The Story of Women by Numbers
3 .9 billion people across the globe are united in the shared experience of being women. But within one commonality, the daily experiences, incomes, habits and responsibilities of women are almost infinitely varied.
The narrative of women across the globe can’t be fit into a singular story or definition – instead, we should embrace the variety, celebrate those who experience equality and fight for those who still face challenges and discrimination due to their gender.
This International Women’s Day, we’ve gathered statistics from across the globe to paint a picture of the intricate, complex and often contradictory mosaic that makes up what it means to be a woman today, and why it’s so important to continue championing the rights of the women who continue to face inequality, discrimination and closed doors.
Together, we can forge a world in which women are equal – and we will all be better for it.
Women at a glance around the world
Women around the world lead varied and different lives. Some feel that they experience little discrimination or inequality in their daily lives – with data even suggesting that in the first decade of life, gender inequalities are relatively small – but others continue to face severe and disruptive challenges due to their gender.
For example, in the UK, the gender pay gap in 2020 meant that women earned 84.6p per pound earned by men. But worldwide, women continue to make on average just 77p to every pound – a significant drop.
In total, 21.7% of women with higher education provide unpaid care, compared with just 1.5% of men.
On average, women spend around 5 hours per day caregiving. Men spend on average 1-1.5 hours.
Women also typically provide a significant amount of unpaid work in the form of caregiving – up to 5 hours per day, compared with just 1-1.5 hours per day provided by men.
When it comes to maternity leave, while 184 out of 195 countries provide maternity leave, women often lack a guarantee of an equivalent role or position afterwards. Paternity leave is only available in 105 countries, meaning that the burden for childcare and domestic work continues to be predominantly placed on women.
The present: women in the workplace today
Women account for nearly half the global workforce, making up 47.7% of workers worldwide, and when we get to the college educated level, women are the majority – making up 50.2% of workers.
However, despite the fact that women make up essentially half of the global workforce, they continue to face daily challenges in the workplace. For example, 71% of women feel that unconscious bias has impacted their career progression – a staggering amount. It makes sense then, that for every 100 men who are promoted in their workplace, only 86 women receive the same advancement.
2 out of 5 women in senior roles believe that sexism exists in their workplace.
McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace Report analysed data from 423 participating organisations who employ 12 million people. They found that recognition was low and burnout was high in female employees, and that the burnout gap between men and women doubled during the pandemic.
“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.”Sheryl Sandberg
When it comes to nurturing the diverse talent and investing in female employees, 38% of senior-level women mentor or sponsor at least one woman of colour, while only 26% of senior-level men do the same. The burden is disproportionately placed on women to invest in the next generation of diverse female workers.
With the unpaid caregiving work that was tripled by the pandemic, combined with earning less money than men and spending more time and effort mentoring others, it’s no surprise that women also experience burnout at a much higher rate than men do. This has also been exasperated by the effects of the pandemic, with 42% of women said they have been often or almost always burnt out in 2021, compared to 35% of men.
38% of senior-level women mentor or sponsor at least one woman of colour, while only 26% of senior-level men do the same.
Intersectional feminism: gender inequality is not equally felt
While women in the West continue to experience discrimination and challenges due to gender, many also enjoy rights and equalities that women in other parts of the world still lack. The experience of being a woman is one that varies massively depending on where you are born. For example, women make up two thirds of the 796 million illiterate people in the world, and 12 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year.
It’s essential that while we celebrate the gains and victories achieved for women in some parts of the world that we recognise that for many the fight is far from over.
The term intersectional feminism was coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 in order to explain the way in which people’s social identities can overlap and compound other inequalities.
“We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.”Kimberlé Crenshaw
There are also huge disparities in the corporate world. Women of colour lose ground at every step on the corporate ladder: at entry level, 35% of jobs are occupied by white men, 30% by white women and 17% by women of colour. At the C Suite, it is 62%, 20% and just 4% occupied by women of colour.
There’s also a gap between the actions that white employees think of as being ‘allies’ and the actions that women of colour say are actually effective. Despite 75% of white employees considering themselves to be effective allies to women of colour, less than 50% take basic allyship actions such as speaking out against bias or advocating for new opportunities for women of colour.
Women of colour face more challenges and get less support in the workplace, and experience microaggressions at the same rate as two years ago.
Despite 75% of white employees considering themselves to be effective allies to women of colour, less than 50% take basic allyship actions.
The future ahead: success stories combating global gender inequality
Despite the challenges faced by women across the world, and the acute challenges faced by women of colour, there are always inspiring stories of progress and change. The future for women is bright, and it is paved by the actions we take today. By celebrating the successes of women’s equality, we can make the reality of a world free from gender inequality one step closer to reality.
In 2020, UN Women supported 101,000 rural women across 26 countries in Africa and Asia, and helped 98,700 gender-based violence survivors gained access to justice and recovery services. They also helped 51,500 women gain access to legal aid through the UN.
In 2020, UN Women supported 101,000 rural women across 26 countries in Africa and Asia.
UN Women also received their highest ever revenue in 2020 – 549 million dollars in total – and forged 22 new private sector partnerships.
It’s clear to see that support for gender equality is everywhere, and that businesses are stepping up to the plate when it comes to investing in the future of women. 1,630 businesses signed the women’s empowerment principles in 2020.
The future for women is bright, and it is paved by the actions we take today.
Meanwhile, the HeForShe global solidarity movement – aiming to involve men across the globe in the fight for gender equality – reached a record 3.4 million champions of gender equality, and recorded 2 billion conversations on the topic on social media annually.
Together, we can forge a better future for women everywhere. It begins with small, individual actions everyday, and ends in a global understanding that women are socially, intellectually and politically equal across all aspects of our societies.
Further reading on gender inequality and how to fight it:
- Girls not Brides: how to fight against child marriage
- UN Women’s Annual Report 2020
- UN Women: Facts and Figures
- McKinsey Women in the Workplace Report 2021
- Women’s Empowerment Principles
- UNICEF Gender Inequality Overview