Risks women share, more and less

What is the basis for women’s global unity?

The other day I discounted the idea — expressed in the myth of women owning less than one percent of all property in the world — that women share a universal propertylessness. “If global feminist unity is to be had,” I said. “It won’t be built on a shared poverty experience.” One person commenting on the Huffington Post retorted: “The shared experience of women is patriarchy.” And she challenged me to produce a “gift-wrapped statistic that might make people think twice about gender inequality.”

I don’t have it. But for discussion, consider maternal mortality. I have previously shared the worldwide trend (except in the U.S.) toward reducing maternal mortality — the deaths of women related to pregnancy and childbirth. For every 10,000 live births in the world, 260 mothers still die.

This isn’t a risk all women face, since many have no pregnancies or births, but it’s something that is unique to women (more so even than rape). It is at least a potential risk women have in common.

In reality, however, the risk is so unevenly distributed as to virtually undermine its universality. In Sub-Saharan Africa, among all women, one out of every 31 women is estimated to die from maternal causes; in Western Europe that number is one-in-8,800. That is partly because African women have more children, and partly because they are more likely to die during each pregnancy or birth.

Those numbers are from a new data sheet published by the Population Reference Bureau. They estimated the lifetime chance that a given woman would die from maternal causes (factoring in both birth rates and risks of death). I’ve converted those to deaths per 10,000 women, by world region:

As is the case with wealth, statistically anyway, the women of the richest countries have more in common with their male peers than they do with the women at the bottom of the scale. So this isn’t the gift-wrapped statistic for global feminist unity based on shared personal risks. But do people need to experience the same hardships in order to unite against them?

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