U.N. women leaders on Thursday called for greater equality between the sexes on the occasion of International Women's Day amid demonstrations and marches for female rights.
"No country can claim to be entirely free from gender based discrimination," Michele Bachelet, a former president of Chile who now heads the agency U.N. Women, told Agence France Presse in Rabat.
"This inequality can be seen in persistent wage gaps and unequal opportunities ... in forced child marriage and also in continuing violence against women in all of its forms," she added.
She also called for greater equality, especially in the countryside where inequality between men and women is "most marked".
"One person in four worldwide is a woman or girl living in the countryside, and working long hours for low wages or no wages," said Bachelet who was appointed last year to head the newly-created United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
Despite their work, these women "face the worst of inequalities when it comes to access to social services and land ownership," Bachelet said.
Four out of five land owners are men, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a U.N. body.
"Ensuring that women receive pay, along with the right to own property and obtain credit would allow for a reduction in the number of children suffering from malnutrition," Bachelet added.
Navi Pillay, from South Africa, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the exclusion of women from politics and the economy remained the norm around the world.
Official statistics show that women held just 19.3 percent of parliamentary seats around the world last year, she said.
And on the economic front, just 12 of the world's top 500 businesses are led by women, she added.
The European Union commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom from Sweden, criticized the low number of women in European governments, while French euro-MP Sylvie Goulard pointed out that all European Central Bank directors were men.
"Equality between men and women in the EU is just as important as balanced budgets," she said against a background of roaring public deficits that have threatened the stability of the euro.
In Europe, three women are heads of government -- in Germany, Denmark, and Slovakia -- while men hold two thirds of seats in the European parliament.
In national parliaments, Sweden has most women -- 44.7 percent -- while Hungary has just 8.8 percent.
Several hundred women demonstrated in Sarajevo in favor of greater female representation in politics.
"When you read the laws on sexual equality adopted by Bosnia, it makes the country seem ideal for women, but it's just the opposite," said Alma Budakovic, one of the demonstrators.
Quotas say women should hold at least 40 percent of elected posts in Bosnia, but the figure is just 17 percent, according to the demonstrators.
In Spain, trade unions and women's organizations expressed concern that the current economic crisis, associated with forced savings in public spending, was having a negative impact on equal pay for women.
The federation of progressive women said equality should not be "an extra" when the country fell on hard times.
In Tunis, several thousand women demonstrated outside parliament to warn against any attempt by the new Islamist-dominated government to curtail their rights.
"I've come to tell our elected leaders that the rights of Tunisian women must be written into the constitution," said Jelila Bellalouna, a religious teacher.
"I'm doing that for my five-year-old niece so that she won't be forced later to wear a veil. I want her to be as free as I have been," she said.
Parliament has started to discuss the new constitution amid calls by some Islamist parties for it to be based on religious Sharia law.
Hundreds of women also marched through Cairo to demand the right to co-draft the country's new constitution.
"Women's rights are human rights!," read some banners.
Many wore stickers demanding 50 percent representation in the 100-member panel that will be picked on March 24 by both houses of parliament to write the constitution.
In Mauritania, hundreds of women took advantage of International Women's Day to hold an unauthorized protest against rising food prices and inequality in access to jobs, an AFP journalist reported.
"No to price increases", "Give us food", chanted the protesters, who also denounced violence against women and demanded equality when seeking employment.
Food prices have not recovered after a 2008 food crisis sent costs soaring, and the country is among many in the Sahel belt facing hunger after poor rains in 2011 caused crops to fail.
Several thousand women also demonstrated across Gaza and the West Bank to call for the release of a female prisoner -- Hanaa al-Shalabi -- on hunger strike in an Israeli jail.
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