World Atlas of Women

Twenty years after the last international conference on women, held in Beijing in 1995, has women’s overall situation really improved? The “Atlas Mondial des Femmes” brings to light “paradoxes of emancipation” in such diverse areas as education, health, the economy, politics and sexuality. In addition to marked geographical disparities, many advances in the direction of equality are found to be fragile, incomplete or paradoxical.

Vital rights still under threat

Women’s right to control their fertility through contraception—that is, to have children if and when they wish—is still restricted and not recognized in many regions of the world. Furthermore, the vast majority of countries only allow abortion under specific exceptional conditions. And in countries that have legalized abortion, the threat of a policy u-turn looms.

Some gender-based inequalities go so far as to harm women’s physical integrity and in some cases to threaten their lives. Despite advances in reproductive health, over 280,000 women throughout the world still die in childbirth ever year. Violence against women has become more visible, though most occurs in the private sphere. We know that killings of women, now termed “femicides” by the United Nations, are in most cases committed by a family member, usually a man.

Females are discriminated against from birth and even before. China and India, for example, show excess mortality of girls under age 5 and a rise in male births due to sex-selective abortion of female fetuses. While the majority of people in Europe are women and women live longer than men there, the proportion of women in Asia continues to shrink. This explains why men outnumber women at the world scale.

Sexual life after age 50—a major change

More and more women become sexually active before finding a life partner and remain so after menopause. The lengthening of sexual life beyond age 50 or 60 brought to light by surveys conducted in France and Sweden represents a genuine break from the situation that prevailed three or four decades ago.

Limited progress in education

In many African and Asian countries girls still receive no elementary or first-level secondary schooling. And in regions where girls’ schooling is no longer an issue, inequalities are shifting: girls still have more difficulty entering training in certain disciplines and entering certain occupations.

More women working but more pronounced gender inequalities

At the world scale, over half of women aged 15 or over are employed. But women are often confined to the least prestigious jobs and are therefore more exposed than men to occupational precarity.

Women make greater efforts and sacrifices than men when it comes to reconciling work and family life. In European countries the availability of formal childcare—which is what enables mothers of young children to work—varies greatly. And at home women still spend more time on housework than men.

The “Atlas Mondial des Femmes,” a scientific and didactic overview of women’s condition throughout the world today

  • a socio-demographic approach
  • written by 25 specialists (demographers, sociologists and anthropologists, among others), including 15 INED researchers
  • 35 topic areas
  • over 120 maps and computer graphics

Source: I. Attané, C. Brugeilles, W. Rault (coord.), 2015, L’atlas mondial des femmes. Les paradoxes de l’émancipation, Autrement/Ined [FR]
Contact: Isabelle Attané and Wilfried Rault
Online: january 2015