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Global Patterns in the Achievement of Women's Human Rights to Equality

Steven C. Poe, Dierdre Wendel-Blunt, and Karl Ho

The large attendance and extensive press coverage of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women serves as an illustration of the growing interest in the topic of women's human rights around the globe. Increased popular interest in women's human rights issues has been paralleled by the proliferation of scholarly books and journal articles on the topic. 1 Much of this literature addresses the topic of women's rights from the perspective of the international lawyer and deals with international laws and organizations that seek to forward the cause of women's rights. There is also some work conducted by social scientists who use traditional, nonquantitative research methods, but unfortunately there are only a few systematic empirical studies that have addressed questions related to women's human rights. The topic of women's human rights remains a topic in need of much more systematic empirical research.

The lack of much quantitative, social scientific research is somewhat puzzling because recent years have seen much work aimed toward achieving the goal of a theoretically driven and empirically supported [End Page 813] understanding of why other classes of human rights are realized. One vein of research has focused on explaining cross-national variations in the class of human rights relating to personal integrity, guaranteed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 2 and including the rights not to be imprisoned, tortured, or killed, either arbitrarily or for one's political views. 3 Several cross-national studies have focused on a class of rights pertaining to the provision of basic human needs, which have been addressed in international human rights treaties. 4 Still other research has focused on whether countries' foreign policies, in the form of foreign aid 5 and refugee policies, 6 are influenced by human rights concerns.

We began this study seeking to explain cross-national variations in the realization of women's human rights and searched for works relevant to our efforts. Though there is little research that directly addresses this topic, we were able to find some studies where the human rights terminology is not used but that did, nevertheless, cover issues clearly linked to women's human rights. There are, for example, empirical studies on narrower issues in the larger problem of women's equality, such as participation by women in the labor force, that are probably related to a society's propensity to respect a broader set of women's rights. 7 Other research focuses on the percentage of decision making positions that women hold. 8 Finally, there [End Page 814] are some studies that address issues broader than women's human rights (at least in most conceptions of that term), such as the quality of life of women and systems of male dominance. 9 Unfortunately, except for a very recent study by Clair Apodaca 10 focusing on the economic and social achievement of women, those who have explicitly sought to explain variations in the realization of women's human rights have elected to perform case studies. For the most part, they have explained the abuse or realization of women's rights largely in terms of specific cultural or national constructions. 11

Why is there so little research that addresses systematically the question of how and why women's human rights are violated? Perhaps a large part of the answer to this question is that, as yet, researchers have put forth little effort to identify indicators to measure this concept. Addressing the measurement issue is a necessary step before empirical, quantitative research of the type we wish to conduct can begin. Therefore, in this study we begin our work toward an empirical understanding of the determinants of women's human rights by defining and then measuring two theoretical dimensions of women's human rights, one economic and the other political. Having developed these two measures, their utility will be shown by conducting some analyses that will describe women's human rights conditions around the world. Our data is provided in an Appendix in the hope that they will be of use to the scholarly community interested in human rights issues. First, however, an elaboration on why the quest toward better measurement of women's human rights is a vital one that is worthy of attention. [End Page 815]

I. Why Measure Women's Human Rights?

The task of finding measures of women's human rights is one that should be of interest to both the academic and the activist concerned with women's equality issues. Scholars with a social scientific orientation depend on the development of reliable and valid measures to describe human rights conditions around the world and to test contending theories on why these rights are realized. Activists have good reasons to be interested in the quest for better measurement as well, for if women's rights can truly be influenced by international efforts, as suggested by An-Na'im and others, 12 then it stands to reason that interested governments, international organizations, and individuals should focus their resources partly on their assessments of where those rights are least realized. Such assessments necessitate comparison, which, of course, entails measurement. Further, in order to allocate their resources in ways that make sense, interested international actors would surely wish to consider where those resources are likely to have the greatest impact. Here the quest of theory-minded social scientists is potentially quite relevant to practitioners, for in their testing models designed to explain variations in the respect for women's rights, social scientists can isolate countries in which most of the preconditions associated with greater respect of such rights are already present but where actual respect for these rights lags. Such knowledge provides useful hints to activists who may wish to expend their limited resources where they are most likely to affect substantial, positive changes.

II. Definitions and Theoretical Considerations

Before identifying measures, it is necessary to carefully define the concept those measures are meant to depict. For a place to begin, one may look to the arguments of Jack Donnelly, Rhoda Howard, and others who have proposed that human rights are derived from a common morality subscribed to by the vast majority of humankind. 13 If this is the basis on which human rights are built, as these scholars maintain, then it is possible to look to international human rights instruments for guidance as to what rights are currently considered as belonging to all humans. When agreement is [End Page 816] present, as indicated by the existence of statements in international human rights instruments subscribed to by the vast majority of the world's countries, then it shall be assumed that an international standard has been established, and thus, a human right conceived.

Since the mid 1940s, an unprecedented number of human rights agreements have been reached, and they have recognized a wide range of human rights. Because of historic patterns of discrimination around the world these declarations, treaties, and conventions frequently have made specific mention of women, in particular, as possessing a wide range of human rights.

International efforts to guarantee women's rights began, for most intents and purposes, with the passage of the UN Charter in 1945. 14 In Article 55(c) of that Charter, it is stated that the "United Nations shall promote: . . . universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion." 15 Countries' acceptance of this document is nearly universal as this is a condition for gaining membership into the United Nations. Thus it is a document that provides a sound base, establishing the right of women to an equal footing with men.

This initial statement in support of women's rights was supplemented by a more in-depth treatment of the issue in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 16 The intent of this document, adopted without dissent by the General Assembly in 1948, was to declare that certain human rights existed and, therefore, to begin the process by which these rights would be recognized under international law. A foundation for women's right to political equality is laid in Article 2 of this document, which states that: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex . . . ." 17 Women's right to equality of economic opportunity is established in Article 23, section 1 of this same document, which states that "[e]veryone has the right to work, [and] to free choice of employment," 18 and in section 2 of Article 23, which states: "Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work." 19

Similar provisions regarding political nondiscrimination are included in [End Page 817] the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 20 which sought to complete the process of recognizing the rights listed in the UN Declaration as international laws. Article 25 of this document states: "Every citizen has the right and the opportunity . . . (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage . . . ." 21

The recognition of women's rights to economic opportunity 22 is reinforced by Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 23 Among the human rights this agreement enumerates are women's human rights to equal economic treatment, including equal pay for equal work, and "conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men." 24 From these agreements, and two more recent agreements, the Convention on the Political Rights of Women 25 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 26 one can conclude that political equality and equality of economic opportunity are among the rights to which women are entitled by virtue of their being human. This is true even though women have often not realized these rights because of their gender. In choosing to focus primarily on these dimensions of women's human rights, other recognized rights, such as reproductive rights, the right to education, and a broader set of economic rights are not being dismissed or overlooked. 27 Future research should examine the relationship between the level of fulfillment of these rights and the rights to [End Page 818] political and economic equality that are measured here. Having gathered data sufficient to measure these two dimensions, it is hoped that researchers will be able to begin addressing vexing questions such as, "Are reproductive rights a necessary precondition for economic and political equality or does the relationship flow in the opposite direction?," and "Do female literacy and economic well-being arise from political equality, or vice versa?"

III. Developing Two Human Rights Measures from Us State Department Reports

The primary goal of this paper is to develop measures to represent women's human rights to equality on a global basis, so that an accurate description of global patterns in the realization of these rights can be put forth, in addition to an explanation as to how and why these rights come to be respected in some countries and not in others. Though several possible measures suggested themselves (e.g., percentage of women in the workforce, percentage of leadership positions held by women), they covered only incomplete subsets of the world's countries. Thus their utility in providing a truly global description of women's human rights conditions was limited.

In order to generate measures of women's human rights on a global cross-national basis, examination of the content of the US State Department's reports on human rights was undertaken by two coders. 28 These reports have, in the past, been used by many to operationalize measures to tap the human right to personal integrity. An advantage of these reports is that they extended beyond a discussion of laws to a description of the actual conditions of women in society related to political and economic equality. Following previous efforts to measure personal integrity rights, what Stohl and Lopez have called a "standards-based measure" was created, where two coders read and analyzed the information presented in the 1994 reports (covering the year 1993) and then coded the countries as belonging to categories established by a set of predetermined criteria. Consistent with the theoretical discussion above, criteria were developed that allowed an estimation of the realization of women's rights to equality in politics and the economy, respectively. Two coders classified countries' achievement of women's political rights in five categories, as follows:

  1. There are legal barriers that prohibit women from participating on an equal footing with men. As a result of laws women either: a) are not allowed to vote; b) are not allowed to hold office; or c) are not [End Page 819] allowed, legally, to hold the highest governmental offices in the land.
  2. The political equality of women would seem to be guaranteed by law, but in practice, though some may vote, few compete or hold office.
  3. The political equality of women is guaranteed by law. Women are moderately well represented in the legislatures although not in proportion with their presence in the population. However, a woman rising to the highest levels of government (e.g., president, prime minister, cabinet) has either never happened, or is a rare event.
  4. The political equality of women is guaranteed by law. Women are moderately or well represented in the legislature though not in proportion with their presence in the population. Women do obtain some of the highest government offices with regularity, although again, not in proportion with their presence in the population.
  5. The political equality of women is guaranteed by law. Women are represented in the legislature and in high government offices roughly in proportion to their presence in the population.

With regard to women's economic rights, the following scale was used:

  1. Women are not given equal rights in the workplace under law. Equal pay for equal work is not guaranteed by law. Economic discrimination on the basis of sex is practiced, and it is accepted by most of the population.
  2. Laws apparently prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex; equal pay for equal work is apparently guaranteed by law. However, in reality economic discrimination on the basis of sex is practiced, and it is accepted by most of the population. No serious efforts are made by governmental entities to make equal pay for equal work a reality.
  3. Laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and guarantee equal pay for equal work. Though some economic discrimination on the basis of sex is clearly present, it is no longer accepted by most of the population. Serious efforts are being made by governmental entities to fight economic discrimination on the basis of sex, and to make equal pay for equal work a reality.
  4. Laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and guarantee equal pay for equal work. Economic discrimination on the basis of sex is no longer accepted by most of the population, and is, for the most part, no longer a serious societal problem.

[End Page 820]

After an initial trial it was determined that some further definitions and decision rules were necessary. First, regarding the political rights scale, in the trial coding it was discovered that oftentimes women's political equality issues were not discussed in countries where it was clear from other statements that neither men or women had political rights. These cases were coded in the first category. Although strictly speaking the rights of women might have been equal to those of men, the fact that women did not have the right to vote, run, or hold office in these countries led to the conclusion that these countries fit best into the first category. In distinguishing what constitutes "moderate representation" (category three), it was decided that if women held 5 percent of the legislative seats, a country would meet this threshold. In differentiating between countries in categories three and four, a key point was whether women obtain some of the highest government offices with regularity. Here the decision was to count countries where the only women in positions of power were "ministers of women's affairs" (or a variation on this theme) as countries where women in places of power are a "rare occurrence." The rationale is that if this is the only type of higher governmental position women are allowed to hold, it probably occurs for one of two reasons. Either having a woman in this position serves a symbolic function, or it is based on the premise that while it may be acceptable for women to affect policies directed at other women, the situation becomes altogether different when women can direct policy at the entire population.

Coders chose one score as best, but noted cases where there was some uncertainty. If the coders believed that equally good arguments could be made for two scores following another standards-based coding scheme, they gave the government the benefit of the doubt, under the "innocent until proven guilty" principle. 29

Each country was originally coded by two primary coders. After coding was completed, it was found that the two coders agreed on political rights scores 74 percent of the time, while they agreed 80 percent of the time on their codings of economic rights. In no case was the difference between the scores more than one. The Pearson's correlations between the two codings were .83 for the political equality scale, and .79 for the economic equality scale. 30 The values of the Gamma statistic, which is appropriate for [End Page 821] comparing agreement in rank orderings where many ties are present 31 as is the case here, were .98 for political equality coding, and .99 for economic equality coding. The gammas show that the two coders consistently ordered untied cases similarly.

Taken together, all of these statistics led to the conclusion that inter-coder reliability was respectable. However, because a considerable number of disagreements arose, a resolution coder was used to maximize the reliability and validity of the data. This followed the practice of Gibney and Dalton in a similar data gathering effort. The resolution coder examined cases where disagreements took place, looked for the systematic differences and causes, and finally, sought to resolve them in a consistent manner. In the end, after resolution coding was completed, 32 the Pearson's correlations between the two coders' values for the political equality scale, and the final version of that scale, were .88 and .95. The correlations between the coders' values and the final version of the economic equality scale were .88 and .91. The final codings for each of the two variables are presented in the Appendix.

In a recently completed separate study, we conducted analyses using sophisticated multiple indicator statistical procedures in order to carefully establish the reliability and construct validity of these variables (and others) as indicators of women's human rights. 33 The results of this recent study indicate that the two measures described here are both more reliable and more valid than five other contending measures of women's human rights: the percentage of executive offices held by women; the number of years since women achieved the vote; two ordinal measures of the political, and [End Page 822] economic and social rights of women gathered by Humana, 34 and the difference between male and female official economic activity rates. As suggested above, aside from their superior reliability and validity, an advantage of these State Department measures is that they cover a much more complete subset of the world's countries than any of the other measures just mentioned, encompassing 174 and 173 countries on the economic and political human rights scales respectively. Though some might prefer that an analysis be conducted using sophisticated techniques that allow the use of multiple indicators, this paper analyzes individually the two State Department measures because of the global scope of the data, and for other reasons. 35 While the use of multiple indicator techniques in more sophisticated tests of explanatory models is planned, given the descriptive purposes of the current endeavor, a focus on the State Department measures is quite justified.

IV. Describing Worldwide Patterns in the Realization of Women's Human Rights

A first question to be addressed is, to what degree are women's rights realized throughout the world? Tables One and Two present bar graphs which show that the nearly complete realization of these rights is a very rare occurrence indeed. Only the three countries of Finland, Norway, and Seychelles (which had the world's highest proportion of women in its legislature, at 45.8 percent) achieved the highest possible score of five on this scale. Taken together, these three countries represent only 1.7 percent of the cases for which we had data. Similar results were obtained with the economic equality scale. Only the two countries of Norway and Australia, which together represent 1.1 percent of the sample, achieved the perfect score of four on that scale. [End Page 823]

The modal category on the political rights scale is three, which contains seventy-three countries, or 42.2 percent of the cases for which data are available. Just over 43 percent of the world's countries were classified as belonging in category two or lower in terms of their realization of political equality. Thus, women in nearly half of the world's countries find themselves in political situations where they are either clearly unequal to men under the law, or, in spite of having achieved equality on paper, they are effectively unequal because of their inability to gain representation in government. Twelve countries, or 6.9 percent of the cases, were classified in category one, meaning that equal political rights were not guaranteed by law. Among these were several countries from the Middle East and North Africa (all with large Muslim populations) including Libya, Algeria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman. In these findings there is support for the conclusion that although the "culture and customs that subordinate [End Page 824] women are not inseparable from Islam," 36 in practice, dominant interpretations of the Qur'an inhibit or constrain women's ability to achieve political and economic equality.

On the economic rights scale, well over half of the countries (103 out of 174) were placed in category two, which represents cases where economic discrimination is widely practiced and accepted by the majority of the population, in spite of women's right to economic equality being guaranteed by law. In the almost 22 percent of the countries that were placed in category one, these rights were not recognized or respected either by the government or the society at large. Many of the same North African and Middle Eastern countries previously mentioned achieved the lowest possible scores on this scale as well. Also receiving category one scores were some Subsaharan African countries (e.g., Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Botswana), some Latin American nations (e.g., Chile and Bolivia), and Laos in Southeast Asia.

V. Realization of Women's Human Rights by Region: a Second Look

These results suggested that there are some regional patterns in the realization of women's rights. Therefore a more systematic examination of regional differences in realization of women's rights was undertaken, by separating the world into seven different regional groupings. Because North America consisted of only three countries, it was not included as a separate region. Instead, Canada and the United States were placed in a grouping with Europe and the United Kingdom because of the predominantly European heritage of those two countries, while Mexico was placed in a group with Latin America because it was more similar in heritage to countries of that region. The small island countries of the Caribbean were placed in a group separate from Latin America primarily because several of them were not Latin. North African countries were considered as belonging in the Middle East. Australia and New Zealand were grouped with several Pacific Island countries off the coast of Asia in a region labeled "Austrasia."

Table One presents the mean scores for the political rights scale according to these regional breakdowns. As would be expected from the findings above, some regional differences in the realization of women's rights are apparent. The mean political rights score for the entire sample is 2.66. Regions achieving scores substantially above this mean were Europe/ [End Page 825] North America, where these rights are closest to being fully realized with a mean score of 3.13, and the Caribbean region with a mean score of 3.0. The scores of Latin America (2.68) and Subsaharan African countries (2.59) were very close to this mean. Conversely, the Middle East and North African region achieved the lowest mean score of any of those considered, at 1.89. Asia and Austrasia were somewhat lower than the mean, with mean scores of 2.42 and 2.40, respectively.

With regard to the economic rights scale, the mean score is 1.98 for the sample of 174 countries for which data are available. This figure is somewhat lower than the mean for the political rights scale, probably because it ranges from 1 to 4 instead of from 1 to 5. The rights of women to economic equality are, on average, also least respected in nations of the Middle East and North Africa, which had a mean score of 1.5. On average women's economic rights are most realized in European and North American countries where the mean score was 2.46. Mean economic rights scores in those regions as well as in the Caribbean (2.00) and Austrasian (2.18) regions were above that for the whole sample.

Latin America was again near the global mean, with a regional mean score of 1.95. Subsaharan Africa and Asia received mean scores below the global mean. Taken as a package, these findings support the general conclusion that there are interesting and important regional variations in the degree of respect for women's human rights to political and economic equality. The most obvious finding is that a disproportionate number of Muslim societies are among those that achieved the lowest scores on both scales, and the mean scores for the Middle East and North Africa, predominantly Muslim areas, are below those for the rest of the world. Another finding is that Europe and North America, the most economically developed "region," came closest to realizing women's human rights.

The general similarity in the findings reached using the two scales suggests that the variables are highly correlated. In fact, the Pearson correlation between the economic and political rights scales is .61 for the 163 countries covered by both measures, a relationship that is statistically significant at the .0001 level (1-tailed test, t-score = 9.7). 37

VI. Economic Development and the Realization of Women's Human Rights

Much of the work on women's human rights has argued that cultural factors explain why these rights are abused or realized, and some of the descriptive [End Page 826] findings discussed thus far lend support to this conclusion. That said, it is hoped that undertaking a global, cross-national, empirical study will enable identification of general causal patterns that apply regardless of culture type, if such patterns exist. Though an indepth investigation of the general determinants of the realization of women's rights is beyond the scope of this paper, some simple analyses can be conducted that will indicate how promising such an approach might be. Specifically, the focus will be on the relationship between economic development and the realization of women's human rights, suggested by the regional analyses above.

There is a firm theoretical basis for believing that economic development influences the degree to which women's rights are realized. Modernization theory indicates that greater economic development may be associated with conditions that would tend to support the acquisition of rights by women. The mechanization of agriculture, for example, would have the effect of freeing women from rural settings where they tend to be under the domain of their husbands or fathers. Also associated with economic development is the progression and diffusion of communication technologies that encourage the dissemination of information. Women in more developed countries are more apt to be exposed to arguments for political equality and once they have been exposed, it would be easier for them to organize a movement to obtain those rights within their countries. 38 For these reasons the expected pattern is one whereby women in economically developed countries will tend to have realized more economic and political rights than women in less developed countries. To measure economic development, per capita GNP figures in US dollars gathered for a period circa 1992, the most recent figures available when this study was begun, are used. 39

This hypothesis is supported by the finding that economic development is correlated with the realization of both the economic and political rights scales. The Pearson correlation between the economic development and the political rights scale is .41, with a t-score of 5.40, statistically significant at the .0001 level. The correlation between economic rights and economic development is .42 (t-score = 5.64, probability <.0001). Thus, the relationship between economic development and both of these kinds of rights is [End Page 827] moderately strong, and it is highly unlikely that these results are due merely to chance.

To further illustrate the relationship between economic development and the two women's rights scales, a variable was created that classifies countries as being in one of three categories with regard to their levels of economic development. Countries with yearly per capita gross national products of less than $2500 (in US currency) were classified as being less developed countries, while countries where this statistic was greater than $10,000 were classified as being developed. Countries in which the per capita gross national product was between $2500 and $10,000 a year were put in a middle group labeled (rather optimistically) as "developing." Tables 3 and 4 present cross-tabulations of these ordinal development variables with the political and economic rights scales, respectively. Only 144 countries were included in each analysis because of the difficulty in finding per capita GNP data for a number of the smaller countries in the sample (e.g., Seychelles), but the relationship is very clear in both cross-tabulations. Greater economic development, as measured by per capita GNP, does not necessarily translate into greater realization of women's rights, as there are [End Page 828] some relatively well developed countries that fall into the lowest categories of both the economic and political rights scales. Yet, at the highest levels of economic development, there is a much greater probability that women's rights will be more fully realized. For example, about 59 percent of developed countries fall into the two highest categories of the political rights scale, while only 5 percent of the countries classified as lesser developed countries are in one of these categories. Statistics such as the Chi-square, the Pearson correlation, and the associated tests of statistical significance again show the existence of strong, statistically significant relationships between economic development and women's achievement of the rights to both political and economic equality.

One should be careful in drawing conclusions on the basis of bivariate statistical tests because other variables that may have important impacts on the two dependent variables have not yet been controlled. It certainly does appear, though, that there is a strong relationship between economic development and the realization of women's rights to political and economic equality, a finding that is consistent with those yielded by Clair Apodaca's conclusions regarding the effect of achievement of better [End Page 829] economic and social conditions by women. 40 These findings contradict, prima facie, the conclusions of literature on the conditions of women that argue that economic modernization has an adverse effect on the conditions of women. 41 The seemingly strong relationship discussed here appears to indicate the need to distinguish between the process of countries developing economically and the condition of economic development once it is achieved. Though the process of economic development may prove detrimental to women who are displaced from their traditional roles, once the modernization process slows, economic development as a condition mayallow women to realize equality to a greater extent than had been possible before the development occurred. It is the authors' intent to examine this relationship further while accounting for the effects of potentially confounding factors, with more sophisticated multivariate statistical analyses in future studies.

VII. Summary and Conclusions

While interest and scholarly research on women's human rights has proliferated, there is still a shortage of empirical, social scientific research on this topic. The purpose of this study was to generate measures sufficient to capture the concept of women's rights to political and economic equality on a global cross-national basis, thus encouraging future research on this underexplored topic. A set of standards was developed and countries were placed in categories according to an analysis of the content of the 1994 US State Department Reports. The end result was two ordinal measures: a four point ordinal scale measuring women's achievement of economic equality, and a five category ordinal scale measuring the degree to which political equality has been won by women. The two measures allow analyses of 174 and 173 countries for the economic and political rights scales, respectively.

Descriptive analyses of the two measures showed that very few of the world's countries approached anything nearing the full realization of women's right to equality. The results obtained with the two scales were very similar, as might be expected due to the moderately high correlation between the two measures. Many of the countries achieving the lowest possible scores with both measures were the predominantly Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Countries from this part of the world also achieved the lowest mean scores of any of the regions of the [End Page 830] world, a finding consistent with the idea that religious and cultural factors are an important part of the explanation of why women's rights are achieved in some countries and not in others. The countries from North America and Europe had the highest mean scores of any of the world's regions on both the political and economic human rights scales. This finding, and the very strong correlation between per capita gross national product and each of the two scales, suggest that the connection between economic development and respect for these rights is a very important one that is worthy of further research.

This study is a first step in a project that seeks empirically to investigate contending explanations of how and why the human rights of women come to be realized.

It is hoped that this study will lead others to investigate these, and related, issues. All the data used in this study are provided in the Appendix in the hope that they will be helpful to others who wish to do research in this area..

Steven C. Poe is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of North Texas, and formerly taught at William Penn College. His research on human rights-related topics has appeared in American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Peace Research, Social Science Quarterly, International Interactions, and Human Rights Quarterly.

Dierdre L. Wendel-Blunt is a graduate student who is currently ABD at the University of Iowa with a concentration in international relations. Her areas of interest include US foreign policy, terrorism, and human rights.

Karl Ho recently received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of North Texas. He is currently the Research and Statistical Consultant at the University of North Texas Computing Center. His areas of interest include electoral studies, British politics, human rights, and research methodology.


1. For a selected bibliography that includes much of the recent literature, seeRebecca J. Cook & Valerie L. Oosterveld, A Selected Bibliography of Women's Rights: An Electronic Edition (1995) <http://www.law.uc.edu:hr_books/0002i>.

2. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 10 Dec. 1948, G.A. Res. 217A (III), 3 U.N. GAOR (Resolutions, part 1) at 71, U.N. Doc. A/810 (1948), reprinted in 43 Am. J. Int'l L. Supp. 127 (1949) [hereinafter Universal Declaration].

3. See Neil J. Mitchell & James M. McCormick, Economic and Political Explanations of Human Rights Violations, 40 World Pol. 476 (1988); Conway W. Henderson, Conditions Affecting the Use of Political Repression, 35 J. Conflict Resol. 120 (1991); Steven C. Poe & C. Neal Tate, Repression of Personal Integrity in the 1980s: A Global Analysis, 88 Am. Pol. Sci. Rev.853 (1994).

4. See Bruce E. Moon & William J. Dixon, Basic Needs and Growth-Welfare Trade-offs, 36 Int'l Stud. Q. 191 (1992); Bruce E. Moon, The Political Economy of Basic Human Needs (1991).

5. For reviews of this literature, see Steven C. Poe, Human Rights and US Foreign Aid: A Review of Quantitative Studies and Suggestions for Future Research, 12 Hum. Rts. Q. 499 (1990); Steven C. Poe et al., Human Rights and US Foreign Aid Revisited: The Latin American Region, 16 Hum. Rts. Q. 539 (1994).

6. For a discussion of human rights and their effect on US refugee policy, see Mark Gibney & Michael Stohl, Human Rights and U.S. Refugee Policy, inOpen Borders? Closed Societies?: The Ethical and Political Issues 151 (Mark Gibney ed., 1988).

7. See Roger Clark, Contrasting Perspectives on Women's Access to Prestigious Occupations: A Cross-National Investigation, 72 Soc. Sci. Q. 20 (1991); Moshe Semyonov, The Social Context of Women's Labor Force Participation: A Comparative Analysis, 86 Am. J. Soc. 534 (1980); Moshe Semyonov & Yehouda Shenhav, Investment Dependence, Economic Development, and Female Employment Opportunities in Less Developed Countries, 69 Soc. Sci. Q. 961 (1988).

8. SeeUnited Nations Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs, Women in Politics and Decision-making in the Late Twentieth Century (1992).

9. See Amartya Kumar Sen, Gender and Cooperative Conflicts, World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (Helsinki, Finland: 1987); Alaka Malwade Basu, The Status of Women and the Quality of Life Among the Poor, 16 Cambridge J. Econ. 249 (1992); Laura Nader, The Subordination of Women in Comparative Perspective, 15 Urb. Anthropology 377 (1986).

10. Clair Apodaca, The Realization of Economic and Social Rights for Women, Paper presented at the Human Rights Mini Conference, Purdue University (19-20 Feb. 1995). In this ambitious study Ms. Apodaca presents a wide variety of measures related to the achievement of economic and social rights by women, and then combines them into a single index to generate a measure of the realization of these rights for four separate years during the 1975-1990 period. Ms. Apodaca's approach differs from the one used in this study in that she relied on cross-national aggregate data whereas this study utilizes a standards-based approach. An advantage of Ms. Apodaca's approach is that it allows her to cover more time points. The trade-off is that she is not able to be nearly as comprehensive in her coverage of the world's countries, which is obviously a disadvantage if one is attempting to describe global patterns (as is the case here).

11. See Nehad Salem, Women's Rights in the Arab Nation, 9 J. Arab Aff. 36 (1990); John Bendix, Women's Suffrage and Political Culture: A Modern Swiss Case, 12 Women & Pol. 27 (1992); Mary Ann Tetreault, Civil Society in Kuwait: Protected Spaces and Women's Rights, 47 Middle E.J. 275 (1993); Virginia Vargas, The Feminist Movement in Latin America: Between Hope and Disenchantment, 23 Dev. & Change 195 (1992).

12. See Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, State Responsibility Under International Human Rights Law to Change Religious and Customary Laws, inHuman Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives 167 (Rebecca J. Cook ed., 1994).

13. SeeJack Donnelly, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice (1989); Rhoda E. Howard, Human Rights and the Search for Community (1995).

14. U.N. Charter, signed 26 June 1945, 59 Stat. 1031, T.S. 993 (entered into force 24 Oct. 1945).

15. Id. art. 55.

16. Universal Declaration, supra note 2.

17. Id. art. 2.

18. Id. art. 23, § 1.

19. Id. art. 23, § 2.

20. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted 16 Dec. 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (entered into force 23 Mar. 1976), G.A. Res. 2200 (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966).

21. Id. art. 25.

22. When discussing human rights for the purposes of this paper economic rights mean only those rights that guarantee economic opportunity equal to that of men. A broader definition of the term economic human rights that some would adopt, which would assume that men and women are entitled to a certain standard of living, is not addressed. This is not meant to argue that such rights do not exist, only that the authors choose not to address them here. In future research the authors may address other dimensions, such as a broader range of economic and social rights, or the freedom of women from political violence.

23. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted 16 Dec. 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force 3 Jan. 1976), G.A. Res. 2200 (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966).

24. Id. art. 7.

25. Convention on the Political Rights of Women, opened for signature 31 Mar. 1953, 27 U.S.T. 1909, 193 U.N.T.S. 135 (entered into force 7 July 1954) (entered into force for U.S. 7 July 1976).

26. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted 18 Dec. 1979, G.A. Res. 34/180, 34 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 46) at 193, U.N. Doc. A/34/36 (1980), reprinted in 19 I.L.M. 33 (1980) (entered into force 3 Sept. 1981).

27. For potential measures of such economic and social rights, seeUnited Nations, The World's Women, 1970-1990: Trends and Statistics (1991).

28. U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994 (1994).

29. See Mark Gibney & Matthew Dalton, The Political Terror Scale, inHuman Rights and Developing Countries (David L. Cingranelli ed., 1996); Steven C. Poe & Rangsima Sirirangsi, Human Rights and U.S. Economic Aid During the Reagan Years, 75 Soc. Sci. Q. 494 (1994).

30. Pearson's correlations measure the strength of relationship between two items, with a correlation of 1.0 representing a perfect positive correlation and one of 0 representing the lack of any correlation whatsoever. So although these correlations are quite strong, they are still far from perfect.

31. See William L. Hays, Statistics 605 (1981).

32. With regard to the economic rights scale, it was found that the original coders tended to disagree on some cases where women's economic rights were apparently guaranteed by the constitutions, but statutes (e.g., inheritance laws, laws requiring husbands' permission to go into business, or to sign contracts) were in place. In most cases the resolution coder determined that these countries fit best into the "1" category, because such laws meant that in practice the economic equality of women was limited, and that the more abstract statements of support for equal rights in constitutions were effectively negated. However, in two cases, where women were forbidden from working nights or in dangerous occupations, but other economic rights were realized, the countries were classified in the "2" category. With regard to political equality rights, nearly half of the disagreements involved a systematic disagreement whereby one coder was apt to give the score of "4," while the other assigned a "3." Some discussion led us to the conclusion that the difficulty was that in many cases it was not particularly clear whether women were obtaining positions in the executive branch with regularity because the reports were vague, or because they only reported current numbers. Here the resolution coder carefully read each case and judged it on its merits. More often than not the resolution coder determined that the original coder who had assigned the "4" value had probably been too generous in giving countries the benefit of the doubt.

33. See Steven C. Poe et al., Measuring Realization of Women's Human Rights to Equality on a Global Cross-National Basis (1996) (on file with authors).

34. SeeCharles Humana, World Human Rights Guide (3d ed. 1992).

35. First, if all seven measures were to be used in a multiple indicator measurement model, missing data on the five other measures would decrease the number of countries analyzed to seventy-four, as opposed to the 174 and 173 countries covered by the State Department Economic and Political Rights scales, respectively. The use of multiple indicator models would also substantially increase the complexity of the analysis (and in all probability, as a result, decrease our readership). Finally, where it was possible to conduct similar analyses with more sophisticated techniques, the results were very similar to those presented here. The relationship between economic development and women's human rights was examined by using seven indicators to indicate a women's human rights factor. A structural model that included economic development was built, and tested using LISREL. The results led to the same conclusions as the much simpler bivariate analyses that will be presented herein.

36. Asma Mohamed Abdel Halim, Challenges to Women's International Human Rights in the Sudan, inHuman Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives,supra note 12, at 405-06.

37. This means that such a relationship would occur by chance less than one time out of every 10,000.

38. Indeed, the importance of communications media to the spread of women's rights is recognized in the Draft Platform for Action from the Beijing Conference. See "The Document," pt. II, ch. 4, Strategic Objective J, from the Fourth World Conference on Women: Draft Platform for Action (12 Sept. 1996) < http://www.igc.apc.org/beijing/un/un.html>.

39. For the primary source of these data seeWorld Development Report 1993 (1993); see alsoRuth Leger Sivard, World Military and Social Expenditures 1993(1993) (providing some additional data to make the coverage of this variable as complete as possible). These data were generally from 1991. Seeid. at 58.

40. Apodaca, supra note 10.

41. SeeEster Boserup, Woman's Role in Economic Development (1970); Ann Whitehead & Helen Bloom, Agriculture, inGender and Development (Lise Ostergaard ed., 1992).



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