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The Progress of Nations 1997

The day will come  when nations will be judged  not by their
military or economic strength,  nor by the splendour of
their capital  cities and public buildings,  but by the
well-being of their peoples:  by their levels of health,
nutrition and education; by their opportunities to earn a
fair reward for their labours; by their ability to
participate in the decisions that affect their lives; by the
respect that is shown for their civil and political
liberties;  by the provision that is made for those who are
vulnerable and disadvantaged;  and by the protection that is
afforded to the  growing minds and bodies of their children.
The Progress of Nations, published annually  by the United
Nations Childrens Fund, is  a contribution towards that day.

                           * * * *
1. Foreword by Kofi A. Anan, Secretary-General United Nations

2. Charting progress for children:  Introduction by Carol Bellamy,
   UNICEF Executive Director

3. Water and Sanitation
   Commentary - The Sanitation gap: Development's deadly menace
   3.1 Sanitation League Table
   3.2 Water/sanitation gap widening
   3.3 79% of all guinea worm cases occurring in Sudan
   3.4 Grading school sanitation: Few high marks
   3.5 Making ORT a household habit

4. Nutrition 
   Commentary - Putting babies before business
   4.1 Nutrition League Table
   4.2 Exclusive breastfeeding: A chance for survival
   4.3 One in five babies too small at birth
   4.4 Stunting: A scar and a wound
   4.5 Slow starters catching up in salt iodization

5. Health
   Commentary - Fighting AIDS together
   5.1 Gauging AIDS' terrible toll
   5.2 Health League Table
   5.3 Pneumonia: K=Little progress on a big killer
   5.4 52 countries falling short on immunization goal for DPT
   5.5 Neonatal deaths: 5 million each year
   5.6 Malaria's death toll: A child every 30 seconds

6. Education
   Commentary - Quality education: One answer for many
   6.1 Doing more with less
   6.2 Girls' education: Commitment or neglect?
   6.3 Maths and science: Some developing countries score high
   6.4 Do teachers make the grade?
   6.5 Rural kids short-changed

7. Women
   Commentary - The intolerable status quo: Violence against
                women and girls
   7.1 Women's League Table
   7.2 Outlawing violence against women: A first step
   7.3 Risk of death in childbirth can be as high as 1 in 7
   7.4 A bill of rights for women, but with reservations
   7.5 Help wanted: Skilled birth attendants

8. Special Protections
   Commentary - No age of innocence: Justice for children
   8.1 Old enough to be a criminal?
   8.2 Over 7 million children are refugees
   8.3 Hidden killers
   8.4 The cost of war: Billions for development diverted to

9. Industrialized Countries
   Commentary - Healthy cities, healthy children
   9.1 Youth unemployment rate highest in Spain, lowest in Austria
       and Switzerland
   9.2 Teens at risk: Drinking and bullying
   9.3 Sharing the wealth? Aid at lowest level in 45 years

10 Statistical Tables
    Social Indicators for Less Populous Countries

   Statistical Profiles for 149 countries
    The age of the data
    Statistical tables are available at the UNICEF website
                      * * * *

7. Women

The intolerable status quo:
         Violence against women and girls

Charlotte Bunch*

Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive
violation of human rights in the world today. Its forms are
both subtle and blatant and its impact on development
profound. But it is so deeply embedded in cultures around
the world that it is almost invisible. Yet this brutality is
not inevitable. Once recognized for what it Is - a construct
of power and a means of maintaining the status quoit can be

Imagine a people routinely subjected to assault, rape,
sexual slavery, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, verbal
abuse, mutilation, even murder  - all because they were born
into a particular group. Imagine further that their
sufferings were compounded by systematic discrimination and
humiliation in the home and workplace, in classrooms and
courtrooms, at worship and at play. Few would deny that this
group had been singled out for gross violations of human

Such a group exists. Its members comprise half of humanity.
Yet it is rarely acknowledged that violence against women
and girls, many of whom are brutalized from cradle to grave
simply because of their gender, is the most pervasive human
rights violation in the world today. 

Gender violence is also a major health and development
issue, with powerful implications for coming generations as
well as society in general. Eliminating this violence is
essential to constructing the paradigm of human security -
and by that I mean peace, peace at home and peace at large.
Without it, the notion of human progress is merely a

However, opening the door on the subject of violence against
the world's females is like standing at the threshold of an
immense dark chamber vibrating with collective anguish, but
with the sounds of protest throttled back to a murmur. Where
there should be outrage aimed at an intolerable status quo
there is instead denial, and the largely passive acceptance
of 'the way things are'. 

Consider a few facts from this dark chamber - facts that
leave no doubt that gender violence merits a prominent place
on the human rights agenda:

* Roughly 60 million women who should be alive today are
'missing' because of gender discrimination, predominantly in
South and West Asia, China and North Africa.

*In the United States, where overall violent crime against
women has been growing for the past two decades, a woman is
physically abused by her intimate partner every nine

* In India, more than 5,000 women are killed each year
because their in-laws consider their dowries inadequate. A
tiny percentage of the murderers are brought to justice.

*In some countries of the Middle East and Latin America,
husbands are often exonerated from killing an unfaithful,
disobedient or wilful wife on the grounds of 'honour'. 

* Rape as a weapon of war has been documented in seven
countries in recent years, though its use has been
widespread for centuries.

* Throwing acid to disfigure a woman's face is so common in
Bangladesh that it warrants its own section of the penal

* About 2 million girls each year (6,000 every day) are
genitally mutilated - the female equivalent of what would be
amputation of all or part of the male penis.

*  More than 1 million children, overwhelmingly female, are
forced into prostitution every year, the majority in Asia.
In the wake of the AIDS epidemic, younger and younger
children are being sought in the belief that they are less
likely to be infected. 

At first glance, this brutal litany of statistics might seem
wildly exaggerated. Yet while it is true that gender
violence is a new field of research and studies are often
limited in size, it is nonetheless clear that these crimes
are, in the main, vastly under-reported. As social
scientists are now discovering, the sheer scope and
universality of violent acts against women and girls defy
even the most educated perceptions.

Equally shocking is the fact that most gender violence not
only goes unpunished but is tolerated in silence - the
silence of society as well as that of its victims. Fear of
reprisal, censorship of sexual issues, the shame and blame
of those violated, unquestioning acceptance of tradition and
the stranglehold of male dominion all play their part. In
many countries, so does the active or passive complicity of
the State and other institutions of moral authority.

In addition, while gender violence is as old as humanity, it
is only in the past decade that it has been publicly
recognized, systematically studied and legislated against to
any significant degree. In the 1990s, such violence finally
gained currency on the international level with its
recognition as a human rights issue. That is welcome news,
and most of the credit goes to women's groups that have
struggled against enormous odds to bring the issue to light.
But this is no reason for complacency. 

As the second millennium draws to a close, there have been
reprisals against the progress in the field - rightly
regarded as a challenge to male primacy. Some studies even
suggest that certain forms of violence against women and
girls are on the rise. For gender violence, in all of its
varied manifestations, is not random and it is not about
sex. It serves a deliberate social function: asserting
control over women's lives and keeping them second-class
citizens. Constant vigilance is needed to protect the
fragile gains made thus far, to continue along the road to
equality - and to bring an end to the torrent of daily
violence that degrades not only women but humankind in its

The intimate enemy

For tens of millions of women today, home is a locus of
terror. It is not the assault of strangers that women need
fear the most, but everyday brutality at the hands of
relatives, friends and lovers. Battering at home constitutes
by far the most universal form of violence against women and
is a significant cause of injury for women of reproductive
age. Yet it is not the sort of act that commands headlines
because it happens behind closed doors and because victims
fear speaking out. Even in a comparatively open society like
the US, research shows that only 1 in 100 battered women
ever reports the abuse she suffers. Crime statistics reveal
that most women who are raped know their attackers, as do 40
per cent of female murder victims.

Indeed, domestic violence is tragically commonplace. It
occurs across education, class, income and ethnic
boundaries. A World Bank analysis of 35 recent studies from
industrialized and developing countries shows that one
quarter to one half of all women have suffered physical
abuse by an intimate partner. And while there are not yet
enough data to make accurate country-by-country comparisons,
the prevalence and pattern of domestic violence are
remarkably consistent from one culture to the next.
Statistics on rape from industrialized and developing
countries show strikingly similar patterns: Between one in
five and one in seven women will be victims of rape in their

One might assume that the spreading emancipation of women
would have diminished the reach of violence. Yet violence in
the home has been stubbornly resistant to advances in
women's rights. In many Western countries, domestic violence
is targeted by law and the media, but it has not summoned
the sort of insistent public campaigns as have issues such
as driving while intoxicated or smoking.

Further, in most countries today, domestic abuse is
officially regarded as a private family matter. While sexual
and physical assault are broadly accepted as crimes outside
the home, the law in most countries is mute when it comes to
attacks within the family nest. Laws that stop at the
doorstep of the family are a form of moral hypocrisy. And
there are other equally compelling reasons why the issue
cries out for urgent and fervent public attention.

First, domestic violence reaches menacingly into the next
generation. Children of violent fathers are often physically
abused alongside their mothers. In addition, studies show
that children of violent parents are more apt not only to
repeat that behaviour with their own offspring but to commit
violent acts in the larger society. This dangerous cycle
must be broken.      

Second, there are clear parallels between behaviour within
and outside the home. If the systematic oppression of women
and girls is tolerated widely at the family level, society
at large will be shaped accordingly. Studies strongly
indicate that domestic violence is a key component of social
problems, including street children, child labour and

Third, it is a matter of public health. Violence debilitates
women and girls physically, psychologically and socially,
sometimes with lifelong results.

Fourth, family violence affects the healthy development and
productivity of all societies. Women are now widely accepted
as the cornerstone of sustainable development; protecting
their rights and raising their status is essential to
endeavours ranging from family planning to food production.
Women's aspirations and achievements are powerfully
inhibited, not just by the injuries of physical attacks but
by the implicit threat of male violence. 

This is a lesson learned early, when the shadow of violence
begins to restrain a girl's imagination of what she can do
and be. The lesson is never forgotten. Where is the woman
who has not felt a whisper of fear in the face of male
aggression - and limited her activities accordingly?

Harmful traditions

In all societies, poverty, discrimination, ignorance and
social unrest are common predictors of violence against
women. Yet the most enduring enemies of a woman's dignity
and security are cultural forces aimed at preserving male
dominance and female subjugation - often defended in the
name of venerable tradition. 

In industrialized societies like the US, where institutions
formally frown on gender violence, behaviour belies official
pronouncements: rap music insulting women as 'whores'; a
popular men's magazine that celebrates gang rape and depicts
female bodies being fed into meat grinders; sexual
harassment of women trying to integrate into the armed
forces; and societal pressures that induce young women to
starve themselves or use technology to create 'ideal'
bodies, often destroying their health in the process. 

In developing countries, violent practices against women are
often recognized and defended as strands of the cultural
weave. Wife-beating, for example, is considered part of the
natural order in many countries - a masculine prerogative
celebrated in songs, proverbs and wedding ceremonies. 

At their most extreme, expressions of gender violence
include 'honour' killings, female genital mutilation and
dowry deaths, as well as a deep-seated, even murderous,
preference for male 

In courts of law, the 'honour defence' is institutionalized
in some Middle Eastern and Latin American countries,
allowing fathers or husbands to walk away from murder. In 12
Latin American countries, a rapist can be exonerated if he
offers to marry the victim and she accepts. In one country,
Costa Rica, he can be exonerated even if she refuses his
offer. The family of the victim frequently pressures her to
marry the rapist, which they believe restores the family's

The concept of male honour - and fear of female empowerment
- also underlies the practice of female genital mutilation
(FGM). This excruciating procedure removes part or all of a
girl's external genitalia and causes lifelong health
problems for some women. It is aimed at preserving female
chastity and marriage prospects and achieves its purpose at
the expense of a woman's sexual pleasure and bodily
integrity. Up to 130 million women and girls today in at
least 28 countries, mostly in Africa, have had their
genitals excised to some degree.

Defenders of the rite, who include many women, call FGM a
traditional cultural practice of no business to outsiders.
This is an old song. Throughout history, 'culture' has been
invoked to justify abhorrent practices ranging from slavery
to binding women's feet. FGM must be eradicated because it
is a grave human rights violation and a public health menace
that transcends any and all cultural boundaries. 

Traditions also feed the practice of 'dowry death', in which
a woman is killed because she is unable to meet her in-laws'
demands for dowry. In India, over a dozen women a day die as
a result of such disputes, mostly in kitchen fires designed
to look like accidents.

'Son preference' is another insidious force directed against
women, particularly in Asia. Genetic testing for sex
selection, though officially outlawed, has become a booming
business in China, India and the Republic of Korea.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that outright infanticide,
usually of newborn girls, takes place in some communities in
Asia, while discrimination in health care also cuts short
the lives of unwanted girl children in some regions.

In countries where people have adequate health care and
food, 105 boys are born on average for every 100 girls, but
fewer male babies survive the first year of life, reflecting
the female's inherent biological advantage. In some nations,
mostly in Asia, the sex-ratio drops dramatically. All told,
violent discriminatory practices directed at girls and women
have driven an estimated 60 million females off the face of
the earth. Yet, instead of an international uproar over
these disappearances, the plight of the so-called 'missing
women' is usually noted briefly in the women's section of
development reports. 

As war becomes less a battle between countries and more a
struggle for supremacy between ethnic groups, women and
girls increasingly face rape and forced pregnancy in times
of conflict. Well over 20,000 Muslim women were known to be
raped in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bal-kan war, and
more than 15,000 women were raped in one year in Rwanda.
Just in recent years, mass rape has also been reported as a
weapon of war in Cambodia, Liberia, Peru, Somalia and

These are but a few of the ways that society drives home the
message that a woman's life and dignity - her human rights -
are worth less than a man's. From the day of their birth,
girls are devalued and degraded, trapped in what the late
UNICEF Executive Director James P. Grant poignantly termed
'the apartheid of gender'. Long after slavery was abolished
in most of the world, many societies still treat women like
chattel: Their shackles are poor education, economic
dependence, limited political power, limited access to
fertility control, harsh social conventions and inequality
in the eyes of law. Violence is a key instrument used to
keep these shackles on.

Changing the status quo

There is nothing immutable about the violent oppression of
women and girls. It is a construct of power, as was
apartheid, and one that can be changed. But because it has
been so deeply ingrained, for so long, in virtually every
culture remaining on earth, the effort to dismantle the
societal structures that tolerate it, or patently refuse
even to see it, will require creativity, patience and action
on many fronts.

Stopping violence against women and girls is not just a
matter of punishing individual acts. The issue is changing
the perception - so deep-seated it is often unconscious -
that women are fundamentally of less value than men. It is
only when women and girls gain their place as strong and
equal members of society that violence against them will be
viewed as a shocking aberration rather than an invisible

The old saying that the longest journey begins with a single
step applies here. All over the world, many people have
begun to take small steps towards establishing full
citizenship for women and girls in a just society. They
include the husband and wife who refuse to subject their
daughter to FGM; the judge who metes out the maximum penalty
to a rapist; the young man who participates in a 'take back
the night' rally; and the parliamentarians who reform their
countries' laws in fulfilment of women's and girls' human

Globally, that first step must be implementation of the
Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by 191
countries as of June 1997) and the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, or
CEDAW (ratified by 160 countries). Although beliefs and
practices do not change magically with the ratification of
treaties, they are a vital first step because they lay the
groundwork for ongoing social and legal reform.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is critical
because of the broad overlay between women's and children's
rights. Gender violence becomes a feature of a girl's life
long before adulthood, whether in the home or as part of a
broader social pattern of abuse. The Convention obliges
ratifying States to take all appropriate measures to protect
children from all forms of physical or mental violence.
Specific injunctions target harmful traditional practices,
sexual abuse and trafficking in children.

Now that the Convention has been ratified by all but three
countries on earth, actions are under way in many nations to
make it a real force in children's lives. For example,
juvenile justice systems are being reformed in about half
the countries in Latin America, and a number of countries,
most notably the Philippines, have strengthened laws
protecting children against sexual exploitation.

Similar efforts are under way to bring CEDAW to life. In
Botswana and Zimbabwe, judges have used CEDAW to prevent
discrimination against women in citizenship laws. Brazil has
drafted a new Constitution reflecting CEDAW's goals, and
Tanzania has reversed a discriminatory customary law
relating to clan land. Several Latin American countries and
Sweden have established ombudswomen to address women's
concerns. At least six countries have set up police stations
just for women, and Mexico has appointed a special
prosecutor for sex crimes. Cameroon and China recently
opened their first shelters for domestic abuse victims.
These institutions not only protect women but serve as a
constant reminder to all of society that womens rights are
an issue of state concern.

These are important steps for women's rights in general and
for stopping violence in particular, but so far there are
too few steps taking place in too few countries. The
majority of countries that have ratified CEDAW have yet to
incorporate its principles into domestic law and practice.
CEDAW faces deep resistance, as indicated by the fact that
it has more substantive reservations entered against it than
does any other international treaty.

Implementing these rights must start with the education of
girls. Their unequal access to education is one of the most
fundamental abridgements of human rights and one that
perpetuates their weakened position, making them vulnerable
to oppression and ultimately to violence. In addition to the
obvious benefits of literacy and numeracy, education gives
girls the confidence to make the most of their abilities.
The educational system also provides a forum for challenging
attitudes about violence - for both boys and girls. In
addition, having girls in the classroom sends a potent
message to boys about equality.

Girls' education is the assured route to women's economic
em-powerment. Earning money elevates a woman's self-esteem
and her standing in her home and community. It can also
propel a woman out of a destructive relationship or
encourage her to change its terms. 

Building on the famous example of Bangladesh's Grameen Bank,
schemes that establish re-volving funds to give women small
business loans are springing up in all regions. More than 20
countries have begun microcredit programmes that often link
loans to social and health services, helping women to care
for themselves and their children. The credit is used for
such projects as livestock raising, opening small shops and
paying school fees. More than 15,000 Cambodian women have
obtained small loans, for example,  and Viet Nam has seen a
dramatic increase in school enrolment among daughters of

Efforts are also under way to end traditional practices that
violate women and girls. A number of groups are beginning to
have some success in persuading both men and women that FGM
claims too high a price. Some clerics have begun to speak
out against it, and efforts are under way in the Gambia and
Kenya to develop a coming-of-age ritual that does not
involve any cutting. Another hopeful sign is recent action
by Canada and the US to grant political asylum to some women
threatened by FGM in their home countries, thereby defining
the practice as a legitimate criterion for refugee status. 

Political power is also crucial to women's empowerment.
Although a female Head of State does not guarantee equal
rights for her sex, women in positions of authority
throughout political systems clearly have a beneficial
effect, not least by the example they set. But there is far,
far to go. And while women have the right to vote everywhere
except in six Middle Eastern countries and Brunei Darussalem
in South-East Asia, worldwide they hold just 7 per cent of
high-level elected and appointed offices in government. (See
league table.)

Women's climb into the halls of power challenges the
existing power structure, and replacing that structure will
require the collective efforts not just of women but also of
supportive men. The State and other institutions of
authority can be indispensable allies.

The 1990s have been a decade of unprecedented achievement in
women's human rights. But international recognition of
violence against women as a human rights issue did not
happen without a struggle. Women had to organize in a global
campaign to demonstrate the extent of violence and its
impact on their ability to exercise their human rights. The
international community was called to witness its own
failure to protect women's fundamental right to personal

The defining moment of this campaign - the Global Tribunal
on Violations of Women's Human Rights - came during the 1993
World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, where
participants sounded a call to eliminate "violence against
women in public and private life" and declared that the
rights of girls and women are "an inalienable, integral and
indivisible part of universal human rights." For an entire
day in Vienna, many delegates and others at the Conference
listened as 33 women gave riveting personal testimony to the
abuses they had suffered. 

On the scale of what takes place every day in every
community of the world, it was a miniscule but emblematic
summary of the anguish long faced by women. But it was
apparent, looking around the room, that facts and figures
had been transformed into flesh and blood, and the rapt
audience was profoundly changed by the experience. The
Tribunal marked an official end to the centuries-old
cover-up of these atrocities, and it awakened many women and
men to the international community's responsibility to
protect women from such abuse.

Later that year, in response to the momentum generated in
Vienna, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women,
considered a formal elaboration of CEDAW, which did not
itself specifically address gender violence when it was
drafted in 1979. This Declaration was a landmark document in
three ways: It framed violence against women within the
dialogue on human rights; it identified being female as the
primary risk factor for violence; and it broadened the
definition of gender violence to include all aspects of
women's and girls' lives. Another milestone was the 1994
appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against

A systematic effort to raise the profile of violence against
women must involve every sector of every society - the
judicial system, the media, educators, health care
authoirities, governmental and non-governmental agencies,
politicians, religious leaders and, of course, individual
women and men. For the most part, it is women's movements
with their many non-governmental working across nation al,
cultural, religious and class lines that have initiated and
energized the effort.

Few social movements have registered as great an impact in
as short a time - and with such remarkably peaceful methods.
And yet, these small, determined groups continue to work
largely alone. How many government officials have staked
their careers on resolving the problem of gender-based

It is time for them to do so.

                       # # # # #

*Charlotte Bunch is Executive Director of the Center for
Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University (US). She
coordinated the Global Campaign for Women's Human Rights at
the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna and
women's human rights activities at the Fourth World
Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. She has been a
feminist author and organizer for over 25 years.

Back to beginning of the article

Women's League Table
Women at Top Levels of Government

Bureaucracy has traditionally been a male preserve, and
while women are slowly inching their way into government
positions, the number of women at senior decision-making
levels remains pathetically low. But numbers, though
powerful indicators, are not an absolute barometer of
inequality.  Discrimination against women can end only when
there is a sea change in attitudes, when women's inferior
status at all levels of society - economic, social and
political - is recognized as a travesty and not the norm.

            Women at top levels of government 
                  worldwide by sector                       

                  Political        3%
                  Executive        4% 
                  Economic         4% 
                  Law & justice   10% 
                  Social          14%

Women make up only 7% of ministerial positions, globally. 
Even within this small percentage, they remain heavily
concentrated in the areas of social affairs, including
education, health and family. The total number of women
ministers worldwide in the social category is 14%, whereas
the total for political ministerial positions is only 3%,
and for executive posts, 4%. Within the economic category,
women hold 4% of ministerial positions. They fare slightly
better in the areas of law and justice, with 10% of posts.

Source: Derived from data provided by the UN Division for
the Advancement of Women, based on January 1996 information
from World Wide Government Directory, Inc.

What the Table Ranks

Percentage of ministerial-level posts, both elected and
appointed, held by women.


1     Benin             19
1     Eritrea           19
1     Gambia            19
4     Guinea            15
5     Niger             14
6     Angola            11
6     Tanzania          11
6     Uganda            11
9     Burundi           10
9     Ghana             10
9     Mali              10
12    Burkina Faso       9
12    Chad               9
12    Namibia            9
15    Botswana           8
15    Central African
        Rep.             8
15    Congo, Dem. Rep.   8
15    Cote d'Ivoire      8
15    Guinea-Bissau      8
15    Nigeria            8
15    Rwanda             8
15    Zambia             8
15    Zimbabwe           8
24    Congo              7
Regional average         7
24    Ethiopia           7
24    Senegal            7
27    South Africa       6
28    Liberia            4
28    Malawi             4
28    Mauritania         4
28    Mozambique         4
28    Sierra Leone       4
28    Togo               4
34    Cameroon           3
34    Gabon              3
34    Kenya              3
37    Lesotho            0
37    Madagascar         0
37    Mauritius          0
37    Somalia            0

1     Israel            13
2     Syria              7
3     Jordan             6
4     Libya              5
5     Egypt              3
5     Tunisia            3
5     Turkey             3
8     Sudan              2
Regional average         2
9     Algeria            0
9     Iran               0
9     Iraq               0
9     Kuwait             0
9     Lebanon            0
9     Morocco            0
9     Oman               0
9     Saudi Arabia       0
9     U. Arab Emirates   0
9     Yemen              0


1     Kyrgyzstan        11     
2     Azerbaijan         8     
3     Tajikistan         4     
4     Kazakstan          3     
4     Turkmenistan       3     
4     Uzbekistan         3     
Regional average         3     
7     Afghanistan        0     
7     Armenia            0     
7     Georgia            0     


1     Australia         15
2     Bhutan            13
2     Sri Lanka         13
4     New Zealand        9
5     Bangladesh         8
6     Viet Nam           7
7     China              6
7     Japan              6
7     Malaysia           6
10    Philippines        5
11    Indonesia          4
11    Pakistan           4
Regional average         4
13    India              3
13    Korea, Rep.        3
15    Korea, Dem.        1
16    Cambodia           0
16    Lao Rep.           0
16    Mongolia           0
16    Myanmar            0
16    Nepal              0
16    Papua New Guinea   0
16    Singapore          0
16    Thailand           0


1     Haiti             29     
2     Canada            19     
3     Panama            17     
4     Mexico            16     
4     Nicaragua         16     
4     Trinidad/Tobago   16     
7     Chile             14     
7     United States     14     
9     Colombia          13     
9     Guatemala         13     
11    Costa Rica        11     
11    Venezuela         11     
13    Honduras          10     
Regional average        10     
14    Paraguay           7     
14    Uruguay            7     
16    Ecuador            6     
16    El Salvador        6     
16    Jamaica            6     
16    Peru               6      
20    Brazil             4     
20    Dominican Rep.     4     
22    Cuba               3     
23    Argentina          0     
23    Bolivia            0     

1     Sweden           38     
2     Finland          36     
3     Denmark          29     
3     Norway           29     
5     Austria          24     
5     Netherlands      24     
7     Ireland          21     
8     Spain            17     
9     France           15     
9     Slovakia         15     
9     Switzerland      15     
12    Croatia          12     
12    Portugal         12     
14    Belgium          11     
14    Germany          11     
14    Latvia           11     
Regional average       10     
17    Slovenia          9     
17    TFYR Macedonia    9     
19    Poland            8     
19    United Kingdom    8     
21    Hungary           6     
21    Yugoslavia        6     
23    Albania           5     
23    Belarus           5     
23    Bulgaria          5     
26    Italy             4     
27    Russian Fed.      2     
28    Bosnia/
       Herzegovina      0     
28    Czech Rep.        0     
28    Estonia           0     
28    Greece            0     
28    Lithuania         0     
28    Moldova, Rep. of  0     
28    Romania           0     
28    Ukraine           0     
Source: Derived from data provided by the UN Division for
the Advancement of Women, based on 1996 information from the
"World Wide Government Directory, Inc."                      

Progress and Disparity

Outlawing violence against women: A first step

Legislation against domestic violence has been enacted in 44
countries around the world; 17 have made marital rape a
criminal offence; 27 have passed sexual harassment laws; and
just 12 countries have laws against FGM.

The few laws that do exist vary significantly in strength
and enforceability from one legal system to another. In
countries that have not enacted specific laws, it may be
possible to prosecute offenders under more general criminal

Some governments have introduced accessible and
well-integrated legal provisions, such as Ecuador's 1995 law
against domestic violence - a clear-cut prohibition of
physical and mental assaults. Current and former cohabitants
and parties in non-marital intimate relationships are
included in the legislation, and psychological violence is
explicitly defined. 

Other laws are more vague: New Zealand has enacted family
violence legislation without specific reference to women or
girls; in Malawi, a constitutional provision makes a general
commitment to implementing policy on domestic violence. 

In recent years, sexual harassment has been publicly
acknowledged as harmful to women, and countries are taking
the first steps by adopting legislation prohibiting it. In
the last two years, legislation that directly addresses
sexual harassment has been passed in Belgium, Belize, Costa
Rica, Finland, France, Ireland, Paraguay, the Philippines
and Switzerland. Similar legislation has been proposed in
Chile, Italy, Jamaica and South Africa.

Laws that criminalize gender-based violence are positive
steps but they offer not guarantees. Worldwide, even where
laws are in place, prosecution of perpetrators is rare, and
successful prosecutions uncommon.

Countries that have enacted legislation against:

Domestic violence

Costa Rica
Czech Rep.
El Salvador 
New Zealand
St. Lucia
St. Vincent/Grenadines
South Africa
United Kingdom
United States*

Marital rape

New Zealand
South Africa
United Kingdom
United States*

Sexual  harassment

Costa Rica
New Zealand
United Kingdom
United States

Female genital mutilation

Burkina Faso
New Zealand
United Kingdom
United States

*Legislation enacted by state law.   
**No criminal law, but a ministerial decree forbids the
***By court decision, not specific legislation.   
****1946 law only prohibits infibulation.
Compiled from various sources, January-May 1997, including
R. Boland(editor, Annual Review of Population Law, Harvard
University); N. Toubia  (Director of Research, Action &
Information Network for Bodily Integrity of  Women); J.
Aeberhard-Hodges (International Labour Organization); and
State Responses to Domestic Violence, Women, Law &  
Development International, Washington, DC, 1996.

Progress and Disparity

Risk of death in childbirth can be as high as 1 in 7

Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause
of death and disability for women of reproductive age in
developing countries. In Afghanistan, Guinea, Sierra Leone
and Somalia, a woman faces a 1-in-7 lifetime risk of dying
due to pregnancy or childbirth. But in Spain, Switzerland,
Canada and Norway, the risk is 1 in 7,300 or less.

In 17 countries, women face at least a 1-in-10 chance of
dying from pregnancy-related causes sometime during their
lives. But in 16 countries the lifetime risk is 1 in 4,000
or less. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth kill
about 585,000 women each year. A woman faces that danger
each time she becomes pregnant, so the more pregnancies she
has, the greater the total risk. Lifetime risk of maternal
mortality is based on both the risk of dying from maternal
causes and the average number of births. No public health
problem shows greater disparity between rich and poor
countries than maternal mortality.

Most obstetric deaths are linked to five causes:
haemorrhage, sepsis (blood poisoning), eclampsia
(convulsions leading to coma), unsafe abortion and
obstructed labour. A number of - interventions - improved
emergency obstetric care to deal with serious complications,
deliveries performed by skilled birth attendants, family
planning, iron folate supplements, a rich and varied diet
throughout pregnancy and prompt initiation of breastfeeding
- vastly improve the odds.

Lifetime risk of maternal death

Highest risk

Afghanistan    1 in  7
Guinea         1 in  7
Sierra Leone   1 in  7
Somalia        1 in  7
Angola         1 in  8
Yemen          1 in  8
Bhutan         1 in  9
Burundi        1 in  9
Chad           1 in  9
Ethiopia       1 in  9
Mozambique     1 in  9
Niger          1 in  9
Rwanda         1 in  9
Eritrea        1 in 10
Mali           1 in 10
Nepal          1 in 10
Uganda         1 in 10

Lowest risk

Spain          1 in 9,200
Switzerland    1 in 8,700
Canada         1 in 7,700
Norway         1 in 7,300
Sweden         1 in 6,000
Denmark        1 in 5,800
Austria        1 in 5,600
Greece         1 in 5,600
Italy          1 in 5,300
Belgium        1 in 5,200
UK             1 in 5,100
Australia      1 in 4,900
Singapore      1 in 4,900
Netherlands    1 in 4,300
Finland        1 in 4,200
Slovenia       1 in 4,000

Regional risk

Sub-Saharan Africa           1 in    13
Central Asia*                1 in    35
Middle East & North Africa   1 in    60
East/South Asia & Pacific    1 in    70    
Americas                     1 in   215
Europe                       1 in 1,400

Developing countries         1 in    50
World                        1 in    60

*Figure influenced by high rates of fertility and maternal
mortality in Afghanistan. If Afghanistan is excluded,
lifetime risk of maternal death in Central Asia is 1 in 330.

Source: WHO and UNICEF. Revised 1990 Estimates of Maternal
Mortality, A Ne Approach by WHO and UNICEF, April 1996.

Progress and Disparity

A bill of rights for women, but with reservations

Few international treaties have been as widely accepted as the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW). As of May 1997, 160 countries had
ratified, acceded or succeeded to CEDAW. ThreeAfghanistan, Sao
Tome and Principe and the United Stateshad signed, indicating
their intention to ratify. Thirty States had neither signed
nor ratified.

But CEDAW, like its companion treaty on the rights of the
child, has provoked scores of reservationsindicating
widespread and deep-rooted resistance to the concept of full
equality for women. Nearly one third of States parties have
lodged substantive reservations or declarations, signalling
they will not be bound by certain CEDAW provisionsranging from
equality in nationality and citizenship and in sharing family
property to women s participation in the military and the
clergy. A few nations, including Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco,
Pakistan and Tunisia, have gone much further, filing general
reservations to any portion of the Convention that conflicts
with existing national, customary or religious law.

Many of these reservations appear to violate the 1969 Vienna
Convention on the Law of Treaties, which prohibits
reservations that are incompatible with the object and purpose
of a treaty. Particularly disturbing are reservations from 24
nations against article 16, a core provision that guarantees
equality between women and men in marriage and family life. 

Such reservations strike at the heart of CEDAW. They reject
the extension of human rights protection into the private
domain and entrench the inferior role of women. Similarly
undermining the purpose of CEDAW are most of the dozen
reservations to article 2, which outlines legal steps to
eliminate gender discrimination.

Although reservations come from every corner of the globe, a
few generalizations can be drawn. The five Nordic countries
comprise the only region to accept CEDAW without reservation.
The Caribbean countries have lodged fewer reservations than
countries in other regions. 

Most of the 12 ratifying States in the Middle East and North
Africa cited conflict with religious or customary law as a
reason for not giving CEDAW
unconditional approval. Most of the region's nations defer to
Islamic Sharia law on matters pertaining to family or the
status of women. However, the CEDAW review committee has been
able, through constructive dialogue, to address reservations
with individual State parties.

It is encouraging that some nations have modified or with
drawn their reservations, often as a result of this
constructive relationship. For example, Malawi withdrew in
1991, its general reservation against provisions of CEDAW that
required immediate eradication of certain traditional customs
and practices, in 1994, Brazil withdrew its reservations to
key provisions of article 16.

Lagging on CEDAW

Signed but not ratified

Sao Tome/Principe
United States

Not signed, but not ratified

Brunei Darussalam
Cook Islands*
Holy See
Korea, Dem.
Marshall Islands
Micronesia, Fed. States of
San Marino
Saudi Arabia
Solomon Islands
United Arab Emirates

*CEDAW extends to these countries through New Zealand's

Source: UN Office of Legal Affairs, May 1997.

Progress and Disparity

Help wanted: Skilled birth attendants

Barely half the mothers in developing countries deliver
their babies under the supervision of a physician, nurse or
other professional with midwifery skills, a key factor in
ensuring survival of both babies and mothers.
Countries with the lowest rates of professionally attended
births also share some of the world's worst maternal
mortality rates. Of the 38 countries listed, nearly two
thirds have rates of at least 900 maternal deaths per
100,000 live births. Somalia, the country with the lowest
percentage of professionally attended births (2%), has a
maternal mortality rate of 1,600 per 100,000 births. Next on
the chart are Afghanistan and Nepal, both with 9% of births
attended by a skilled professional and with maternal death
rates of 1,700 and 1,500, respectively.

Many of these countries suffer from the common burdens of
poverty and war. Despite poverty, though, some countries are
making progress. Thirteen nations with per capita GNP of
less than $500 have managed to achieve rates of 50% or more
of births attended by skilled professionals.

History has shown that the presence of skilled birth
attendants is a key factor in bringing down the number of
maternal deaths. Of the 46 countries in which trained
professionals attend 90% or more of births, only 5 have
maternal deaths rates above 100 per 100,000 live births. In
the industrialized countries, 99% of births are
professionally attended.

Risky childbirth

Countries with less than 505 of births attended by skilled
birth attendant

Somalia             2
Afghanistan         9
Nepal               9
Bangladesh         14
Ethiopia           14
Bhutan             15
Chad               15
Niger              15
Yemen              16
Burundi            19
Pakistan           19
Papua N.G.         20
Eritrea            21
Haiti              21
Mali               24
Mozambique         25
Rwanda             26
Guinea-Bissau      27
Cape Verde         30
Guinea             31
Nigeria            31
India              34
Guatemala          35
Indonesia          36
Uganda             38
Lesotho            40
Mauritania         40
Morocco            40
Burkina Faso       42
Gambia             44
Ghana              44
Benin              45
Cote d'Ivoire      45
Kenya              45
C. African Rep.    46
Egypt              46
Senegal            46
Bolivia            47

Source: WHO, Maternal and Newborn Health and Safe Motherhood
Programme (1986-1996 data), Coverage of Maternity Care,
                          * * * *

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