The Truth about Gender Equality

For women, the road to equality has been long and arduous. Forced to overcome deep-rooted patriarchal constructs and restrictive gender biases, for centuries women have fought to receive the same fundamental rights and freedoms as men. Over time, a great deal of progress has been made; in fact, it’s hard to believe that less than a hundred years ago women in Canada and the United States didn’t even have the right to vote. However, before we break out the Champagne and toast a job well done, a newly released report confirms that when it comes to the equality of women, “we just aren’t there yet.”(1)

In 1995 the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women convened in Beijing with the goal of attaining greater equality and opportunity for women. Considered by many to be a turning point in progress, delegates from 189 countries agreed on a Platform for Action that called for the “full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life.”(2)

Though some significant changes have been achieved in the two decades following the conference, a comprehensive report compiled by No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project — an initiative of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation — indicates that this battle is far from over. As Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea Clinton leads this initiative to inspire and help advance the full participation of women and girls around the world.  Working tirelessly to make the million data points of the report accessible, interactive and easy to understand, Chelsea Clinton argues this report not only sheds light on the progress made for women and girls over the last 20 years, but also highlights some of our greatest shortcomings.

“The data and findings of the Full Participation Report help tell the story of gender equality today. There has been tremendous progress and woefully little in other areas. Certain barriers have fallen and other barriers remain entrenched. And yet new tools and opportunities create possibilities for progress and true equality that were literally unimaginable only a few years ago” stated Chelsea Clinton at a foundation event earlier this year. (1)

When reviewing the report, there is no denying that some extraordinary progress has been accomplished.  Today, the fundamental human rights of women and girls are now protected by law in many countries throughout the world. In fact, more than four out of five constitutions have some mechanism to guarantee gender equality.(2)

There also has been a significant improvement in health care. Not only has there been a drastic reduction in maternal mortality and the adolescent birth rate, but globally women and girls are living longer and healthier lives.(2) Many significant gender gaps in education have also closed. Girls and boys largely enroll in primary education at nearly equal rates now, and women even outnumber men attending post-secondary institutions.(2)

Sadly, in other areas the pace of change has been far too slow.  While more constitutions and laws have been implemented to protect women’s rights, they often go unenforced and many legal barriers remain. Equally as alarming are the lack of national constitutions that address the rights of women in marriage.(2) Some countries still legally restrict women’s freedom of movement and more than 150 countries lack protections vital to safeguarding women’s economic entitlements.(2) While legal prohibitions against domestic violence are more extensive than in 1995, 62 of the 100 countries studied had no specific laws or provisions criminalizing marital rape and sexual assault within marriage.(2)

Even where there has been progress, the benefits are not shared by all. There are many factors that effect a woman’s chance at equal rights and opportunities such as geography, income, age, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and cultural norms.(2) As always, the poor in society are the ones most at risk. In the developing world 800 women die every day needlessly from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, and the number of women and girls living with HIV has almost doubled since 1995.(2) Even in wealthy countries like the United States poor women are less likely to receive the medical care they need. From child marriage, human trafficking and violence against women, to gender-biased sex selection and the gendercide of baby girls in India and China, the statistics don’t lie — we are a long way from the equality of women.

In wealthy countries one of the most evident forms of disparity relate to economics and leadership. After all this time women very much remain a minority in political office and are hugely underrepresented in leadership roles and in senior management positions — only making up 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs.(2) To make matters worse, on average women in high-income economies still get paid 15 percent less than men — despite the fact that they earn the majority of college degrees.(2)

As the data clearly shows, there are a number of barriers standing in the way of equality. However, with commitment, political will and resources, progress is possible. The No Ceilings: Full Participation Plan provides us with a roadmap to accelerate progress for women and girls worldwide. So join forces with leaders, communities, companies and countries to help close gaps for equality!

The Full Report and Data, with compelling stories, videos, graphics and interactive data visualizations on the status of women and girls, can be accessed at Newest additions to the site include an interactive data visualization on women’s entrepreneurship, and stories on cultural attitudes on wife-beating and an epidemic of “missing girls” around the world.


“When women and girls have the opportunity to participate we can lift up not just ourselves but our families and communities, even our countries. So this isn’t just a story about women and girls. It is a universal story about the kind of world we want for our children and grandchildren.” Hillary Rodham Clinton, Former United States Secretary of State(1)


-1 in 4 girls in the world will be married by their 18th birthday

-1 in 3 women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence

-Fewer than 3 in 10 countries have prohibited gender discrimination in both hiring and pay.