In the course of the 20th century, the women’s movement made a number of extraordinary advances: women won the right to vote, gained access to birth control and abortion, rose to high-ranking jobs and even to top political positions. However, only a small minority of women enjoyed these new benefits. And while the laws may have changed, common practice has not.
In the new millennium, women’s rights vary greatly depending on their country, social rank, and religion. In certain places women are practically invisible in public, or are obliged to wear veils. Eighty-two million young women are married before they reach the age of eighteen. Many girls are still not educated, and are consigned instead to household chores or even collecting water. Female circumcision is still unacceptably common.
The infanticide of baby girls epitomizes the lack of status women have in many cultures. In India and China, female foetuses are aborted or the newborns left to die or even killed, because the birth of a girl simply represents another mouth to feed and, above all, a dowry to find.
Female illiteracy is at 600 million, as opposed to 320 million among men. Women who do have a basic education can achieve a greater level of autonomy enabling them to question the decisions imposed on them by their family or social structure. There is a clear correlation between increasing school attendance for girls and lowering birth rates.
For millennia, our political, social, and economic history has largely been written by men. How might it have been different had both sexes worked together with complete equality? Sociological research has shown that men and women solve problems in different but complementary ways, and that sexual equality benefits both parts of this alliance. The environmental crisis calls for a change in the way society has historically tackled issues, including the full recognition of the role women play in the decision-making process.