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Top 20 Issues Women Are Facing Today

Women’s rights have improved over the years, but continued progress is not guaranteed. In a time of escalating conflicts, rising authoritarianism and devastating climate change impacts, women face many issues related to education, work, healthcare, legal rights, violence and much more. By understanding these issues, the world can work together to achieve gender equality, stronger human rights protections and safety for all people. In this article, we’ll explore 20 of the most important issues affecting women and girls today.

# Issue
1 Unequal pay
2 Racial injustice
3 Gender-based violence
4 Inadequate healthcare
5 Threats to reproductive rights
6 Lack of education
7 Food insecurity
8 Climate change
9 Unequal political representation
10 Discriminatory social institutions
11 Human trafficking
12 Limited freedom of movement
13 Threats during migration
14 Discrimination based on disability
15 Poor mental health
16 The digital divide
17 Online harassment
18 Unpaid labor
19 Inadequate maternal healthcare
20 Period poverty

#1. Unequal pay

For centuries, society has undervalued the work women perform. Women are even paid less than men for the same work. According to the International Labour Organization, there has been some progress, but gender wage gaps still exist and are widening in certain jobs. Gaps can’t be blamed on educational differences, which means that in most countries, men still earn more than women. Factors include gendered job segregation (women tend to dominate jobs with lower salaries) and unjust pay practices. According to data from Moody’s Analytics, the gender pay gap could be costing the economy as much as $7 trillion.

#2. Racial injustice

All women face discrimination, but women belonging to ethnic minorities face compounded inequalities. According to expert groups like the UN, race and gender intersect in employment, housing, poverty and more. As an example, while no group of women makes the same wage as non-Hispanic white men in the United States, the gender wage gap is significantly wider for most women of color. Over a 40-year career, Hispanic women lose over $1 million in earnings, while Native women lose $986,000 and Black women lose $964,000.

#3. Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) refers to acts that cause (or are likely to cause) physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women. According to experts, over ⅓ of women and girls experience some kind of violence during their lifetimes. The risk increases during conflicts, natural disasters and other emergencies. Intimate partner violence is the most common form of GBV. Around 1 in 4 women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner. While anyone can experience GBV, young people, older women, refugees, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ people are most vulnerable.

#4. Inadequate healthcare

Healthcare access is a human right, but women face unique stigmas and discrimination. According to the World Economic Forum, there are persistent gaps in research and treatment for things affecting women, such as maternal healthcare. This leads to worse health outcomes for conditions that should be treatable and preventable. Women are also undervalued in the healthcare profession. According to reporting from NPR, women hold just 25% of senior leadership roles despite making up 70% of the global healthcare workforce. The pandemic also increased burnout rates for women healthcare workers, added to their workloads and exacerbated gender biases.

#5. Threats to reproductive rights

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 40% of women live under restrictive laws, which represents over 750 million women of reproductive age. 6% of women live in countries where abortions are prohibited completely. Access to contraception increased from 900 million in 2000 to almost 1.1 billion in 2021, but barriers like misinformation about contraception, fear of side effects and access remain. According to the UN Populations Fund, around 257 million women who don’t want to become pregnant still aren’t using safe and modern contraception.

#6. Lack of education

All children deserve access to education, but girls have historically faced more discrimination. Progress has been made, but according to UNICEF, 129 million girls are still not in school. Reasons include poverty, gender-based violence, early marriage and a lack of safety, hygiene and sanitation resources. Low-income countries have the widest gaps, according to the World Bank. While the world average of girls enrolled in primary school is 88%, it’s 78% in low-income countries.

#7. Food insecurity

Women face more food insecurity than men, Research from the World Food Programme identifies a few reasons why. The first is that women are more likely to live in extreme poverty. Globally, women earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Women also face unequal treatment during times of crisis and are more vulnerable to malnutrition during pregnancy. All these factors contribute to a lack of food security, which in turn negatively impacts other areas of a woman’s life.

#8. Climate change

Research consistently shows that women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. One reason is that women depend on natural resources, so during times of famine or other disasters, women face the added burden of trying to obtain food. In lower-income countries, women also make up a large percentage of the agriculture industry, which is hardest hit by climate change. Women also face increased risks of violence and sexual exploitation during climate-related emergencies.

#9. Unequal political representation

Society can’t achieve gender equality until there’s equal political representation. According to a survey conducted by Plan International, women still feel “consistently excluded” from politics. Half of the survey participants lived in communities where they felt like it wasn’t okay for girls and young women to be involved in politics. 19% said they had been actively discouraged from getting involved. The UN estimates that it will take 130 years for the world to reach gender equality in the highest positions of power.

#10. Discriminatory social institutions

Social institutions are the laws (formal and informal), norms and standards that determine how society functions. Unfortunately, gender inequality is embedded into just about every country’s social institutions in one way or another. According to the OECD, many countries have instituted legal reforms that untangle gender discrimination from their institutions, but 40% of women and girls still live in countries with “high or very high” discrimination. Social norms have progressed the best, but economic empowerment got worse between 2014 and 2022. Until discriminatory practices are eliminated, gender inequality will persist.

#11. Human trafficking

All genders can be victims of human trafficking, but women and girls are especially vulnerable. According to research from 2017, girls and women made up 71% of all victims of trafficking. They also make up 96% of the victims trafficked for sexual exploitation. Causes of gendered trafficking include poverty, a lack of employment opportunities for women, limited access to education and gender-based violence. Conflict also makes women more vulnerable.

#12. Limited freedom of movement

Freedom of movement is an individual’s right to live, travel and move within a country or between different countries. According to Human Rights Watch, many countries in the Middle East and North Africa still have laws requiring women to get permission from a male guardian before traveling abroad or even traveling within their own country. This violates a woman’s right to travel and increases her risk for exploitation and abuse. Activists had been fighting for more rights for years, and while some progress has been made, restrictive laws remain.

#13. Threats during migration

Migration – forced and voluntary – can be risky. Women face more threats than men due to discrimination, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation. According to the International Organization for Migration, more women are migrating independently, especially from the Caribbean and Central America. While moving can provide opportunities, it’s also dangerous. Displacement, which can be caused by conflict and climate change, is especially dangerous for women who are traveling alone, pregnant, heads of households, disabled, or older.

#14. Discrimination based on disability

Human Rights Watch estimates there are around 300 million women with mental and physical disabilities. In low and middle-income countries, women represent 75% of people with disabilities. Women are more likely than men to become disabled and face increased discrimination due to the intersection of their gender and disability. According to research, women with disabilities are more than 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual abuse by an intimate partner than women who don’t have disabilities.

#15. Poor mental health

The state of mental health can be difficult to measure, but according to data, more women are diagnosed with mental health conditions. In a 2017 report from the UK, women are three times more likely than men to experience common mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Young women are also more likely to experience anxiety-related conditions than any other population. This disparity could be due to stigma, as men may feel less comfortable seeking help. In the United States, while more men die by suicide, more women attempt to take their own lives.

#16. The digital divide

Access to technology increases a person’s opportunities for employment, education, public resources, and more. Women don’t get equal access. According to UNICEF, up to 90% of girls and young women in low-income countries can’t access the internet, compared to 78% of boys and young men. Girls also have weaker digital skills and less access to mobile phones. This inequality disadvantages women and costs the global economy billions of dollars in GDP every year, according to the World Economic Forum.

#17. Online harassment

Online harassment is hard to measure, but there’s little doubt it disproportionately affects women and girls. According to one study from Europe, women are 27 times more likely to experience online harassment than men. Online harassment has a terrorizing effect which damages a person’s mental health, discourages them from spending time online and frightens them away from other public spaces. Online harassment can also translate into real-life violence.

#18. Unpaid labor

Women aren’t only paid less than men in most places; they also take on more unpaid labor. Globally, women take on three times more unpaid work than men, while women in low and middle-income countries do more unpaid labor than their peers in high-income countries. Unpaid labor includes tasks like household chores and caring for family members. In Japan, women lose around $761 billion a year through unpaid tasks, while men take on less than a third of what women do. Consequences aren’t limited to the economy. According to research, the added burden of unpaid labor is associated with worse mental health in women.

#19. Inadequate maternal healthcare

Pregnancy and childbirth are inherently risky, but maternal healthcare is inadequate for many people. According to the WHO, almost 800 women died in 2020 from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. A striking 95% of these maternal deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries. 75% of deaths result from issues like severe bleeding, high blood pressure, infections and complications from delivery. These conditions are preventable and manageable with the proper care.

#20. Period poverty

Periods are a fact of life for many people, but about 500 million women and girls don’t have the supplies they need, according to the OHCHR. “Period poverty” is defined as a lack of access to products, hygienic spaces, education and other resources. Along with feeling ashamed or embarrassed, a girl may experience violations of her human rights when her period comes. Early marriage, sexual violence, unintended pregnancy and disrupted education are some of the more serious effects.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.