03/10/2011 05:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Global View of Women

If we ever had any doubts about this being a global society, TV and the internet are making it more obvious every day. Over the past few weeks, I, like many of you, have been moved by the efforts of the citizens of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya in their efforts to end the rule of dictators in their respective countries. They stood together to demand human rights, access to education and the opportunity to earn a living wage to provide for themselves and their families. Throughout the coverage, my thoughts went out to them, especially to the women in the crowd, who more often than not have had even fewer opportunities to advance under these authoritarian governments.

During the month of March, as we celebrate Women's History Month and International Women's Day, I think it's important that we reflect on the status of women around the globe. We may have our problems here in Illinois, like a state budget that could end up hurting more families than it helps, but compared to many other parts of the world the women in our community have relatively safe and secure lives.

In many less developed countries, women are dependent on their fathers or husbands for food, shelter and other basic needs. Even if a woman does have a job, in many countries the service industry or agriculture are her only options. In most of these cases, women receive low wages with little to no opportunity for advancement. Their lack of access to and control over financial and other resources limits their economic autonomy and increases their vulnerability to economic challenges. Further complicating this issue, existing laws and customs still restrict women's access to land and property in many developing countries. Today, significant proportions of married women from the less developed regions have little control over household spending, including spending their own earnings.

To address some of these issues, modern microfinance programs, popularized by Nobel Laureate Dr. Mohammad Yunus, provide loans, savings, and other basic financial services to individuals in developing countries. The programs have been very successful in addressing some of the specific issues women face when seeking economic independence. By supporting women's economic participation, microfinance helps to empower women, promoting gender-equity and greater financial independence.

In more developed countries like the United States, the role of women in the workplace is continuing to evolve. Women are increasingly entering traditionally male-dominated occupations. However, the majority of women are employed in nursing, teaching and office assistant positions. In addition, women have few leadership positions in private companies. This is especially notable in the largest corporations, which remain male-dominated. Of the 500 largest corporations in the world, only 13 have a female chief executive officer.

Overall, the status of women's economic health around the globe is slowly stabilizing and/or improving. As a small group of people living in Chicago, it might seem like there is not much we can do to help move this global issue forward. What we can do is stay aware, get educated and support organizations that are committed to seeing women around the world live healthy and productive lives.