Map Monday: A look at women’s rights around the world

Two recent articles serve to underline both the continuing limitations placed on women around the world and also, incredibly sadly, how barriers to education and freedom to just live their lives have been reinstated in some places.  Restrictions on women are to the detriment of the majority of the populations in all such countries, since these restrictions impact not just half the population but also all kinds of men who would wish it otherwise, and their families. Restrictions on women keep everyone down.

The articles I mention above are worth a read, even though they’re not particularly uplifting, to say the least: From the Globe and Mail, A year after the West’s withdrawal, Afghanistan is back in the Dark Ages, and from the Economist, America’s already dreadful maternal mortality rate looks set to rise.

Let’s start by taking a look at the state of women’s rights and freedoms around the world and then dive a bit into some concerning steps backwards. [Click on any map to see the detail better.]

Constitutional guarantees of gender equality [Source:]MM-ConstitutionalEquality

Legally mandated parental leave [Source:]MM-ParentalLeave

Visualizing women’s rights around the world [Source:]MM-WomensRights

Female participation in the labour force [Source:]MM-WomensEmploymentRates

When women got the vote around the worldMM-WomensSuffrage

Access to safe medical abortions [Source:]MM-AbortionAccess

With respect to the Globe and Mail article on Afghanistan returning to the Dark Ages, it is chilling to say the least. For the past 20 years, girls had been increasingly attending school through high school; even universities had opened to them. There were female lawyers, judges, teachers, health care workers, you name it. All gone. All of it. Even to leave their homes and shop without male approval. Shelters giving safe haven to women fleeing domestic abuse shuttered. Girls and women have had all rights of being an independent human being removed from them. Half the population. And the complete and utter removal of their personal freedom and ability to live responsible independent lives does not even speak to the brutality with which any questioning or protest is countered. Just think about not having any aspect of your life under your control. Any aspect at all. All in the blink of an eye.

With respect to the article about the predictable consequences of the implementations of abortion restrictions across many states in the U.S., it’s certainly not in the same ballpark as Afghanistan, but it is still a cautionary tale on how a change in leadership can negatively impact the health and welfare of countless women, as well as men and their families. You can’t access the Economist article after the first paragraph or so without a subscription, so I am going to take the liberty of sharing the entirety of the first scenario before summing up the main points that follow.

The young woman’s waters broke when she was 19 weeks pregnant. The doctors told her the baby stood no chance of surviving, but that if the pregnancy continued the woman risked an infection, which might lead to sepsis and kill her. They could not perform an abortion, though. Months earlier Texas, where she lived, had passed a law banning terminations after detection of a fetal heartbeat unless there was danger “of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function”. This wording worried the doctors: if they did an abortion while she still appeared healthy and the baby had a heartbeat, they could be prosecuted. They suggested she fly to Colorado instead.

So she did: booking a seat, as advised, near the toilets in case she went into labour. She reached the clinic in time and is now healthy. But things could have turned out differently, if she had not had the cash for a plane ticket, say, or if no clinic had been able to give her an appointment. “It is barbaric to put a woman in distress on a plane to another state,” says Carole Joffe, a professor at the Bixby Centre for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco. “It is not how you do medicine in a civilised country.”

This article explains that these laws are written without input from doctors. Pro-lifers seem to believe that almost all pregnancies will be normal and successful, with minimal help from the care of doctors, and that abortions are largely carried out by selfish women who just don’t want to have the child. There is no consideration of the many, many things that can go wrong with the fetus and/or the mother. By making medical abortions illegal, doctors will be hesitant to perform one even when the mother’s life is at stake. Or when the fetus is absolutely not viable. Or when a 10-year girl has been raped, maybe by a relative. So OB/GYNs will stop practicing in these states and women in those states will no longer have access to gynecological healthcare, therapeutic abortion or otherwise. The wealthiest country in the world is victimizing women – and their families, including the men who care about them – in all those states. IMHO the cruelty is staggering. And if you look at this graph from, you’ll see that there are actually fewer abortions performed once therapeutic abortions are legal. So a lose-lose situation has been set up in those states.


Before I leave this particular issue I will add that I don’t believe for a minute that any of the lawmakers who passed these restrictive state laws would force their wife or daughter to carry a fetus to term after they were raped. Nor do I believe that they would force their wife or daughter to care a severely deformed or unviable fetus to term. They’d pay to fly them to another state or country, just like the opening scenario in the Economist described. These lawmakers save their cruel treatment for others, those who cannot afford to travel elsewhere. It defies description.

The bottom line is that, looking at the maps more broadly, women have made big strides in being treated equally in my lifetime. Truly. Not only can we work and vote (in most countries), we can run! After all, it was only in 1967, 55 short years ago, when Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run an official marathon, not because women couldn’t, obviously, but because they weren’t allowed. They weren’t allowed to run! Even then, the run director of the Boston Marathon tried to pull Switzer off the course. Now women participate in sports worldwide. So when they say, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” they’re not kidding.

But we’ve had recent reminders that we can’t take anything for granted. Rights can be taken away. Human rights. Respect. Let’s make sure that we keep our eyes on our gains and remain vigilant in protecting them. Please!

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17 Responses to Map Monday: A look at women’s rights around the world

  1. Pingback: The Woman They Could Not Silence – Of All The Things I've Ever Dreamed

  2. Bernie says:

    A very enlightening post. I just read a news article about a Saudi woman getting 34 years in jail for posting on Twitter. WtF?? I have a female orthopedic surgeon friend who works for MSF (doctors without borders) and some support staff may be female but she had not worked with a female nurse in the OR in Gaza, Syria or Iraq. It’s so mind boggling because here in Canada our rights have, in most of our live times, have been firmly established. Imagine now being able to drive? It’s incredibly sad in Afghanistan where it has gone so backwards but as your post points out we all need to protect these rights. Which I think in Canada means don’t vote Conservative. Our female MP is anti abortion. DOUBLE WTF? Sorry it makes me so angry that cap locks and nasty abbreviations come out. Good piece Jane. It’s very important we know how fortunate we are. Bernie

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for a very useful and heartfelt response, Bernie. I also saw that piece about the Saudis (proud sponsor of the contentious LIV golf tour and recent doubling of their number of executions) giving a woman 34 years in prison for using Twitter. I wish that un-friggin’-believable article had come out the day before I wrote this post, so I could have included it. You are right, in Canada we women need to count our blessings, despite the reluctance with which some provincial govts respect the federal right-to-abortion legislation, at least in my province. It’s as if they’re trying to shame women during a time of great sorrow and stress. We do need to stay vigilant.

  3. It’s an ongoing, uphill battle, isn’t it? I feel helpless as I don’t believe that writing to our politicians or donating money is going to help. But there must be something that can be done for those whose rights have been abruptly and cruelly taken away. And I’m glad you mentioned inequality in the world of sport. Yes, it’s come a long way, but again, there is a long way to go.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Yes, we sure do need to remain vigilant. I hope donating to some of the charities that support things like girls being able to attend school in other parts of the world help a little bit, but I can’t imagine we have a hope in helping bring about positive change for women’s rights anywhere beyond our own borders. Sigh.

  4. Margaret says:

    A powerful post Jane.
    As a baby boomer experiencing all the forward changes since the 50’s, and especially the 60’s, I find it difficult to speak calmly about what is happening currently. Perhaps we shouldn’t remain calm?
    As Gordon Brown tweets perhaps we need to act ..

  5. Oh, those awful “zebra” stripes over America for abortion rights. Indeed, rights can be taken away — we’ve tragically learned that nothing is guaranteed. Great post, Jane. – Marty

  6. “These lawmakers save their cruel treatment for others.” Truth!
    Another powerful post, Jane. Your maps posts are exceptionally well done. This is all so enraging and triggering for me that I just find myself stewing in pure disgust. Very Dark Ages indeed. WTF, USA?Portugal, here I come. But you better believe this soon-to-be expat will be exercising her right to vote as an overseas citizen of her home country she loves, even though it does not love her back. 💔

    • Jane Fritz says:

      These are tough times for sure, Natalie. Hang in there, kid! And for sure continue to exercise your right to vote. My MIL was born in 1906, so knew full well about the hard-fought win in women getting the vote, which in Canada came in 1918 (if you weren’t indigenous! 😡😥). She took that privilege and responsibility very seriously, and voted every Election Day until she passed away a few weeks short of her 97th birthday.

  7. A sobering post, but sadly that’s how things stand right now. I was taken with this: “Restrictions on women keep everyone down.” Yes, yes! And this: “These lawmakers save their cruel treatment for others, those who cannot afford to travel elsewhere. It defies description.” Hypocrites! And finally: “Rights can be taken away.” Alas!

  8. Happy Maurya says:

    Very detailed insight. You wrote many things in a wonderful way and presentable manner.

  9. Rose says:

    This was wonderfully written, and powerfully presented Jane!! As someone who has volunteered with rape and abuse centers, women and children safety centers, it flabbergasts me how people can vote for more ways to trample on the few rights women have. I can’t believe how fast we’re going backwards.
    I’ve been reading “The Woman They Could Not Silence” by Kate Moore. In 1860, Elizabeth Packard was put in an insane asylum by her husband – because the law said a husband could put his wife in an asylum for no reason other than he owned her, and he had full power to do whatever he wished with anything he owned. This book ties in with your post on how women have had to fight to get any rights, and if we don’t stay vigilant, we can lose what we have.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh my gosh, Rose, what a frightening example of the many ways in which women have been controlled by men, regardless of social “status”. I’ll have to look for that book. Good for you for your volunteer work. Those environments aren’t easy, but so critical. Re the hard fights to obtain rights, just think of all the women jailed for demonstrating for the right to vote. And Switzerland of all places didn’t give women the right to vote until 1971!

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