5 Sad Stats About Women's Rights Worldwide

When you're talking about women's inequality, it can be difficult to quantify the specific aspects of women's disempowerment around the world, mostly because the issues are vast and all influence each other. Girls' education influences their economic participation, child marriage influences later health issues, access to banking influences whether women can create businesses successfully: it can seem like a difficult-to-navigate swamp of problems. So let's separate out some of the big issues for women's rights worldwide, and look at specific numbers about how far they go and how widespread they've become.

Numbers are powerful, but they can also only do so much. As we'll discover, statistics about things like child marriage or girls without a primary school education from institutions like the UN or the World Bank are often incomplete; a lot of these situations occur off the grid, and formal assessments often can't be seen as precisely accurate. If anything, all their estimates are probably too small. And that's worrying, when the conservative numbers are still overwhelmingly big.

Because these statistics will likely hit you right between the eyes, I've provided small hints about how to get involved with each particular issue so you can do something to help turn these numbers around.

1. Over 200 Million Women Have Undergone Female Genital Mutilation

There's really no other way of putting this: female genital mutilation, or FGM, is a completely brutal practice that involves seriously harming the genitalia of young women for no medical reason. Just reading about the procedures, which vary from complete removal of the clitoris to intentional "closing" of the vaginal opening, can make you feel sick, so you can imagine how the procedure itself (which is often conducted without anesthetic or proper sanitation) is traumatic in the extreme. FGM is often conducted in order to "dampen female libido" or make young women more acceptable brides, and the statistics about it are truly shocking.

UNICEF estimates that a total of 200 million women currently living have undergone FGM at some point in their lives, and in various countries the percentage of women who've undergone it is overwhelming: in Dijbouti, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Somalia, it's over 90 percent of all women between 15 and 49. In startling new data released in February 2016, it was found that women in Indonesia, Egypt, and Ethiopia make up half of all FGM victims worldwide. And, in a deeply worrying trend, the World Health Organization found that up to 18 percent of all FGM procedures are carried out by medical professionals in hospitals or surgeries, even though the practice has serious medical consequences, including fertility issues, serious pain, infections, scar tissue, kidney failure, and death — and that's not even counting the high psychological cost.

To help, join the campaign against FGM at Daughters of Eve or ENDFGM.

2. 39,000 Child Brides Are Married Every Day

Let's say you've been reading this article for about three minutes. In that time, according to statistics gathered by UNICEF and the organization Girls Not Brides, an average of 84 girls under the age of 18 will have been married in that time. That's 39,000 a day, or 14.2 million a year. The numbers are staggering. Child marriage is a serious problem, corrupting the right to women's self-determination, the right of girls to avoid sexual abuse, and the medical safety of children, who may suffer intensely as a result. Child brides, according to a study in 2006, run incredibly high medical risks, from exposure to STDs to obstetric fistulas and death in childbirth.

The United Nations Population Fund estimated in 2013 that, between 2011 and 2020, the number of girls married under the age of 18 would hit a staggering 140 million, and that 50 million of those wouldn't even be 15 yet. The proportion of the young female population in some parts of the world who end up child brides is insane: in South Asia it's about half, and in parts of sub-Saharan Africa it's over one third. Girls Not Brides estimates that 1.2 billion girls will become child brides by 2050 if current rates continue.

To help, donate or join the campaign to end child marriage at Girls Not Brides and Plan UK.

3. 1 In 5 Girls Worldwide Aren't In Secondary School


To say girls need education for empowerment and equality is both blindingly obvious and kind of an understatement. Equality in education across the genders, according to NGO Educating Girls Matters, brings all kinds of benefits, from lower birth rates and lower rates of death in childbirth to greater economic empowerment, participation in the workforce, and political representation. Unfortunately, we've still got a long way to go when it comes to educating girls worldwide.

According to estimates gathered by UNESCO, 31 million girls of primary school age worldwide aren't in school, 34 million girls of secondary school age are also absent (that's 1 in 5), and 116 million young women worldwide never even completed primary school. They also point out that over 450 million women worldwide are illiterate. The problem is amplified in particular regions: according to UNICEF, in South and West Asia, 80 percent of all the girls who haven't entered school never will, and only 69 percent of all countries worldwide have gender equality in primary school education. And it's important not to get complacent; contemporary America seems to have racial problems in its treatment of girls in education, with a 2014 study finding that African-American female students were far more likely not to graduate high school on time, and to receive in-school suspensions, compared to female students overall.

To help, fund organizations devoted to the education of young girls worldwide, including Camfed, Girl Effect, and The Malala Fund.

4. At Least 5,000 Honor Killings Occur Each Year

When it comes to "honor killings," or murders committed against women as apparent punishment for "shaming" their families (usually through making their own romantic or sexual choices), actual statistics are difficult to come by. The United Nations poses a conservative estimate that around 5,000 occur around the world each year, with around 1,000 of those in India; but Al-Jazeera, in an investigation of a double "honor murder" in New Dehli in 2013, said the numbers were likely much higher for India alone, possibly hovering at around the 20,000 annual mark.

And honor killings are the extreme end of the already-extreme spectrum of "honor crime," which the BBC defined as "acts which have been committed to protect or defend the supposed honor or reputation of a family and community." According to British police, over 11,000 cases of suspected honor crime were reported in the UK between 2010 and 2014, including violent abuse and forced marriage. The Atlantic reported in 2015 that a recent study had found 3,000 suspected forced marriages in the U.S. between 2009 and 2011.

To help, donate to organizations campaigning against honor killings, like International Violence Against Women.

5. Women Are 20% Less Likely To Have A Bank Account

Christian Berg/Getty Images News/Getty Images

This is an enormous issue with a lot of different facets, from wage equality to access to university education, so I'm just going to hit you with statistics from a particular part of it: being able to access financial services, like banks, loans, and getting credit. The news ain't exactly good. The World Bank is pretty comprehensive about it: women worldwide are less likely to have bank accounts, be able to get loans or build up savings, have decent financial education, or have control over the use of their money. In developing economies, the World Bank says that women are 20 percent less likely to have a bank account and 17 percent less likely to have borrowed money.

The problem reaches all the way to female entrepreneurs in developed economies: there's a giant problem worldwide with women-owned businesses getting funding through loans or investment, and the International Finance Corporation thinks the credit gap caused by this is now at about $320 billion. That's billion, as in with a b. Part of this problem is legal: the UN points out that a whopping 90 percent of 143 different countries studied had at least one law that "restricted women's economic opportunities". And access to formal credit can be the difference between surviving a famine or losing everything for some women: a report from the Food And Agriculture Organization found that "detailed studies from Latin America, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa consistently indicate that rural women are more likely to be credit constrained than men of equivalent socio-economic conditions," and that means they're far more vulnerable to stuff like droughts.

To help, consider donating a microloan specifically for women in countries without gender-equal access to financial help, via organizations like World Vision, Global Giving, or the Microloan Foundation.

Clearly, we've got a long way to go in terms of the rights of women and girls worldwide, but information is power, and even a little bit of activism or funding can make a difference.