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Twenty Graphs to Celebrate Women's Progress Globally

Blog Post | Gender Equality

Twenty Graphs to Celebrate Women's Progress Globally

There are now actually more women than men pursuing tertiary education

In honour of a woman’s placement on the U.S. twenty dollar bill, here are exactly twenty graphs exploring the remarkable progress that women have made over the last few decades.

1. Around the word, more girls complete primary and secondary school.

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2. Related to that fact, more girls are literate, and the gender literacy gap is closing.

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3. There are now actually more women than men pursuing tertiary education.

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4. Women are less likely to die in childbirth. Consider the maternal mortality rate in Africa, progressing steadily.

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5. Contributing to that trend, more pregnant women in Africa receive prenatal care and more births are attended by skilled health staff.

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6. Not only are mothers safer, but so are their children. Girls are less likely to die before their fifth birthday, contributing to rising average life expectancy among women.

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7. The end of communist experiments, like the Great Leap Forward, has contributed to the trend of women living longer.

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8. Thanks to a growing food supply, fewer girls under five suffer from hunger and are underweight.

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9. Women’s suicide rates are falling in many wealthy countries. Consider the United Kingdom, for example.

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10. Far fewer women die from cancer in rich countries, including breast cancer. Consider the United States.

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11. In the United States, domestic violence against women plagues fewer households than in the 1990s.

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12. The most heinous kind of domestic violence, the murder of an intimate partner, has also become rarer for both female and male victims.

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13. U.S. police recorded fourteen thousand fewer rapes in 2013 than in 2003, despite population growth.

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14. In fact, both rapes and sexual assaults against women have become rarer in the United States.

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15. Some sexist attitudes about violence towards women are also on the decline.

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16. Women have a greater presence in the world’s parliaments and in ministerial level positions.

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17. There are more women inventors than before, although they’re still a minority.

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18. There are also far more female professors in the world’s universities.

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19. The ratio of women to men in the labour force is approaching parity.

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20. The gender wage gap, largely the result of divergent career preferences between the genders rather than sexist employers, is narrowing in rich countries.

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This piece first appeared in CapX.

Blog Post | Gender Equality

Centers of Progress, Pt. 24: Wellington (Suffrage)

Introducing the city that first granted a country's women the right to vote.

Today marks the twenty-fourth installment in a series of articles by HumanProgress.org called Centers of Progress. Where does progress happen? The story of civilization is in many ways the story of the city. It is the city that has helped to create and define the modern world. This bi-weekly column will give a short overview of urban centers that were the sites of pivotal advances in culture, economics, politics, technology, etc.

Our twenty-fourth Center of Progress is Wellington during the late 19th century, when the city made New Zealand the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote. At the time, that was considered a radical move. The reformers who successfully petitioned New Zealand’s parliament then traveled the world, organizing suffrage movements in other countries. Today, thanks to the trend begun in Wellington, women can vote in every democracy, except for the Vatican, where only cardinals vote in the Papal conclave.

Today, Wellington is best known as the capital city of New Zealand and the southernmost capital in the world. The windy bayside city has a population of just over 200,000 people and a reputation for trendy shops and cafes, seafood, quirky bars, and craft breweries. It has quaint red cable cars and its historic Old Government Building, constructed in 1876, remains one of the world’s largest wooden structures. Wellington is also home to Mount Victoria, the Te Papa Museum, and a wharf with frequent pop-up markets and art fairs. Young and entrepreneurial, Wellington has been ranked as one of the easiest places in the world to start a new business. It is also a creative arts and technology center, famed for the nearby Weta Studios’ work on the Lord of the Rings movie franchise.

According to legend, the site where Wellington now stands was first discovered by the legendary Māori chief Kupe in the late 10th century. Over the following centuries, different Māori tribes settled in the area. The Māori called the area Te Whanganui-a-Tara, meaning “the great harbor of Tara,” named after the man said to have first scouted the area on behalf of his father, Whātonga the Explorer. An alternative name was Te Upoko-o-te-Ika-a-Māui, meaning “the head of the fish of Māui,” referencing the mythical demi-god Māui who caught a giant fish that transformed into the islands of New Zealand.

Noting the site’s perfect location for trade, an English colonel purchased local land in 1839 from the Māori for British settlers. A business district soon blossomed around the harbor, transforming it into a busy port. The following year, representatives of the United Kingdom and various Māori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which brought New Zealand into the British Empire and made the Māori British subjects. Wellington was the first major European settlement in New Zealand, named after Arthur Wellesley, first duke of Wellington—one of many tributes to the famed Prime Minister and military leader who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Interestingly, New Zealand has no widely agreed-upon “Independence Day.” Rather, the country’s sovereignty seems to have come about gradually, with key events in 1857, 1907, 1947, and 1987. It was not until that last year that New Zealand “unilaterally revoked all residual United Kingdom legislative power” over the nation.

The colonial nation’s demographics changed rapidly. By 1886, the majority of non-Māori residents were New Zealand-born rather than British-born immigrants, although the latter continued to stream into the country. While many people thought of themselves as British, the term New Zealander was becoming more common. By 1896, New Zealand was home to over 700,000 British immigrants and their descendants, as well as close to 40,000 Māori people.

Throughout most of history, women were largely excluded from politics, though it is important to remember most men were excluded as well. Political power tended to be concentrated among a small group, such as a royal family, while the majority of people, both male and female, lacked any meaningful say in political decisions. However, while history has certainly had its share of politically powerful women, from the Byzantine Empress Theodora to the Chinese Empress Wu Zetian, the majority of rulers in all major civilizations have been male.

In other words, in a world with highly exclusionary political institutions that left almost everyone out, women were even more likely to be left out than men. Likewise, when a wave of democratization expanded the pool of political participation to an unprecedented share of the population in the 19th century, the voting rolls still excluded women.

Young New Zealand was no exception, and women were initially denied the right to vote. A popular belief was that women were suited only to the domestic sphere, leaving “public life” to the men. But by the late 19th century, as more women entered professional fields previously staffed solely by men, women began to be seen as more capable of participating in the public sphere.

These changes helped to galvanize the suffrage movement in New Zealand. Suffragettes such as Kate Sheppard gathered signatures to provide evidence of growing public support for female suffrage. In 1891, 1892, and 1893 the suffragettes compiled a series of massive petitions calling on parliament to enact female suffrage. The 1893 petition for female suffrage gained some 24,000 signatures, and the sheets of paper, when glued together, formed a 270-meter roll, which was then submitted to the parliament in Wellington.

The suffrage movement was aided by widespread support from New Zealand’s men. As a “colonial frontier” country, New Zealand had far more men than women. That happened, because single men were generally more likely to immigrate abroad. Desperate for companionship, the country’s men sought to attract more women to New Zealand and often romanticized the latter. Many New Zealanders believed that an influx of women would exert a stabilizing effect on society, lowering crime rates, decreasing rates of alcohol use, and improving morality.

Indeed, research suggests that highly unequal sex ratios can cause problems: societies with far fewer women than men see higher rates of male depression, aggression, and violent crime. It is most likely that those negative effects stem from tensions that arise when a large number of men in a society feel that they have little hope of ever finding a wife.

However, the popular view in 19th-century New Zealand was that women were in some ways morally superior to men, or more likely to act for the good of society. Building on that belief, suffrage-supporters cast women as “moral citizens” and argued that a society where women could vote would become more virtuous. In particular, the women’s suffrage movement was closely connected to the alcohol prohibition movement. Men who supported alcohol prohibition on moral grounds were thus highly likely to support giving women the right to vote.

New Zealand was not an outlier—the other places that granted women the right to vote early on were also typically “frontier” societies. Like New Zealand, those places had a large male surplus and were motivated by a belief that female voters were morality-minded and would rally against social ills. The most prominent of those perceived ills were alcohol and, in the western United States, polygamy—as practiced by some adherents of the young Latter-Day Saints movement. It was also believed that women would oppose unnecessary wars and promote a more dovish foreign policy. Among the earliest adopters of female suffrage in the United States were the frontier western mountain states Wyoming (1869), Utah (1870), Colorado (1893), and Idaho (1895). The frontier territories of South Australia (1894) and Western Australia (1899) followed the same pattern.

But New Zealand led the way as the first country to give women the right to vote. Moved by the suffragettes’ tireless efforts and their numerous male allies, the government embarked on a radical experiment. In Wellington, the governing Lord Glasgow signed a new Electoral Act into law on September 19th, 1893. The Act gave women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

Ever since then, women have taken an active role in governing the country from the capital of Wellington. New Zealand has not only had three different female prime ministers, but women have held each of New Zealand’s key constitutional positions in government. At times, New Zealand has had a female prime minister, governor general, speaker of the House of Representatives, attorney general, and chief justice. The country remains proud of the pioneering step toward legal gender equality enacted in Wellington, even featuring suffragette Sheppard on the $10 banknote.

After her legislative victory, Sheppard and her allies toured several other countries and helped to organize suffrage movements abroad.

While women voting and running for office may seem commonplace now, at the time, it was revolutionary. For perspective, the United Kingdom did not grant women fully equal voting rights until 1928. Spain only granted women universal suffrage in 1931. France did so in 1945. Switzerland waited until 1971. Liechtenstein held out until 1984. And Saudi Arabia refused to budge until 2015. Today, women can vote almost everywhere.

As New Zealand’s seat of government, Wellington was at the center of the first successful campaign to grant a country’s women the right to vote. For playing host to a groundbreaking legislative victory for women’s suffrage, Wellington is rightly our 24th Center of Progress.

Blog Post | Women's Empowerment

Heroes of Progress, Pt. 27: Kate Sheppard

Introducing the world's first successful suffragette, Kate Sheppard.

Today marks the 27th installment in a series of articles by HumanProgress.org titled, Heroes of Progress. This bi-weekly column provides a short introduction to heroes who have made an extraordinary contribution to the well-being of humanity. You can find the 26th part of this series here.

This week our hero is Kate Sheppard, the world’s first successful suffragette. Sheppard’s tireless work and petitioning of New Zealand’s parliament in the latter half of the 19th century is largely credited for the nation becoming the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote in 1893. After New Zealand embraced universal suffrage, Sheppard inspired successful suffrage movements in other parts of the world. Today, women have a vote almost everywhere.

Kate Sheppard, née Catherine Wilson Malcom, was born on March 10, 1847 in Liverpool, England. After her father died in 1862, Sheppard moved to live with her uncle, a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, in Nairn. Sheppard’s uncle taught her the values of Christian socialism that would stay with her the rest of her life. Although the precise details of Sheppard’s education aren’t known, she possessed an extensive knowledge of both science and law.

In the late 1860s, Sheppard, accompanied by her mother and sister, moved to Christchurch, New Zealand. Sheppard quickly became part of Christchurch’s intellectual scene and befriended Alfred Saunders, a politician and prominent temperance activist who helped to influence her ideas on women’s suffrage. Sheppard married Walter Allen Sheppard, a shop owner, in 1871.

Sheppard was an active member of various religious organisations. She taught at a Sunday school and was elected secretary of the Trinity Ladies’ Association, an organization established to visit members of the parish who did not regularly attend church service, in 1884. In 1885, Sheppard became involved in establishing a Christchurch branch of the international Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

Sheppard’s interest in political activism started largely due to her interest in temperance. In the late 1880s, she began drafting and promoting petitions to New Zealand’s parliament that would prevent women from being employed as barmaids. After parliament rejected Sheppard’s barmaid petition, she came to believe that politicians would continue to reject petitions put forward by women, so long as women did not have the right to vote.

In 1887, Sheppard was appointed National Superintendent for the Franchise and Legislation for New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). By 1888, she was the President of the Christchurch branch of the WCTU. Sheppard quickly became a prominent figure of the women’s suffrage movement, and she proved herself as a powerful speaker and organizer by hosting political events across New Zealand.

In both 1887 and 1890, there were failed attempts by politicians sympathetic to Sheppard’s cause to introduce legislation that would grant women the right to vote. In 1888, Sheppard wrote a pamphlet titled Ten Reasons Why the Women of New Zealand Should Vote, which was sent to every member of the House of Representatives. She also wrote pamphlets that were sent to suffrage movements across the world.

In 1891, Sheppard started making parliamentary petitions to persuade politicians to support vote for women. In the same year, Sheppard created a petition that contained 10,085 signatures. Sir John Hall, a member of the House of Representatives and a supporter of Sheppard, presented the petition to parliament alongside a proposed amendment to the existing Electoral Bill that would allow women the right to vote. This amendment passed in the House of Representatives, but was rejected in the Upper House.

In 1892, Sheppard created another petition with 20,274 signatures, but the female suffrage amendment once more failed in the Upper House. Eventually, with a petition of 31,872 signatures, which was then the largest petition that the New Zealand parliament had ever received, The Electoral Bill of 1893 passed. The enfranchisement of women was signed into law by Governor David Boyle on 19 September 1893.

Sheppard was widely credited for the 1893 Electoral Bill. Seeing the success of the suffrage movement in New Zealand, women’s suffrage groups around the world were inspired to follow in her footsteps. Sheppard sent her writings to suffragettes all over the world. As editor of the WCTU’s monthly journal The White Ribbon, she promoted suffrage groups abroad.  Sheppard was in enormous demand on the speaking circuit. Before moving to England in 1903 to assist in the suffrage movement there, she made speeches in Canada and the United States.

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Due to her failing health, Sheppard moved back to New Zealand in 1904, but embarked on a tour of India and Europe a few years later. In 1916, she was the first person to sign a petition urging Sir Joseph Ward, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, to support enfranchisement of women in Britain. Suffrage movements throughout the world copied Sheppard’s tactics with enormous success. Australia granted women the right to vote in 1902, Finland in 1906, Norway in 1913, Denmark in 1915, and Austria, Britain, Germany, Poland and Russia in 1918. The United States followed in 1920.

The trend continued long after Sheppard’s lifetime. Switzerland granted women the vote in 1971, with one canton holding out until 1991. Saudi Arabia first allowed women to vote in 2015.

Sheppard died in Christchurch on 13 July 1934. She was 86 years old. Today her profile is featured on the New Zealand ten-dollar note and she continues to be considered the world’s first successful suffragette. Without her tireless work, it is likely that billions of women around the world would have to wait longer to achieve the political rights  that they enjoy today. For these reasons, Kate Sheppard is our 27th Hero of Progress.

Blog Post | Gender Equality

How Economic Freedom Has Benefited Women

Women's empowerment in many developing countries is in its early phases.

A economically free woman working

Economic freedom and resulting competitive markets empower women in at least two interrelated ways.

First, market-led innovation has improved the lives of women even more so than for men. For example, women have reaped greater benefits from health advances financed by the prosperity created by free enterprise: female life expectancy has risen faster than men’s and today women outlive men almost everywhere. Women are also less likely to die in childbirth.

Labor-saving household devices have also freed women from the burden of housework. Thanks to time-saving kitchen appliances, in the United States cooking has gone from consuming the same hours as a full-time job, to taking up only around an hour a day. And thanks to laundry machines, in rich countries washing has gone from taking up a full day each week to less than two hours a week on average. This freeing of women’s time is ongoing as appliances spread throughout the world. Market competition and the profit motive incentivized the invention of labor-saving household devices and continue to motivate their ongoing marketing to new customers in developing countries. Countries that liberalize their economies often see rapid economic progress, including more households able to afford modern conveniences. China’s economy has grown dramatically since it adopted policies of greater economic freedom in 1978. In 1981, less than 10 percent of urban Chinese households had a washing machine. By 2011, over 97 percent did. As women spend less time on household chores, more choose to engage in paid labor.

Second, labor market participation offers women economic independence and heightened societal bargaining power. Factory work, despite its poor reputation, empowered women in the 19th century United States by helping them achieve economic independence and social change. It also softened attitudes about women engaging in paid labor. Today, the same process is repeating in the developing countries.

Consider China and Bangladesh. In China, factory work gave rural women a chance to escape the dire poverty and restrictive gender roles of their home villages and has dramatically slashed the suicide rate among young rural-born Chinese women, once among the highest in the world. Social mobility is high and most economic migrants never return permanently to the countryside: they settle in their adopted cities or eventually move to towns near their home villages and set up stores, restaurants or small businesses like hairdressing salons or tailoring shops. Many become white-collar workers. Very few go back to farming. Similarly, in Bangladesh factory work let women renegotiate restrictive cultural norms. The country’s women-dominated garment industry transformed the norm of purdah, or seclusion, that traditionally prevented women from working beyond the home, walking outside unaccompanied by a male guardian, or even speaking in the presence of unrelated men. Today, in Dhaka and other industrial cities, women walk outside and interact with unrelated men. Research by social economist Naila Kabeer of the London School of Economics found that “the decision to take up factory work was largely initiated by the women themselves, often in the face of considerable resistance from other family members.” Tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse garner a lot of press, but the garment industry’s wider-reaching effects on the material wellbeing and social equality of women in Bangladesh receive less attention. The same applies to other industrializing countries.

By freeing women’s time from household drudgery and offering women the economic bargaining power that comes with new employment opportunities, markets heighten women’s material standard of living and foster cultural change. Women’s empowerment in many developing countries is in its early phases, but the right policies can set women everywhere on a path toward the same prosperity and freedom enjoyed by women in today’s wealthy countries.

This first appeared in Apple News and in Quora.