Members of the Landless Movement (MST) take part in a march along the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, celebrating the International Women's Day
UN 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 UN Women, told AFP 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 Organisation, a UN 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 UN'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 favour 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 organisations 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.