Press Release

International Status Report: Only 8 Nations Close Gender Gap in Legislatures and Girls Education

U.S. Behind With Low Percentage of Women In Congress But Leads With Highest Share Of Women In Managerial and Economic Decision-Making Positions

For immediate release
Date: 23 May 2000

Media Inquiries:
Oisika Chakrabarti, Media Specialist, UN Women Headquarters, +1 646 781-4522,

United Nations, New York — A new economic report issued by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has found that during the last decade only eight nations have successfully met global agreements to achieve both gender equality in secondary education enrollment and at least a 30 per cent share of women's seats in parliament. The report found that women's share of paid employment has increased in most regions, with the exception of parts of Eastern Europe.

Progress of the World's Women 2000 analyzes girls' enrollment in secondary education and women's representation in legislatures based on a specific set of goals agreed to at a series of United Nations conferences in the 1990s. The report makes clear that these agreements do not include targets relating to women's economic equality and recommends the adoption of specific economic targets, such as raising women's share of administrative and managerial positions to at least 30% by 2005 and at least 50% by 2015. Data from the report reveals women's current share of administrative and managerial employment was higher in the 1990s than it was in the 1980s in 51 out of 59 countries for which data is available

Progress 2000 investigates women's status in the context of globalization from the mid 1980s through the late 1990s. It shows that while many nations have made some advances in girls enrollment and women's seats in parliament, only eight have met or gone beyond the levels agreed upon by world governments at a series of global conferences in the 1990s. These eight countries are: Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Sweden. While the United States has achieved 100 per cent girls' enrollment, it has only achieved a 12.5 per cent share of women's seats in Congress, ranking 19 out of 24 Western European and Other Developed countries.

"We need to learn from countries where women have achieved 30 per cent of seats in parliament and participate in key decision-making, particularly in the realm of government expenditures and the formulation of economic policy," said Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of UNIFEM and chief sponsor of the new biennial report.

"This report forcefully reminds governments and corporations that more people will benefit from globalization if women are active in setting agendas and reshaping global economic rules," Heyzer said. "UNIFEM is urgently calling upon governments, international financial institutions and corporations to renew their commitments to women's economic status in the face of new constraints and opportunities posed by globalization."

From June 5-9, world leaders will convene at the United Nations in New York for the five-year review of women's progress since the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Progress 2000 provides examples of innovative approaches for increasing accountability and commitment to the world's women, from providing training to undertake a gender audit of national budgets, to developing codes of conduct to increase corporate social responsibility. It offers tools to monitor how government budgets and policies, and corporate operations and business practices, specifically affect women.

The report's extensive research is supported by detailed accounts of efforts already being made to ensure women's fair participation in economic policy making at the national and global level. Stories of successful change strategies featured in Progress 2000 include women workers forging new partnerships between corporations and trade unions to improve labor conditions, poor women forming collectives to introduce their products in global markets and negotiate for better terms and prices, and women's organizations collaborating with governments to recognize how expenditures advance and constrain women's progress.

Women's Share of Seats in Parliament:

Eastern Europe has suffered the most dramatic decreases of women's seats in parliament, according to Progress 2000. "This is most likely linked to the deterioration of economic conditions there and the dismantling of quota systems," according to Diane Elson, Coordinator of the report and a Professor of Development Studies in the Department of Sociology at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. "Household income inequality has also increased there," she said, "suggesting a growing gap between rich and poor women."

Of the 24 nations in Western Europe and Other Developed countries, the United States ranks 19 in the number of seats held by women in Congress. The United States has reached 12.5%, followed by Italy (10%), Malta (9.2%) France (9.1%), Japan (8.3%) and Greece (6.3%). Women's share of seats in parliament increased in 17 developed and developing countries from 1987 to 2000, most notably because of governmental positive action and quotas. These countries are: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Canada, Ecuador, El Salvador, Iceland, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, Uganda and the United Kingdom.

Girls Enrollment in Secondary Education Deteriorates in Sub-Saharan Africa:

The level of girl's enrollment in secondary education has seriously deteriorated in much of Sub-Saharan Africa, and the report draws linkages between increased indebtedness and declines in enrollment. Of the 15 countries with decreases in girls' enrollment, 12 also showed an increase in national debt.

While 11 per cent of countries have achieved gender equality in secondary education enrollment, there have been decreases in:

  • 11 out of 33 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • 7 out of 11 countries in Central and Western Asia
  • 6 out of 26 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • 6 out of 9 countries in Eastern Europe

Women's Share of Paid Employment:

Much of women's work is invisible to economic decision-makers, particularly unpaid "caring" work and the informal sector labor of street vendors and home-based workers. In times of economic transition, when state-run businesses privatize and a market economy is ushered in, women and girls often pay the price, especially when services such as day care and health care are cut back. Women typically provide around 70 per cent of the time spent on unpaid care work within the family while men provide around 30 per cent.

There are only a few countries in the world where women's share of paid employment in industry and services is around 50 per cent, and a handful in which it is somewhat higher. Progress 2000 found that from the mid 1980s to the late 1990s, women's share of paid employment had increased in most regions, with the exception of parts of Eastern Europe. In the late 1990s, the share ranged from a high of 54 per cent in Ukraine and Latvia to 5 per cent in Chad. Of the 24 Western European and Other Developed countries, the United States ranked sixth with 48 per cent. The lowest shares were in Luxembourg (36) and Malta (29).

Compared with Western Europe and Other Developed nations, the United States has the highest share of women in administrative and managerial positions. From the mid 1980s to the late 1990s, the United States' share of women in administrative and managerial positions increased from 38 per cent to 47 per cent, compared with the United Kingdom (22 to 33%), Canada (35 to 40%) and Japan (9 to 11%).