UN report reveals the countries where it is hardest to be a woman

Over the past two decades, the number of women in the paid workforce has fallen from 52 to 50 per cent

Over the past two decades, the number of women in the paid workforce has fallen from 52 to 50 per cent. Photo: Michele Mossop

The United Nations organisation dedicated to gender equality, UN Women, has released a damning report on the progress of women worldwide.

Its headline findings include that women earn three-quarters of men’s earnings and do almost two and a half times the domestic work.

But the report, more than 300 pages long, also contains sobering figures about what life is like for women in specific countries.

Over the past two decades, the number of women overall in the paid workforce has fallen from 52 to 50 per cent. But some countries have fared better than others.

In Australia, there is a clear gap between 58.8 per cent of women in paid work compared with 71.8 per cent of men.

Greece, which has waved the flag for economic woes in Europe, has 44.2 per cent of women in the workforce, while rising economic powerhouse India has just 27 per cent and Iran 16.6 per cent.

This is not necessarily bad news. As the UN report states, declining female participation rates in India are due to both a general lack of opportunities for women as well as younger women staying in education.


The UN has looked at the poorest 20 per cent of households and, within those, the level of education women have attained. (This doesn’t involve statistics on developed countries such as Australia, New Zealand or the United States.)

The report notes that women with little or no education are forced to accept whatever low-paid, low-skilled work is available.

Yemen and Pakistan are standout non-performers, with 93 per cent of women in their poorest households having had no formal education. Despite improvements in education in India, 85 per cent of the women in this group are uneducated, with similar levels recorded in Sierra Leone and Nepal.


“Across all economies and cultures, women and girls carry out the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work,”  the report states.

Globally, it finds that there is a large gap between the time women spend cooking, cleaning and caring and the time men put in. Women also tend to pick up the slack where health and childcare services are not widely available. And where water and energy are not easy to access.

As the graph shows, women in Guatemala do almost seven hours of unpaid work a day, compared with 82 minutes for men.

Turkish women do more than six hours, compared with116 minutes for men.

Australian women are not that far behind at five hours. But here there is more effort made by men, who do almost three hours.


A very important measure for women’s well-being and safety is the healthcare to which they have access, particularly when they are having a baby.

The UN has examined the number of nurses and midwives there are per 1000 people across the world, and finds that some women have to make do with very little professional support when they may need it most.

Australia is well supplied with 10.6 nurses and midwives per 1000 people.

This is significantly more than Pacific neighbour Fiji (2.2) and ​Asian neighbour Vietnam (1.1), and considerably more than Italy and Liberia, with just 0.3 each.


Henry Sapiecha

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