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Category: Politics, Health, International, Reproductive Rights

Choice Voice: Mapping Global Gender Equality

| March 9, 2011


No matter where you were yesterday, from Rome to the Congo or on your Google homepage, it was hard to miss the women and men standing together on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. From any perspective and nearly every point on the map, women have made great, global strides in the last century. 

When it comes to reproductive health and choice, however, where you’re standing makes a difference. 61% of the world’s people live in a place where abortion is permitted (often with restrictions) while 26% of people live in countries where it is generally prohibited, as of 2008. These numbers could be changing. As the Congress rages an assault on women’s health and State legislatures churn out anti-choice bills, it’s difficult to see the good news for women.

While the US is backsliding on choice, however, there have been some significant advances for women’s health elsewhere in the world.  The Supreme Court of Nepal issued a ruling that unequivocally recognizes a woman’s right to an abortion as a central to human rights and protected from any government interference. But back in the so-called developed world, Texas has passed a bill that will require any woman seeking an abortion to first get an ultrasound. Meanwhile in Ireland, where abortion is illegal, women are resorting to an online black market for abortion pills.

In the Philippines, where roughly 600,000 “back-alley” abortions are performed every year, a set of controversial reproductive health bills are calling for sex education, access to family planning information and government subsidies for contraception. Like the Philippines, abortion remains illegal in Lesotho, the small country enveloped by South Africa. Yet the country is ranked 8th in the world in terms of gender equality, and more women than men are literate there. 

The US doesn’t even make it into the top 15. The World Economic Forum ranks the States at number 18 in terms of gender equality; that’s below both the Philippines and Ireland. On the other hand, way down the list at 107, Tunisia actually legalized abortion five years before the United States. For decades, the governments of Tunisia and neighbor Egypt have actually provided free or heavily subsidized contraception to citizens. Now that those regimes have fallen, it’s unclear whether post-revolution governments will uphold similarly progressive reproductive rights policies.

Looking around the world it is clear that choice, equality and democracy seldom come neatly packaged or all at once. When women stand up and speak out, however, as they did yesterday all around the world, it becomes increasingly difficult for media and governments to ignore tough questions about choice and gender equality. Catch up on what’s been happening across the States: from Arizona to Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, New York, South Dakota and Utah, the war on choice is being waged on multiple fronts.