07 Mar 2014

Women’s Lives and Challenges

The Women’s Lives and Challenges: Empowerment and Equality since 2000 report assesses progress made toward gender equality and women’s empowerment since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted in 2000. It summarizes findings from 95 surveys conducted by DHS in 47 countries from 2000 to 2011. Data on trends are available for 33 countries that hosted 2 or more surveys in this time period.

Together these data give us an accurate picture of #WomensLives. They describe the current status of women around the world and show how much change, for better or worse, has occurred since 2000. While there have been improvements in some areas, overall progress towards women’s empowerment and gender equality is halting and inconsistent. Women worldwide continue to face special challenges throughout their lives, even though some countries—for example, Cambodia, Nepal, and Rwanda—have made great strides toward gender equality.

Resources for empowerment are distributed unequally between women and men, but women have made gains in education, employment, health care, and family life.

  • Access to primary education is expanding worldwide; in Cambodia and Nepal, which have made the greatest progress, the proportion of young women with primary education has more than doubled since 2000. Yet there are still 16 countries where less than half of women age 15-24 have finished primary school. More men than women can read and have completed primary school in nearly every country.
  • Over half of women are employed in 33 of 45 countries, but men are not only more likely to be employed than women, but also more likely to be paid in cash for the work they do.
  • At least half of births take place in health facilities in the majority of countries, and the proportion is also rising in most countries. Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal, and Rwanda have experienced the greatest improvements across all maternal health indicators. Yet more than half of women still face barriers to accessing health care in most countries.
  • Teenage pregnancy has declined modestly in many countries. In 36 of 47 countries, less than 25% of women begin childbearing before age 20. Yet child marriage— that is, marriage before age 18—persists in many countries. More than 40% of women marry before age 18 in 16 of 47 countries surveyed, including 3 countries where more than 60% of women marry before age 18: Bangladesh, Guinea, and Mali.

Women’s control over their own lives shows some encouraging trends, but substantial gender gaps remain.

  • Women generally do not play a major role in household decision making although participation levels have been rising, notably in Armenia, Kenya, Lesotho, and Nepal. Only in 12 of 43 countries do more than two-thirds of women participate in household decision making.
  • At least 90% of married employed women have a say in how their own cash earnings are used in 29 of 44 countries. Far fewer women have a say in how their husbands’ earnings are used.
  • Less than half of currently married women use modern contraception in 37 of 46 countries. Since 2000, modern contraceptive use has plateaued or increased modestly in most countries. Rwanda is an exception, with an increase of 40 percentage points in 10 years.
  • More than one-quarter of recent births are unplanned in 26 of 46 countries. Change has been minimal, except in Burkina Faso and Cambodia.

Violence in women’s lives remains disturbingly common, and progress has been limited. 

  • More than one-third of married women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner in 14 countries. While levels of violence have fallen in some countries, they have risen in others.
  • Female genital cutting remains a problem for many women in Africa. In 6 of 14 countries, more than 60% of women were cut. Data on trends in eight countries show only modest declines.
  • Most women who experience violence do not seek help, and there has been little change since 2000. Colombia has the highest rate of help-seeking while Cambodia has made the greatest progress.

Check out our three infographics and other photos from the report on our #WomensLives Pinterest Board.

 

Written by Sally Zweimueller

Sally ZweimuellerSally is a Communications Manager at The DHS Program. She has worked at The DHS Program since 2012, providing technical assistance for survey dissemination. She has a Masters of Public Health from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University with a specialty in Global Health. Through The DHS Program, Sally has worked on survey dissemination activities in Ethiopia, Ghana, Jordan, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer of Malawi where she worked with FHI360.

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Anthropometry measurement (height and weight) is a core component of DHS surveys that is used to generate indicators on nutritional status. The Biomarker Questionnaire now includes questions on clothing and hairstyle interference on measurements for both women and children for improved interpretation.