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Jan 18, 2007
Little improvement in women's lives since 1994 Cairo conference

Calverton, MD. Limited progress has been made in improving the health and well-being of women worldwide over the past decade. The publication Women’s Lives and Experiences: Changes in the Past Ten Years takes a close look at how women’s lives have improved since the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. Overall, the pace of change has been slow, and in some places, women are actually facing more hardships than before.

Women’s Lives and Experiences: Changes in the Past Ten Years analyzes the results of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) for 54 countries, and presents findings in easy-to-read graphs and charts. The full-color book focuses on key areas of women lives, including: education, family planning, HIV/AIDS, marriage and sexual relationships, fertility, domestic violence, and nutrition. Photographs from around the world illustrate different aspects of women’s lives.

The only clear evidence of progress is in education and family planning knowledge and use. More young women are attending primary school now than ten years ago and most married women are aware of modern contraceptive methods. In other areas of women’s lives, however, the results are more mixed. Key findings are highlighted below.  

Education:
In 29 of the countries, over 80% of women ages 15 to 24 have some education. At least 7 out of 10 women ages 15 to 49 have attended school in the Central Asian and Latin American countries surveyed. In Africa, however, school attendance varies widely. In some Sub-Saharan countries like Mali and Niger, 80% of women have never been to school. In Gabon and Namibia, by contrast, 90% of women attended school. But in 39 countries, less than 25% of women of reproductive age had completed secondary school.

Family planning:  
Both contraceptive knowledge and use have increased. Notably, modern contraceptive use has increased in all but 6 of the 41 countries that had two surveys. Ideal family size has decreased in 29 of the 40 countries that had two surveys, and allowed for comparison. Still, some countries, like Chad, saw an increase in the desired family size.

HIV/AIDS:
While knowledge of HIV/AIDS is generally high, many women still do not know how to protect themselves from getting the virus. Over 60% of women in ten countries could not name any of the three major HIV prevention methods. In 20 of 33 countries, most women had never discussed HIV with their husbands or partners. Among 14 countries with HIV prevalence data, women’s prevalence was higher than men’s in 12 countries.

Marriage and sexual relationships:
The median age at first marriage ranges from 15 years in Bangladesh to 28 years in South Africa. In many countries, women are getting married later. But in some Latin American countries, such as Bolivia, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, early marriages have become more common rather than less common among youth.

Childbearing and fertility:
Women’s fertility ranges from less than two children per woman in Armenia and Vietnam to more than seven in Niger. Teenage pregnancy rates are declining in many countries. However, more than 40% of teenagers in Mali, Central African Republic, Mozambique, and Niger have already begun childbearing. Overall, high risk births are declining, but maternal mortality remains a significant problem. In 22 countries, more than 500 women die from pregnancy-related causes for every 100,000 live births.

Domestic Violence:
Twelve of the surveys asked women about their experience with violence. A substantial number, ranging from 21% in India to 58% in Bolivia, reported experiencing domestic violence during their lives, most often from husbands or partners.

Nutrition:
Over-nutrition or obesity is more of a problem than under-nutrition in nearly 75% of the countries. However, more than a third of women in Eritrea, India, and Bangladesh are undernourished. Among the women in 16 countries with anemia testing, at least 25% are anemic. Access to piped water, a staple of good health, continues to be out of reach for many women. In 32 countries, more than half of the women do not have piped water in their homes.