Women are the most protected and privileged class in the world. They have the right to an education, an economic advantage, a good standard of living and many other benefits. But women are facing tremendous challenges both at home and in the workplace. There are more women entering the workforce today than men. And the proportion of women in corporate positions is rising.
A woman is an empowered adult human being. The word woman can also refer to girl children. The plural woman can be used as for girl children, even without age distinction, as in terms such as “young women’s rights” or “first woman lawyer.” In many parts of the globe, the first woman baby is seen as a blessing. Some cultures and societies believe that a first child is endowed with special powers, which enable her to become a witch or shaman and can be possessed by the evil spirits. Today, there are still much exclusionary conduct and prejudice against women in the workplace, despite wide societal support for women and their role in the family.
The first factor affecting a woman’s fertility rate is her age. The age of a woman affects her fertility in two ways – by reducing her age-specific fertility rate and increasing her age-specific mortality risk. Women in their late thirties and early forties have the lowest fertility rates, because their chances of pregnancy decline sharply with age. Men however, are not affected by their age – their fertility rate remains high throughout their lives. Similarly, in both Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, where the age-specific mortality rate for women is extremely high, the number of children born out of wedlock is considerably higher than that of single women.
The level of domestic violence is a greater concern in the developing world than in the developed world. Many women do not report domestic violence because they feel that their family will be in danger if they make the slightest complaint. In many developing countries, the gender ratio between the male and female population is far more unequal than in the west. This may be due to the lack of effective laws that prevent and punish family violence. Similarly, in many poor communities in the developing world, the social acceptability of women being in domestic violence is very low. The result is that when women do protest, they are often harassed or threatened, and in some cases forced to leave their homes, which further reduces their chances of having children.
Another factor limiting the enjoyment of women’s right to have children is the lack of access to quality family planning services. In sub-saharan Africa and the Middle East, women are expected to bear children as the family demands and because there is no provision for safe childbirth. As a result, a woman’s fertility is severely affected. The World Health Organization estimates that one or two children under the age of five constitute the majority of premature deaths in the developing world. If every woman could get her wish – including having a child – then the life expectancy of women could increase and many of the maternal deaths would be reversed.
In order to improve women’s reproductive health and lives, there are three key strategies that can be implemented today. First, there are programs that aim at promoting the educational development of both sexes in rural and urban communities. These programs support the empowerment of women through training, mentoring, and participation in projects aimed at improving the conditions of womanhood. The result is that rural communities benefit from improved education, higher employment opportunities, and greater economic growth.
Second, the empowerment of women is promoted by governmental policies with the support of international donors. In these policies, paternity rights are granted to women who have not married. This guarantees that a child is born by an adult woman with the full legal rights and ability to live on her own. Third, there are policies that recognize and support the personal decisions of women pertaining to their reproductive health and family planning. These include setting up individual accounts for credit card purchases or ensuring that women receive free access to the internet and other services that promote womanhood.
In many parts of the world, early initiation of programs aiming to end violence against women has proven to be very effective. However, programs alone cannot guarantee success since individual actions are crucial in order to have a profound impact on behavior. Programs must be backed by social policies that promote the well-being of women and children born outside marriage. While violence against women continues to be a problem, the numbers of those married today shows an improvement over the past decades.