In Pursuit of Justice: Progress of the World’s Women | Guardian UK, United Nations

How many women hold seats in parliaments around the world? Which countries have laws against domestic violence, including marital rape? The flagship report of the UN’s newest agency – UN Women – published on Wednesday, takes a close look at women’s legal rights around the world.

The 2011 Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice report is a global survey of women’s access to justice – looking both at legislation passed by governments and the steps taken (or not taken) to implement those laws. The “paradox” confronted by the report is that despite the recent and rapid expansion of women’s legal entitlements, what is written in the statute books does not always translate into real progress on equality and justice on the ground.

The report looks at which countries have passed special legislation on women’s political rights and economic opportunities and on women’s reproductive health and rights. It looks at which countries have laws against domestic violence, sexual harassment and marital rape. It catalog data on development indicators related to women, and looks country-by-country at women’s participation in politics.

Women's legal rights interactive. Click image to see the map (Photo: Guardian).

The survey pulls out the case of Rwanda as an example of progress. Rwanda has the world’s highest share of women in top decision-making posts: 51% of parliamentarians and half of its supreme court judges are women. According to the report: “The presence of women in parliament has been a pivotal factor in achieving progressive legal reform on land, marriage and inheritance.” And beyond pushing through new legislation, the report says Rwanda’s women parliamentarians have also played a crucial role in implementing these new laws – taking their male colleagues on nationwide tours to monitor the application of laws and help change attitudes on women’s rights.

Some highlights from the report:

• 139 constitutions guarantee gender equality, 117 countries have equal pay laws, and 115 countries guarantee women’s equal property rights
• globally, 53% of working women are in vulnerable employment and women are paid up to 30% less than men in some countries
• 125 countries outlaw domestic violence, but 127 countries do not explicitly criminalize rape within marriage
• around the world, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime and more than 2.6 billion live in countries where marital rape is not a criminal offense
• 61 countries severely restrict women’s rights to abortion
• 50 countries have a lower legal age of marriage for women than for men
• Rwanda has the highest share of women in parliament (51%), followed by Sweden (45%). In the UK, only 21% of parliamentarians are women, and in the US that figure is down to 17%
• the first woman elected to parliament was in Finland, in 1907

Boosting the number of legislators who are women is one of the key recommendations of the report and is also a key indicator for the millennium development goal on gender equality. The UN Women report suggests using quotas to increase numbers do so. Of the 28 countries that have reached or exceeded 30% of women’s representation in national parliaments, at least 23 have used quotas.

Excerpt, read:  UN Women Justice Report: Get the Data | Guardian UK


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