Beatrice Webb wrote this in 1914:
“In every part of that great voluntary industrial democracy which is being slowly but surely evolved by the manual workers as…a complement, to the political democracy established by the upper and middle class, we find knots of active women proving, by business capacity and self-subordinating zeal…the right of human beings of their sex to take their full share in the government of the country. It is in these facts that we find the justification of the demand of the Labour and Socialist Parties of all countries and all races for the complete political and economic enfranchisement of the working woman.”
This clearly has not been achieved; not even in relatively progressive northern Europe. A report by Anne and Paul Ehrlich at the Wood Institue for the Environment, Stanford contend that this has very clear ramifications for the future of civilisation. Studies of the planet's ecological footprint suggest that sustaining today's 7 billion people at current standards will require roughly an additional half planet of resources (or, four to five more Earths if all citizens of the planet were to consume at the level of the United States). The single best step toward avoiding a collapse, Ehrlich said, is to give total equality to women around the world. "This will allow us to include more of their brainpower to help solve these problems," he said. "And studies have shown that when women are given full rights, they have fewer children, which will help slow birth rates. We also need to give every sexually active human free access to modern contraception and emergency abortion."
I haven't read the whole report but I certainly agree with the conclusion that enabling women to take a full role in society is essential for the future sustainability of our planet. Education is a key part in this; it has been proven over and over that education is the key to both lifting people out of poverty and in allowing women in particular to make choices about their life and their body. This does usually lead to a lower birth-rate.
This clip from Made in Dagenham sums up the situation for women in the UK - Rights not privileges.
The Womens timeline
Measuring Up, A report by Rights of Women
Action Aid- http://www.actionaid.org.uk/100237/womens_rights.html