A Novel Initiative to Promote Global Women's Rights | Opinion

Jina Mahsa Amini's execution and the blatant abuse of countless other women by the morality police in Iran stress the United States' need to control omnipotent, patriarchal systems continuing to crush the well-being of women under their authoritarian boots. Only approximately one in eight women in the world can exercise their legal rights.

Quick analysis of global data reveals that only one in eight women live in countries where their legal and constitutional rights are reasonably enforced and protected. That means—shockingly—seven out of eight women live in our world without this protection. That's 3.5 billion women—oppressed, impoverished, unable to access justice, and constantly in fear of personal violence. That's not thriving; it's surviving.

The constitutions of most countries extend equality, freedom from discrimination, and equal protection under the law to all their citizens, extending these rights to women, even where they are not explicitly named. An alphabet soup of international treaties and conventions redundantly guarantee those same freedoms, beginning with the International Bill of Rights—a triad including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), and the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights (1966). One hundred ninety-three of 195 countries recognized by the United Nations have signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and most have signed some assortment of covenants and conventions from a menu that includes the other two, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

In short, we do not need more treaties and laws. We need countries, including the United States, to enforce the protections guaranteed in their own constitutions, their laws, and the international treaties they have signed.

The manifest failure of most countries to do this stems from a number of causes. First, law enforcement systems, charged with protecting the rights of all citizens—including women—are woefully under-resourced and horribly corrupt. Second, police and law enforcement officials often embrace the bigotry and patriarchal bias of the larger culture, effectively making the fox the guardian of the hen house. Finally, gender justice programs are unpopular, and elected officials risk being voted out of office if they pursue them.

With such abysmal enforcement of women's rights, it comes as no surprise that the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index, the Gender Inequality Index by the U.N. Development Programme, and the U.N.'s Gender Snapshot 2022 estimate that it will take 100 to 300 years to close the global gender gap. That's too long. Already, women have waited millennia!

What these granular studies do not reveal is the human cost—in lives lost—of the inequalities they measure. For this we need a separate measure—one captured by gendercide statistics. Demographers estimate (and the U.N. report) that presently 140 million women are "missing" from the world population due to social causes. Of course, the term "missing," used to describe excess female mortality (compared with males of the same age, living in the same country), is a demographer's euphemism. These women and girls are dead—140 million women is 3.6 percent of the world's female population—a staggering loss of human life!

That number—140 million "missing" women—underscores that institutionalized oppression, deeply embedded in religions and cultures, does not simply make women's lives difficult. It is lethal.

A woman takes a picture of rainbow
A woman takes a picture of a rainbow above the sea. TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images

Deadly consequences of inequality cry for measures such as IVAWA—the International Violence Against Women Act. The recently proposed U.S. congressional bill enjoys bipartisan and bicameral support and was introduced by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) in association with U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). It authorizes the U.S. State Department to use its soft power—foreign policy and development assistance—as a lever to advance the status of women and girls globally. It also calls for creation of an Office of Global Women's Issues in the State Department to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, particularly in emergency and conflict situations.

The number of "missing" women, whether expressed as an absolute number or as a percentage of the female population, provides an immediate and intuitive measure of women's well-being. Like the tip of the iceberg, it points to the injustices lurking below the surface—those enumerated in the indices.

The Gendercide Awareness Project calls on the United States government to lead the fight for women's equality, at home and abroad. Let's set 2050 as the target date for gendercide-zero with a newly installed Office of Global Women's Issues reporting progress toward or away from that goal. The number of "missing" women should be as familiar as last year's Super Bowl finalists, and "gendercide" should become a household word.

Beverly B. Hill is founder and president of the Gendercide Awareness Project, working on raising awareness about gendercide.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.