Report: Wealthy Women See Progress, Poor Left Behind

One in three women still report sexual or physical abuse

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Though women have seen gains in the fight for equality in the last 20 years, the global community will not be able to sustain that progress without lifting up the poor as well as the rich, according to a new United Nations report. Governments must pass laws to protect marginalized and poverty-stricken women if they hope to achieve gender equality, the report says.

Twenty years ago, a monumental U.N.meeting called for countries across the globe to empower women with greater control over their life choices and health. In the first major global review of progress since that event, the new report out Wednesday from the United Nations Population Fund finds that women worldwide are more literate, more likely to participate politically, have fewer children and are less likely to die in child birth (maternal death has been cut almost in half). Young girls also have more access to education and are less likely to get pregnant during adolescence.

But the poorest communities are not seeing these results, the report says. In fact, many poor, rural women are in a worse position than they were 20 years ago. “In the poorest communities, women’s status, maternal death, child marriage, and many of the concerns of the Cairo Conference have seen very little progress in the last 20 years, and, in fact, in some instances are being reversed,” the report says. “Life expectancies continue to be unacceptably low and 800 women a day still die in childbirth and there are still 222 million women without access to contraception and family planning.”

Young girls, especially, are facing education challenges. While more girls are finishing primary school, fewer have access to secondary education. These barriers have economic implications, since more women with access to education means higher economic growth.

And women everywhere, whether rich or poor, continue to report being harmed and discriminated against by men, the report says. One in three women worldwide report having experienced physical or sexual abuse.