The World's Women reports

Latest Comprehensive Report on Available Data Shows Gains But Persistent Disparities Between Women and Men Worldwide

(New York, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Statistics Division) -- The United Nations today released The World's Women 2000: Trends and Statistics, a one-of-a-kind compilation of the latest data documenting progress for women worldwide in six areas: health, human rights and political decision-making, work, education and communication, population, and families. The report, produced by the United Nations Statistics Division, becomes public just prior to a Special Session of the General Assembly to review progress governments have made in improving women's lives since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and to agree on future priority actions for women.


"This report attempts to answer the urgent but complex question of what real progress are the world's women making in their lives," said Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. "Available data show that women are making gains, but persistent disparities exist between women and men. We can see that the gender gap in enrolment in primary and

secondary levels of schooling is closing, but it is unlikely this gap will be closed by the target date of 2005. While the gender gap in rates of economic activity is narrowing, women still must reconcile their family responsibilities with employment outside the home. Recent declines in early marriage and early childbearing in most regions show real change in the quality of women's lives, but in 3 of 5 countries in Southern Asia and in 11 of 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, at least 30 percent of young women aged 15 to 19 have been married."

Citing progress in collecting gender statistics, the report also stresses that new data is needed on issues unique to women, such as violence against women and maternal health. For example, new importance is being placed on women's reproductive health and safe motherhood, but the report states that data are not yet available to show whether the new concern with safe motherhood has been translated into improved maternal care.

The World's Women 2000 is the third in a series of reports that has broken new ground. The first, issued in 1991, was a direct response to a rising demand by a wide range of users for data on women. The field continued to evolve with a second edition in 1995 and now the current edition that looks at the status of women through the lens of statistical data and analysis. The information and data in the present publication are intended to provide a "snapshot" of some of the more salient statistical findings since 1995, while also drawing out recent changes and long-term trends.

In the last seven years, governments, institutions and non-governmental organizations have worked at every level to implement and incorporate the agendas of a series of UN conferences into national programmes for action. The success---or lack of success---of these efforts is the subject of The World's Women 2000. The topics within each field of concern were shaped both by the availability of data and by the calls for action emerging from the global conferences. Highlights and important findings in The World's Women 2000 include:


  • There are continuing differences in lifetime risk of maternal mortality between developed and developing countries. An African woman's lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes is 1 in 16; in Asia, 1 in 65; and in Europe, 1 in 1,400.
  • Women now account for almost half of all cases of HIV/AIDS, and in countries with high HIV prevalence, young women are at higher risk of contracting HIV than young men.
  • Life expectancy continues to increase for women and men in most developing regions but has decreased dramatically in Southern Africa as a result of AIDS.


  • Women now comprise an increasing share of the world's labor force---at least one third in all regions except in northern Africa and western Asia.
  • Self-employment and part-time and home-based work have expanded opportunities for women's participation in the labor force but are characterized by lack of security, lack of benefits and low income.
  • More women than before are in the labor force throughout their reproductive years, though obstacles to combining family responsibilities with employment persist.

Human Rights and Political Decision-Making

  • Physical and sexual abuse affect millions of girls and women worldwide---yet are known to be seriously under-reported.
  • In some African countries, more than half of all women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation and its prevalence is not declining.
  • Women and girls comprise half of the world's refugees and, as refugees, are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence while in flight, in refugee camps and/or during resettlement.
  • Despite calls for gender and equality, women are significantly under-represented in Governments, political parties and at the United Nations.

Education and Communication

  • The gender gap in primary and secondary schooling is closing, but women still lag behind men in some countries in Africa and Southern Asia.
  • Two thirds of the world's 876 million illiterates are women, and the number of illiterates is not expected to decrease significantly in the next twenty years.
  • More women than men lack the basic literacy and computer skills needed to enter "new media" professions.

Women and Men in Families

  • Women are generally marrying later but more than a quarter of women aged 15 to 19 are married in 22 countries---all in developing regions.
  • Informal unions are common in developed regions and in some countries of the developing regions.


  • Women are having fewer children on average but with more women of reproductive age, world population continues to grow.
  • Women represent a large proportion of international migrants---an estimated 56 million women out of a total of 118 million migrants.

"Despite the fact that considerable progress has been made in the development of gender statistics, anecdote and misperception abound in measuring women's progress," said Mr. Desai. "On many issues of particular concern, there is no data collected anywhere. On other relevant issues, data are collected but only in a few countries. Even basic statistical series on women are not collected routinely in many countries.

The improvement of national statistical capacity---the ability to provide timely and reliable statistics---is essential for improving gender statistics. The United Nations Economic and Social Council has recognized the importance of statistical capacity building for the implementation and follow-up of the global conferences. It has urged countries, international and regional agencies to work together to create effective systems, especially in developing countries, to produce vital and necessary data so that we may truly understand women's advancement around the world."



The World's Women 2000: Trends and Statistics
is available from United Nations Publications, Two UN Plaza, Room DC2-853, Dept. PRES, New York, NY 10017
Telephone: 800-253-9646 or 212-963-8302
Fax: 212-963-3489

United Nations Statistics Division - Demographic, Social and Housing Statistics