Women are disadvantaged, world-wide, on just about every indicator. They are discriminated against because of their sex, prejudices and stereotypes that are often 'justified' by the views of office-holders in religious institutions structured by centuries of male-dominated traditionalism.
Women work as much as men do - often this work is unpaid or at a much lower-rate of pay - yet they are often denied the right to own land, borrow money and enter into contracts, equally with men. Governments consider much of women's work not economically productive. Yet 41% of the world's women aged 15 or more are economically active. If women's unpaid work in subsistence agriculture, housework and family care were counted this would include another 20% of the world's women. Women's work is at least equal to or greater than men, though of lower status, and more poorly paid. Women's work is complicated by their both working, and managing the household and caring for the family, while most often men control the resources of production and its income. Women are grossly under-represented in management and administration, public office and positions of authority, relative to their abilities.
In a number of developing nations, parents are not willing to spend as much on a girls' education as a boys', and often give lower priority to girls' health care. Yet better educated, healthier mothers are more likely to have full-term pregnancies, strong and better-cared-for and-educated children, and less likely to end up or remain in poverty. Of the estimated one billion people living in poverty, by far the greatest proportion are women - who also make up more than half of the world's refugees.
Many millions of women are not permitted to choose ways of living beyond their biological function of child-bearing and child-rearing and work in the home. Others are required to dress in ways that conceal them from being seen by men other than their male relatives or husbands, and are even subjected to mutilation designed to subjugate their independence. The prevalence of violence towards women - wife-beating is reported as widespread or significant in nearly every country in the world - and the international trade in women and girl children for sexual purposes, is a matter of grave concern to human rights groups, world-wide.
The inferior status of women in many countries, and discriminatory laws and customs, can be measured by one simple factor. Though more female children are born than male children, and though females tend, biologically, to live longer than males, millions of women are 'missing'. Women, born in greater numbers, do not survive into adulthood. In 1990, in China (which has a 'one child' policy) there were 20 million fewer women than men. In many nations, female foetuses are aborted, while boys are not: girl children are abandoned or under-nourished and allowed to sicken and die; and there is reason to believe that female infanticide is practised in many nations. A girl child is seen as a liability by her parents, and valued only for her dowry, capacity to bear healthy children, or as a workhorse by her husband's family.
The UN calculates that there would be 120 million more women alive today, if they had been treated as they are in countries like Japan, Scandinavia and Canada, where discrimination is prohibited and the quality of life, and access to paid work, is greatest.