Identity Tag

What does it mean to be a woman...

It is the twenty-first century,  but more than 170 countries still have legal barriers that deny women the same rights and protections as men. Women make up more than half of the world's population, but they account for only 1 in 5 parliament members. And more than 60 countries allow girls to be legally married at a younger age than boys ("Roadmap"). It's been almost 20 years since world leaders agreed to take action and help women achieve gender equality, but has anything changed?

What Did it Mean to be a Woman 20 Years Ago?

In 1995, countries from around the world met for the Fourth World Conference on Women. Held in China, the conference's themes and goals were the "advancement and empowerment of women in relation to women’s human rights, women and poverty, women and decision-making, the girl-child, violence against women and other areas of concern" ("The Beijing Women's Conference"). At the time, women were repressed politically and economically. With limited access to education around the world and restrictions on their reproductive rights, the conference was necessary. Women were seen as solely caretakers and were not equal members in government or society in general. Two thirds of the people who were not taught to read or write were women. Women were in the workforce and leaders but were also dying of diseases that could have been treated if they had access to better healthcare. Some were forced into prostitution and a lot were denied education. Women were paid less, and some experienced violence in their country as well as their own homes and were not protected or respected. The violation of women's rights was accepted and nothing happened. Women were burned for low marriage dowry's, they were sold into slavery and prostitution, they were raped in their own communities, they were beaten in their own homes, and women were denied the right to plan their own families worldwide ("First Lady").

I talked to my mom, a woman who was living in Wisconsin in 1995. She said she felt equal and respected but felt lucky to be born in the United States because all of the awful things happening to women worldwide. She had a cousin who lived in Saudi Arabia at the time, and was surprised that she had to be fully covered at all times when out in public. She remembers learning about the genital mutilation of women in Africa and thinking it was absolutely horrible that girls were treated that way. She also remembers living in Manhattan a few years before and being whistled at by men and that being acceptable even though it was disrespecting to women. A concept then was the glass ceiling that she was told women could not rise above. It was a limit and top that a woman could not go past in a company. Women could only get so far in the workplace and were then stopped and left to watch the men rise above them. She remembers thinking that some women were pushing against that glass ceiling and hoping that one day it would shatter ("Magee,Leigh").

What Does it Mean to be a Woman Today?

Twenty years after the Women's Conference, women are still facing some of the same problems and the glass ceiling has not been shattered. More than 170 countries still have written laws and policies that deny women and girls the same rights as men. Fewer than 20 countries have female heads of state or government. Half of all women are in paid employment but there are still wage gaps ("Roadmap"). Although women have made so much progress in terms of employment and government, there is still such a long way to go. The number of women that own small to medium sized businesses is about 8 to 10 million and although that number is much smaller than men owning similar companies, it is slowly growing.

There are more women in formal paid work today than at any point in history ("Women are Better Off Today"). But women are still widely under-represented. In both local and country-wide governments, few women are in charge. Women are on most boards of directors of large companies but are greatly outnumbered by men. Of the 500 biggest companies in the US, only 23 have a female chief executive officer, that's only 4.6% ("Women are Better off Today"). There are endless statistics demonstrating the inequality. Genital mutilations continue as well as physical and sexual abuse. Women make up the majority of refugees and victims of human trafficking ("11 Facts about Women"). Although we have made progress throughout the years, there are still things that need to be fixed. Women's rights need to be treated the same as human rights.


The history of women around the world is a long and difficult story. Progress has been made but there is still so far to go. The way people think about the differences between men and women is one of the things that needs to be changed. I encourage you to think about the question of whether you are treated any differently based on your gender. Are your opportunities the same as your classmate's of the opposite sex? Are your parents given equal opportunities and do they take advantage of them? Sometimes a woman doesn't go for something because she has been told that she can't all her life because of her gender, and that needs  to be changed. Be aware of what is happening around the world, and try to be part of the change. Women deserve to be treated equally. How can you help them?


Zavis, Alexandra. "Roadmap to Equality: Are Women Better off than 20 Years Ago?" Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 9 Mar. 2015. Web. 25 May 2015.

This article asked whether or not women are better off than they were twenty years ago. It presented the goals of the U.N. Conference on Women and current statistics regarding women's rights. It pointed out the slow and uneven development of gender equality. This article was unique in that it compared women's rights before and after the conference.  The source was helpful to my project as it pointed out what was supposed to change in twenty years and what hadn't changed. The article clearly stated facts and statistics from UCLA studies on what countries have done about the conference's plans. The source made me realize that we have made progress but there is still a long way to go.

"The Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace Beijing, 4-15 September 1995." Fourth World Conference on Women. Proc. of The Beijing Women’s Conference, China. UN News Center. UN, 23 May 1997. Web. 26 May 2015.

This website was all of the information from the Beijing Women's Conference. It addressed all of the technical details about the conference as well as the goals and what happened. It was released by the United Nations Department of Public Information two years after the conference. The source focused on the facts of the conference and helped me understand the theme and the goal of the meeting, it was very helpful in knowing what was supposed to happen in the twenty years between 1995 and 2015. Unlike other sources, it was just facts about the conference. It helped me assess information without other opinions.

Magee, Leigh. "A Woman in 1995." Personal interview. 25 May 2015.

This interview helped me get a first person perspective on what life was like for a woman in 1995. Leigh Magee, my mother, described what it was like to be a woman twenty years ago. The interview was unique because I got to ask everything I needed to know and her answers gave me very useful information. It was helpful to my project to hear her personal answer to my question.

"First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's Remarks to the Fourth Women's Conference in Beijing, China." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 25 May 2015.

This video was of First Lady Hillary Clinton speaking at the Women's Conference. She spoke about the struggle women were facing and what needed to be changed. She repeatedly said "it is a violation of human rights that..." and listed numerous violations of women's rights. Her words were powerful to me. The speech stood out to me and it underlined the real problems women were facing twenty years ago. Her facts and statements contributed immensely to my project. I came away from watching the video not only thinking, but knowing that women's rights should be the same as human rights.

Van Der Gaag, Nikki. "Women Are Better off Today, but Still Far from Being Equal with Men." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 May 2015.

This article talked about the change of women's rights over time and what still needs to be done. It presented a lot of facts and statistics about women in the workplace and government. It showed the progress we have made but all the inequalities that still are present. This source was very helpful to compare rights throughout history but mainly focus on what it is like to be a woman today. The article used reliable sources and firsthand accounts and studies to prove its' point, making it a reliable and useful source. The article helped me answer the question "what does it mean to be a woman today?". It made me even more aware of the problems women are facing currently.

"11 Facts About Women Around the World." 11 Facts About Women Around the World. Web. 25 May 2015.

This source had bullets of statistics illustrating the hardships women face. It spoke to just how hard some women have it and pointed out some of the things you could do to help. It helped prove my point of how hard it is like to be a woman today. The sources that this website sited were reliable, so the source was a good one to use. The goal of the website is to "make the world suck less" and promotes change for many causes. The facts were hard for me to imagine because as an American, I have it very good. It made me realize how much the situation needs to change.

Ogilvy, Memac, and Mather Dubai. "UN Women - The Autocomplete Truth." YouTube. YouTube, 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 27 May 2015.

This video was one of the first things in my presentation. It talked about all women have done throughout history and how they are still treated like they are less than men. UN Women is a reliable source so I trusted the video. It was shocking to see that Google pulls those things up immediately for search. The video inspired me to compare women's rights and see what still needs to happen.

Redding, Otis. "Aretha Franklin - Respect [1967] (Original Version)."YouTube. YouTube, 17 Oct. 2008. Web. 27 May 2015.

Aretha Franklin rocks and this song is about female empowerment.

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