Greater economic empowerment for women has been achieved through progressive legislation that has prohibited discriminatory practices, guaranteed equal pay, provided for maternity and paternity leave, and put in place protection against sexual harassment in the workplace. Governments have turned their back on the idea that violence against women is a private affair, with laws in every region now outlawing this scourge in its many manifestations. Legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sex with respect to inheritance and citizenship, laws that guarantee equality within the family and policies to ensure that women and girls can access services including health and education have also contributed to significant advances in women's standard of living.
world's working women, are in vulnerable employment, trapped in insecure jobs, often outside the purview of labour legislation.
In the developing world, more than one third of women are married before the age of 18, missing out on education and exposed to the risks of early pregnancy.
Despite major progress on legal frameworks at national, regional and international levels, millions of women report experiencing violence in their lifetimes, usually at the hands of an intimate partner. Meanwhile, the systematic targeting of women for brutal sexual violence is a hallmark of modern conflicts. Pervasive discrimination against women creates major hurdles to achieving rights and hinders progress on all of the Millennium Development Goals – the benchmarks that the international community has set to eradicate extreme poverty – from improving maternal health, to achieving universal education and halting the spread of HIV and AIDS.
This volume of Progress of the World's Women starts with a paradox: the past century has seen a transformation in women's legal rights, with countries in every region expanding the scope of women's legal entitlements. Nevertheless, for most of the world's women the laws that exist on paper do not always translate into equality and justice. In many contexts, in rich and poor countries alike, the infrastructure of justice – the police, the courts and the judiciary – is failing women, which manifests itself in poor services and hostile attitudes from the very people whose duty it is to fulfil women's rights. As a result, although equality between women and men is guaranteed in the constitutions of 139 countries and territories, inadequate laws and loopholes in legislative frameworks, poor enforcement and vast implementation gaps make these guarantees hollow promises, having little impact on the day-to-day lives of women.
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