I hadn't heard of the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) until this report came my way. It came out in 1979, and since then, all but five countries in the world have signed on to it.

I live in the United States, which is one of those that hasn't gotten with the program just yet. The others — for those keeping score at home — are Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia.


This report surprised me, and I thought I knew about gender equality in the world. Check out these maps, and then go on over to their site to explore some more.

For one thing, more countries are at least saying the right thing when it comes to equality.

See all that green? Those are places where the constitution makes some provision for gender equality.



But then it gets dicier.

Here's the constitutional guarantee of primary education for girls. (The green is where it's free.)

But when you look at secondary education, suddenly, there's a lot more red.

Now, you might be seeing this and thinking, "Wait just a minute! I know that girls go to high school in Canada for free!" These maps show what is reflected in the countries' constitutions, not what is necessarily practiced on the ground. Those red areas simply do not mention educating young ladies in their constitutions, but many of them do provide secondary education for girls and boys.

Of course, this is all assuming that the girls aren't busy running their own households and having babies. School takes a good amount of free time.

In many countries, the minimum age when girls can get married is younger than it is for boys. This results in fewer girls completing a secondary education, a higher maternal mortality, and a greater risk of domestic abuse.

And how young, exactly, are we talking about here? Although nearly all countries have 18 years as the minimum age for people to marry, those laws are superseded by parental permission and religious or customary law.

When you take all of the possible exceptions into account, many countries effectively have no minimum age for marriage for girls.

File this under crazy things I learned today: In the United States, certain states have no minimum age for marriage with judicial and parental consent. And I know you're about to make a redneck joke here, but note that Alabama is not one of them. Delaware is though. There are also several U.S. states (ahem, Massachusetts) where the age of marital consent for girls is younger than it is for boys.

There's one area in which women get more benefits than men do: parental leave.

Most countries guarantee some amount of paid leave for mothers after the birth of a baby. Look how blessedly little red is on that map. And sorry, mamas in Papua New Guinea and Suriname. I'm right with you.

But for dads? Not so much. If you're a dad in Azerbaijan, have fun with your little bundle of joy. But if you're across the border in Iran or Georgia? No leave for you!

Just a note here, because it's confusing to look at, but dark green in the "paid leave for moms" map is "52 weeks or more." However, in the "paid leave for dads" map, it's "14 weeks or more," or equivalent to the light green, blue, and dark green on the moms map.

The truth is, as a planet, we're making real progress on treating humans equally, but ... reports like this one help us see where we are, how far we've come, and how far we still have to go.

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