The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Women poorer and hungrier than men across the world, U.N. report says

Hindu women perform prayer rituals during the Chhath puja festival in Bhopal, India. (Sanjeev Gupta/EFA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Women are poorer, more hungry and more discriminated against than men, according to a new report from the United Nations. The report, called “Turning Promises Into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” looks at how women around the world are faring in several key areas.

It is pegged to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which lays out several global benchmarks, such as eliminating extreme poverty and hunger and getting all children into school. Significant progress has been made on the targets overall (though many probably will not be met). This study looks at how well women, specifically, are doing, and it finds that in nearly every category, they do worse than men.

The report says there are 122 women ages 25 to 34 who live in extreme poverty for every 100 men in that age group. The percentage of women living in poor households hovers at about 12.8 percent. For men, it is 12.3 percent, which means about 5 million more women are struggling.

It is harder for women to escape poverty, the report's authors say, because women have less access to jobs and economic opportunities. In many places, the laws make it impossible for women to inherit wealth, own land and access credit. Even when women do find jobs, they are often paid less than men. Women have less time to work, too, because they do a disproportionate share of the housework, cooking and child care.

Source: United Nations

Women are also more vulnerable to food insecurity in nearly two-thirds of all countries. When a crisis hits, the report finds, women are more likely than men to go hungry. The highest percentage of women who face this challenge is in sub-Saharan Africa, though it is a problem worldwide.

Source: United Nations

Maternal death continues to be a major problem.

Globally, 303,000 women died from pregnancy-related causes in 2015. Nearly two-thirds of those deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, the report's authors say. Low-income women are particularly vulnerable. This is a challenge in the United States, too, the only developed country where the rate of maternal deaths is growing.

Women are vulnerable in other ways, too. According to the United Nations, 1 in 5 women and girls ages 15 to 49 reported experiencing physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner in the past 12 months.

Source: United Nations

The report's authors also surveyed national laws around the world and found that women are more likely to face legalized discrimination. “Over the past 25 years, progress has been made through, for example, legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sex with respect to inheritance and citizenship, laws that guarantee equality within the family and laws that address domestic violence,” they write. “However, while progress has been significant, discriminatory constitutional and legislative provisions remain in place in many countries, leaving women without protection or legal basis to claim their rights.”

There are bright spots. Around the world, more women are going to school than ever before, and many are staying in school longer. Worldwide, 90.3 percent of primary school-age girls were enrolled in school in 2015, compared with 82.2 percent in 2000. (For boys, the number is slightly higher — 91.9 percent of primary school-age boys were enrolled in 2015.) Even so, the report estimates 15 million girls will never get the chance to learn to read or write.

It is a particularly acute challenge in places such as Africa, where 48.1 percent of adolescent girls are kept from school, along with 25.7 percent of girls who are of primary-school age. (For boys, the numbers are 43.6 percent and 21.7 percent, respectively.)

One issue schools still need to grapple with is providing adequate sanitation facilities for menstruating girls. The report says that “where adequate sanitation facilities are lacking, for example, concerns over safety and menstrual hygiene management may keep girls away from school or compromise their learning experience.”