20 Years Of Global Progress For Women And Girls, In Data and Maps

We’ve come so far, but not nearly far enough.

Mothers are always telling daughters about how much worse times were for women when they were young. That’s a good thing, because it means the cause of gender equality has generally marched forward. But there’s still a long way to go, according to a new report that looks at the last 20 years of progress. Hopefully today’s new mothers will be telling their daughters this story too.


The Full Participation data visualization and associated report, put together by the joined forces of the Gates Foundation and the No Ceilings initiative of the Clinton Foundation, is the result of analyzing 850,000 data points spanning two decades and more than 190 countries (the full data set is also available here). They released it on March 9, the week of International Women’s Day and 20 years since countries committed to ensuring “full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life” at a 1995 United Nations summit in Beijing.

The report highlights major gains made towards this goal since 1995. In education, for example, boys and girls enroll in primary school now at nearly equal rates worldwide, which the report frames as a major achievement. In health, the rate of maternal mortality has been halved and girls born today can expect to live four more years on average than those born in 1995. As for legal rights, nearly all of the 56 national constitutions adopted since 1995 guarantee gender equality (compared to only 79% of earlier constitutions).

The gains are naturally uneven around the world–as well as by race, income, sexual orientation, and a host of other factors. Even today, nine countries still legally restrict a woman’s freedom of movement, and one in four women around the world is still married before her 18th birthday (This figure is about one in two in India). In 2013, almost twice as many women were living with HIV than in 1995–and women at ages of 15 to 24 have infection rates twice as high as young men. Almost two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women, many of whom live in poverty.

There are also entire major areas where the report says “the pace of change has been far too slow,” such as security, economic opportunity, and leadership.

One in three women worldwide still has experienced physical or sexual violence, often at the hand of her partner. And women’s participation in the job market has “stagnated for two decades,” the report says, at 55% for women globally today compared to 82% for men. In almost every country, women earn less than men; even in higher-income countries the pay gap averages 15% (and as high as 38% in South Korea). While the number of women holding political office has doubled since 1995, women still occupy only 22% of seats in national legislatures. Fewer than 10% of peace negotiators are women.

These are just a few facts from a massive report, that is broken down with data visualizations and maps delineating different nations’ progress. Play around more with the report here, and explore more ways to take action here.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.