age of 20—and in some countries, there are high proportions of women who marry before the age of 15.

5. Fertility is declining.

a) Fertility rates—the average number of children each woman has during her lifetime—have been declining for some time especially in more developed countries: globally, from 5.0 in 1950 to 2.5 today. Globally, the average “replacement level” (number of children needed to sustain the population) is 2.5, but this varies depending upon factors like infant and child mortality.

b) However, the rate varies vastly by region:

  • Every European region is experiencing fertility rates deeply below the replacement level.
  • East Asia is also deeply below the replacement level: it has stabilized its population but now faces a different sort of demographic crisis.
  • Most of the Americas are at or slightly below the replacement level.
  • South America, the Caribbean, and Central America are all slightly above replacement level rates.
  • Southeast Asia is likewise slightly above replacement level rates.
  • All of Africa as well as Southern, Central, and Western Asia are above replacement level rates.
  • Western, Eastern and Middle Africa are significantly above, with rates still in excess of 5 children per woman.

c) Early marriage and high fertility tend to limit the opportunity for education and employment in many situations. Early marriage and larger families may be an acceptable or even desired situation theologically, yet hopefully with new advances in distance education it may be possible to provide more education for girls and women.

d) Maternal mortality remains high in less developed countries. Unfortunately it is also difficult to track. It remains one of the UN’s Millennial Development Goals on which the least progress has been made. To positively change this, access to prenatal care and skilled medical personnel at birth are essential. The proportion of women receiving prenatal care has improved but much remains to be done.

e) The UN estimates the total number of abortions worldwide to have fallen from 46 million p.a. in 1995 to 42 million p.a. in 2003. Of these 7 million were in more developed regions, and 35 million in less developed regions.

f) Once born, in many areas girls have a better chance of surviving to age 5 than boys. In Africa, for example, the under5 mortality rate for girls is 130 per 1,000; whereas for boys, it is 142 per 1,000. (Although the reverse is generally true in Asia, especially in Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan.)

6. Women as a group are aging. Women tend to outlive men by at least an average of 5 years worldwide. In Russia, women outlive men by more than 10 years on average. The number of people aged 60+ tripled between 1950 and 2010, from 204 million to 760 million. Of these, 413 million are women (about 11% of all women). Globally, women make up about 55% of the older population.

7. The educational status of women is improving.

a) One simple measure of progress in education is the adult literacy rate. Women make up 66% of the world’s 774 million adult illiterates—and this proportion has not changed in 20 years. However, there is reason for hope: the literacy rates of youth, both male and female, are higher than those of adults, which indicates the trendline is changing.

b) Worldwide, there are some 72 million children out of primary school, and half of those are girls. Yet there is hope here, too: primary school enrollment for children of both sexes is increasing. Although many countries are far from universal primary education, measurable progress is occurring and the gender gap is closing.

c) Secondary education continues to lag behind primary education.

d) There has been a substantial expansion in tertiary education, and one noticeable change is the number of women enrolled. There is a new gender gap in college enrollment: there are now substantially more women than men. Men make up only 40% of college students; women are closing in on 66% and receive the majority of degrees. However, women remain underenrolled in science and engineering.

e) Use of the Internet is growing exponentially worldwide; however, although the gender gap has narrowed, women still do not have the same level of access as men in most countries.

8. Women are the majority of HIV-positive adults in southern Africa, northern Africa and western Asia. Of the 33 million worldwide living with HIV (2007), two-thirds are found in sub-Saharan Africa (22 million). Of those, 60% were women. (The other substantial areas of infection are South and Southeast Asia, 4.2 million, Latin America, 1.7 million, Eastern Europe & Central Asia, 1.5 million and North America, 1.2 million; in each of these, women made up between 20% and 33% of those infected). Many of the women have been infected by their husbands.

9. Women and girls make up 80% of the nearly 2.5 million people from 127 different countries trafficked each year. Half of all trafficked victims are underage minors. Most of these girls are recruited into prostitution or sexual exploitation, with the average age of entry into the trade being 12 years old. has a map of the trafficking of females. See also our Status of Human Trafficking 2011.

10. The sex trade and prostitution remains vibrant. While I have not found any specific globally aggregated statistics on prostitution, many of the larger countries estimate that between 0.5% and 1% of their total female population is involved in the sex trade. In Southeast Asia, the trade accounts for between 2% and 14% of GDP.

11. Women are working, and more of them are getting paid for their labor.

a) Women constitute half the world and thus potentially half its work force. Yet in truth they do far more than half the work.

b) Globally, half of women work in the paid labor market (while about three-quarters of men do). Women’s participation in the workforce held fairly steady over the past two decades, while men’s participation fell, thus leading to a substantial rise in women’s share of the labor force. In more-developed countries, women are mostly employed in services. In Africa and Southern Asia, women are mostly employed in agricultural work.

  • In northern Africa, about a third of women are employed; in southern Africa, about two-thirds.
  • In Eastern and Central Asia, between two-thirds of women are employed. In Southeast Asia, a little more than half. In Southern Asia, just a third, and in Western Asia, about 20%.
  • Throughout Latin America, between 40% and 60% of women are employed.
  • In the Pacific, about two-thirds of women are employed.
  • In the rest of the world, slightly more than half of all women on average are employed.

b) Research has identified four patterns of participation in the workforce on the part of women, based on age:

  • Pattern 1: low participation to age 20, then sharply higher, maintained throughout childbearing years, peaking at age 50 and then a gradual decline. (This is common in many more developed countries.)
  • Pattern 2: participation high from early age and maintained throughout life, with very slow declines after age 60. (This is common in agricultural economies.)
  • Pattern 3: low participation to age 20, a spike to age 29, and then a sharp drop with very low participation thereafter. This is common in North Africa and Western Asia.
  • Pattern 4: an early spike of participation in the 20s, followed by low participation, followed by a spike much later in life (post-50s). This is common in Asian countries where people have an early start, then leave the labor force to have children, and return later.

c) Women are often employed in part-time work: this is common in every region and is increasing.

d) In addition to the paid labor market, most housework and childcare is still done by women. In every region women spend at least twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic work, and in many regions much more than this. Thus most women who work carry a “double burden” of employment plus unpaid domestic duties, and their total work hours are far in excess of those borne by men.

e) Girls, too, carry a larger share of household chores than boys, and as household duties increase, globally school attendance decreases.

f) In many Western countries, women are taking a larger share of management. In America, there are now more women in management positions than men for the first time in American history—and these trends are reflected in Europe and Asia. In an interesting analysis piece, however, the Wall Street Journal questions whether women actually want to be in upper management.

12. Women are making gains in positions of authority but there remains a considerable gender gap. Women are underrepresented in governments worldwide: 17% of legislative seats are occupied by women, and 5% of heads of government/heads of state are women. Of the 500 largest corporations in the world, 13 have female CEOs. (I’m not familiar with any large mission agency, denominational or parachurch, with a female executive.)

13. Women are more exposed than men to the hazards of poverty.

a) In many homes, the burden of water collection rests on women. In many countries it takes over six hours a day to collect enough water for every family (WaterAid). In rural Africa women often walk ten miles or more every day to fetch water, and in the dry season may walk twice this distance.

b) The amount of time it takes to basic household work can have a major impact on women. The Vatican said the washing machine did more to liberate women than anything else (and was bashed by mainstream media, see for example NPR’s riff). But then, the globally-beloved-statistics-geek (by everyone including me) Hans Rosling agreed: see the magic washing machine (at TED). See also “Of women and washing machines: employment, housework and the reproduction of motherhood in socialist China,” by Jean Robinson. The point of this is less about liberation and more about the fact that any technology which relieves a woman of some household work will have an impact on the world because she will have more free time to do more productive things with.

c) Some 3 billion people live in homes where food is cooked on stoves or over fires burning organic matter. These stoves produce toxic fumes in places with poor ventilation. Dirty smoke kills 2 million annually: most women and children, and twice as many as malaria. Women are more exposed to the smoke from interior cookstoves than men, and more likely to develop respiratory difficulties as a result.

d) In many regions, female-headed homes are more likely to be poor than male-headed homes.

14. More women are joining the rising international migration, and in some places there are more female than male migrants.

a) In 2010, it was estimated that 105 million made up 49% of all international migrants.

b) Fewer women in Central Asia, Southern Africa and Northern Africa ever migrate. More come from Eastern Europe, Central and Eastern Asia, and Northern Europe.

15. Violence against women continues.

a) Sexual assault of women is worldwide: as of 2001, 1 out of every 3 women worldwide has experienced rape or sexual assault Globally, most of the violence that occurs against women happens in their home at the hands of intimate partners. One study found that 24% of dating relationships involved sexual violence, and another report found that two-thirds of assault victims knew their attackers. For more horrifying statistics see the George Mason University two-page statistical summary (2005).

b) Female genital mutilation is thankfully on the decline, although it is still reported in some countries.

c) Rape is horrifyingly widespread in conflicts all around the world (Economist). It has been used as a “weapon of war.”

16. Many women have been forced into marriages that represent a religious conversion. See for example these stories from Human Rights Watch Asia.

17. Women who are hidden away by their religion may only be reachable by other women. This approach will require a long-term incarnational presence by female missionaries.

Long Term Trends to 2050 and Beyond

18. The number of women will likely continue to grow, and particularly older women, as populations age and women outlive men. This will be especially true in the Western world. At what point, if any, will they reach a “tipping point” of change and transform population growth trends?

19. The education of women will continue to expand, especially as college-educated women raise their daughters.

20. College-educated women will be moving into the workforce and will likely eventually move into upper management positions. More and more women will become executives.

21. Eventually, I think it’s more and more likely we will see women in the upper executive leadership of mission agencies. There are already women on the boards of directors.

22. Human trafficking will continue to be a challenge, but we may see some significant reversals in the worst spots.


Bibliography of Additional Readings

Justin LongThe Global Treatment of Women: Spring 2011