The world in the past two decades has progressed in leaps and bounds in the name of women’s rights. Women today are less likely to die during childbirth, more likely to know how to read and write as well as participate in politics and in general have increased control over the health of their families and themselves.

September 1994 saw the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, which highlighted increased efforts for empowering women. Consisting of over 200 recommendations, the program earned acceptance from 179 countries. In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing pledged to reach gender equality and create an equal decision-making environment by further opening both public and private life to women.

The 1994 Conference in Cairo was the first time states officially agreed on the necessity of equal rights and access to health services as a fundamental stepping stone on the path to sustainable development. Efforts toward equality, however, have not prevailed in equal numbers throughout the world.  While equality numbers have improved on average, the United Nations claims progress is exceedingly fragmented.

Poor communities are not seeing the results of sweeping women’s rights reforms. Over the same 20-year timeline, women in less developed societies have witnessed little to no positive change. On the contrary, the results in some cases are worsening.

One third of women have experienced some sort of physical abuse, with men in some regions overtly admitting to having raped at no consequence to themselves. Furthermore, more than 140 million girls and women live with the uncomfortable results of female genital mutilation. No matter how many U.N. Resolutions have expressed the need for female involvement in matters of conflict resolution, women continue to go uninvited from peace talks. Moreover, women’s rights groups, the groups relied upon to make improvements in this arena, are largely underfunded.

In March 2014, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women will convene in New York to discuss these issues and the progress of the millennium development goals. The needs of young people will be of primary concern, due to reports noting that, of those aged 10 to 24, 90% live in developing countries.

With improved access to education, healthcare and economic rights, perhaps benefits of reforms on behalf of the world’s female population will reach the poor as well as the rich. The journey toward women’s equal rights will not be complete until all women, across the globe, have attained successful equality.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: TIME, The Guardian: Key Year for Women’s Rights, New York Times, The Guardian: Access Still Unequal
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