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Women & Development

Suzanne Reid
2 Women’s Rights & Development


Feminist movements have been operating worldwide for more than a century now with
varying degree of participation and assertiveness, but what is the purpose of such social
and political struggle? And what are the benefits, if any, to society as a whole?
In order to answer these questions this paper will investigate a number of fundamental
human rights, as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and discuss how
varying degrees of adherence to such ideals throughout the world in the hope of
ascertaining whether the presence of these rights for women has any positive effect on the
social and economic climate of developing countries, or whether they add little or any
value to these regions.
In determining these facts, it is my hope to illustrate how a failure to respect women’s rights
is of detrimental effect to the entire societies in which these women reside. The remedy for
which would appear quite straightforward – empower women so that they may
participate in raising the level of social and economic enrichment of a country in which we,
men, women and children, can all benefit.

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Human Rights

Human rights expansion is generally considered a ‘work in progress’ even within Western
countries, with various violations reported from inadequate prison systems, to unequal pay
and race discrimination and many more. One of the core issues within many Western, and
a growing number of non-Western countries, is the issue of women’s rights. Firstly, what
are human, and consequently women’s rights? Let us begin by briefly examining this

Human rights are generally considered to be divided into three ‘generations’ of rights.
These generations were numbered according to their appearance in history and overall
development in Western countries over time.

First generation human rights came about fairly early on in European history, being at first
codified by the United States in the Bill of Rights and essentially dealt with personal
liberty and political participation.
They are individual in nature and exist to protect the individual from the state. Such rights
include things like freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial and universal suffrage.
These rights were adopted on with almost global consensus in 1948 by the United Nations
in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and cover Articles 3 to 21 of the declaration.
For many these are considered the most important human rights in existence, since any
limitation on these fundamental rights results in a limitation of other rights which would
come at later dates.

Second generation human rights were the result of the Second World War following the
systematic Nazi attempt at the extermination of a number ethnic groups. The horrors of
the war bore witness to a stronger notion of the fundamental need to protect humans, their
rights, lives and dignity. This, coupled with the need to rebuild much of the world and the
immense human casualty meant that human rights relating more to equality became the
result. Women had played important roles at home during the war and consequently
gained higher social status and employment rights out of both need and opportunity.
These rights encompass social, economic and cultural rights including equal treatment for
all citizenry such as the right to equal opportunity of employment, housing, health
treatment, social security and unemployment benefits. These rights are covered in articles
22 to 27 of the declaration.

Finally and most recently, the development of third generation human rights came about in
1972, due largely to a perceived need to protect future generational groups of people
and their environment. These include those that encompass rights that cover more than the
individual, such as group rights. Group rights apply to areas such as the right of society or
societies to protect their heritage and culture, the right to self determination, the right to
integrated equity and sustainability.

These rights form part of one of the world’s largest international agreements having been
signed by the majority of UN member countries at one point or another. This leads to the
assumption then that such rights constitute a global consensus on human rights, however with
varying social conditions, many counties have yet to realise these ideals.
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Equal Suffrage

Perhaps one of the oldest recorded struggles was faced by the famous suffragettes of
America during the late 19th century, forming part of the first generation human rights, is
that of equal suffrage for women. It deserves a mention in this paper for a couple of
reasons. Firstly, it is considered by many to be a key indicator as to the level of human
rights rights respect within a country. Secondly, it marked a pivotal moment in the
recorded history of women’s movements and finally, although the number of countries
which prevent women this fundamental right are now very few, they do still exist.

Country Voting Situation World Description

Bhutan Partial 142 One vote per household, traditionally
made by the head male figure.
Prevention by convention, rather than
Brunei No electorate 112 A sultanate with no elected officials.
Lebanon Partial 113 Women require proof of education to
vote, men do not.
Saudi Arabia None 11 Prohibited by law.
United Arab No electorate 40 Authoritarian state.
Vatican City None Unranked Prohibited by law.

Notably, the majority of the listed countries fall rather low on world economic rankings.
Saudi Arabia being the only exception almost falling within the top 10, this may be
predominantly due to their large reliance on the petroleum industry, since many of the
country’s inhabitants are considered quite poor with the exception of the elite in the
petroleum business. Another special case is the Vatican City. Although not strictly
speaking a country, it is considered a separate and independent economy from Italy, and
enjoys a highly prominent position in the world market with many lucrative investments in a
number of trading markets. Although there is a law prohibiting women from voting, the
fact that no women reside within the city means this state’s ranking can be omitted for the
purpose of this paper.

But what are the implications of partial voting for a country? Partial voting implies that
proper representation cannot be achieved. In many of the countries listed above, the
lifestyles of men and women are very different. With unequal participation in the political
process how can the needs of the full society of that country be met? Without the voice of
all mature minded people being heard there is a danger of running a social deficit, a fact
that would surely hinder the social, and perhaps also the economic, development of a

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Economic Rights

What do economic rights encompass exactly? In the Universal Declaration of Human

Rights, hereafter referred to as the declaration, economic rights are described as having
the right to own property, the right to work and free choice of employment and having just
and favourable remuneration which enables individuals to live a life of dignity. These
form part of those found in both first and second generation rights.
But how then are these rights linked to social and economic development? In order to
answer this I would like to refer you to the article by Isobel Coleman, The Payoff From
Women’s Rights which indicates that a number of studies have shown that

‘Giving women more control over resources also profits communities at large because
women tend to invest more in their families than do men. Increases in household income,
for example, benefit a family more it the mother, rather than the father, controls the cash.
Studies of various countries as varied as Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Ethiopia and United
Kingdom suggest that women generally devote more of the household budget to
education, health, and nutrition...’
The Payoff From Women’s Rights, Isobel Coleman, Foreign Affairs, Volume 83, No. 3, May/June 2004, page 84

These studies would appear to indicate that greater economic freedom and independence
for women benefits a number of aspects of daily life, not just for women but for all family
members. With items such as education and nutrition gaining additional investment from
women there are knock on effects such as increased life expectancy, health and
strengthened economies.
Additionally, not only the benefits of their spending patterns are reaped but consideration
also needs to be given to their impact on increasing the workforce, GDP and public
revenue of a country in the form of taxation, all of which are valuable resources in the
struggle for development.

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Right to Education

The right to education is covered in the second generation human rights in Article 26 of the
Declaration and covers such aspects as having the right to all levels of education; primary,
secondary and higher education, which shall be directed at developing to the fullest
extent possible all aspects of the human personality.
In a great many countries worldwide young girls are often placed in education where the
possibility exists only after the male child’s education has been provided for. Since free
education is a problem in many developing countries, parents are often forced to choose
between which children shall attend schooling, this choice frequently falls on the male
children since they are considered by tradition to become the major breadwinners in the
future, while the female children are expected to fill more of a caring role in staying home
with the children.
Other problems facing young women are those of availability later on, even with an
education many young women find it difficult to penetrate the system at the higher levels,
such as university and the subsequent job markets following that due to existing in cultures
which share these more traditional social set ups. Women are frequently married off
young and find themselves with children to care for as a result.
But what is the positive result of educating young girls and women? What can society gain
from such efforts? The benefits of educating women appear to be quite diverse.
Many studies and government policies today which are focused on development reflect the
recognition of the need to invest in the equal education of females. Educated women are
better equipped to make informed decisions about their personal futures, famliy planning,
better nutrition and healthcare for themselves and their families. The factors help increase
life expectancy and overall national health, they greatly reduce population explosions.
Educated women are more likely to have careers in the future, thus encouraging society to
percieve them as more valuable contributing family members, which raises the status of
women both in the family and in society at large. This in turn equips women with more
authority in decision making. Studies also show that women, overall, have priorities that
are different to those of their male counterparts. This coupled with having an authoritive
voice in society makes for more well rounded, well balanced social policy making, a fact
that benefits all members of society as a whole.

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Self Determination

Making up the final part of this essay is the fundamental right of self determination which
applies for all human beings. Self determination does not only mean allowing individuals
the right to make decisions, but means also their right to be equipped to make informed
decisions for their future. This right therefore, in the context of this paper, means providing
females, from the earliest possible ages and throughout life with the opportunity for
education and self improvement, with equal career possibilities, with the right to choose
when and whom to marry and to family planning with an equal voice.
In giving women such opportunities we have the chance to be part of a society where all
aspects of society are represented, which implies that we will receive care and welfare to
benefit as much of the society as is possible. This is surely the purpose of documents such
as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and forms the basis for so many
international organisations worldwide, from the UN and the European Commission to a
great number of development agencies. Among these institutions and organisations there
is a general consensus that progression of the human race means granting respect and the
ability to live with dignity to all those members of it.

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A couple of facts which are interesting to note are that women make up approximately
50% of the global population and approximately 70% of the world’s poorest people.
Another important note is that overall, women take up the major portion of childrearing
worldwide. These factors alone give cause for alarm, since failing to provide adequately
for women has a knock on effect of failing to provide for the next generation. When this
generation becomes old and must be supported by future generations we must continue to
face the consequences of both failures.
In the West, we face the issue of not having enough children to provide taxes to support
the country and consequently ourselves, society - a fact which may well result from forcing
women to choose between having a family or a career, rather than supporting her to do
both. Some argue that women who raise children and work are paying into the social
system twice, once with taxation revenue, and again in providing the future taxable
generation, yet society continues to make such valuable contributions difficult to obtain
through inadequate government policies and social discrimination.
The major issue at present though is that of situation which is prevalent in developing
countries throughout the world. In referring you to appendixes I through IV it should
become apparent that the developing countries of the world fall predominantly within the
same regions where economic opportunities for women are limited, uneven equality
between the sexes is large and vast differences between male and female incomes are
reported. The problems associated with a failure to respect women’s rights start to
become very apparent. In such countries many women have only the prospect of marrying
well as being the only opportunity for living a life outside of poverty. This only happens
though for a minority, with the majority of women facing a lack of control over their
personal development, few career prospects and large families to help provide for, or
which they must provide for alone. Overpopulation, under education and social decline
are often the results of such cases.
So what is the solution? In summary, the granting of human rights to women which enable
them to develop to the extent where they can contribute to society in ways which are
unlimited will result in significant gains for all. This is a fact which has already been
realised by a great many and is beginning to be realised through public policies.
Already, some of the largest micro finance providers to developing countries are targeting
women specifically, not only for the benefits to society as a whole, but because in order to
actually reduce world poverty on a global scale they realise they have to empower
women to life themselves out of poverty.
Let us hope that this work will continue to develop.

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1. The Payoff From Women’s Rights, Isobel Coleman, Foreign Affairs, Volume 83, No.
3, May/June 2004
2. Bridging the Gender Gap to Promote Economic and Social Development, Stephan
Klasen, Journal of International Affairs, Spring 2005, Vol 58, no. 2, The Trustees of
Columbia University in the City of New York
3. Women’s Economic Opportunity, A new global index and ranking, Economist
Intelligence Unit June 2010, Leila Butt Research Manager, Joanne McKenna Press
4. Half the Sky, Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, New York
Times, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, 2009

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Appendix I: Developed and Developing Countries 2008

Based on the CIA World Factbook, I have decided to utilise the above map as a reference
for determining low income or developing countries. There are a number of different
resources available to demonstrate the distribution of both developed and developing
countries, however the CIA World Factbook was deemed the most reliable mapped source.

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Appendix II: Ratio Male to Female Earned Income 2010

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Appendix III: Women’s Economic Opportunity Index June 2010

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Appendix IV: Equality Index 2010

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