Many women are worse off today than they were 10 years ago: Report
Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press/United Nations
A new report by women in 150 countries concludes that many women all over the world are worse off today than they were 10 years ago and accuses governments of failing to keep their pledge to achieve equality of the sexes.
Governments worldwide have adopted a "piecemeal and incremental" approach to furthering women's rights that cannot achieve the goals in the landmark platform of action adopted by 189 nations at the 1995 United Nations women's conference in Beijing, it says.
The 207-page report, the fifth compiled by the Women's Environment and Development Organization since Beijing, delivers a strong message: "The women of the world don't need any more words from their governments -- they want action, they want resources and they want governments to protect and advance women's human rights."
The report entitled Beijing Betrayed was released on Thursday, the fourth day of a two-week high-level UN meeting focusing on implementation of the 150-page Beijing platform. Delegates from 130 countries have been touting the actions their governments have taken and are planning to achieve equality for women.
But at a news conference launching the report, the organization's executive director June Zeitlin said "the realities women document often contrast sharply with the officials reports of their governments."
"What we see are powerful trends -- growing poverty, inequality, growing militarization, and fundamentalist opposition to women's rights," she said. "These trends are harming millions of women worldwide."
"Governments need to respond very strongly to counterbalance these trends and push the Beijing platform to further women's rights. Unfortunately, this is not the case," Zeitlin said.
Nonetheless, she said, "there is still some cause for celebration."
Advocates for women's rights have stepped up their activities around the globe and have pressed governments to change some discriminatory laws. The number of countries that ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women rose from 146 a decade ago to 179, though the United States has still not done so.
The goal of giving every girl and boy a primary school education by 2005 is likely to be met everywhere but sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, the report said.
But despite these and other gains in the Beijing platform, "and despite a decade-worth of efforts ... to achieve legal and policy changes to protect and advance women's rights at the national level, many women in all regions are actually worse off than they were 10 years ago," the report said.
The issue of violence against women "remains an acute problem affecting some two thirds of women in relationships worldwide," it said.
For example, in Kazakhstan, over 60 percent of women suffered from physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. In the United States, 31 percent of women report being sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend. And in 2000, 44 percent of married women in Colombia suffered from violence inflicted by a male partner, the report said.
While trafficking of women and children into bonded sweatshop labor, forced marriage, forced prostitution, and domestic servitude has become a global issue, it said, governments don't appear to be making significant efforts to combat these crimes.
According to the report, up to 175,000 women from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are being drawn into the sex industry in Western Europe every year, and there has been "a dramatic increase" in the number of Soviet bloc women trafficked to North America.
In the case of reproductive health services which were promised at Beijing, obstacles such as access and affordability "are compounded by cultural and religious fundamentalism," the report said. Women and girls also face the highest risk of getting HIV/AID, "primarily because of continued patterns of sexual subordination."
Governments at Beijing also pledged to put women in decision- making positions and set a target of having 30 percent of government and public administration jobs filled by women. But the report said 10 years later "not much" has happened, noting that only five countries had reached 30 percent in 1995, 10 in 2000, and 15 in 2004.
The report listed what it called "the dirty dozen" countries that have no women in parliament: Bahrain, Kuwait, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates and Guinea-Bissau.
"Across all regions, women are often still considered unequal to men -- in the workplace, at home, in government -- and assigned roles accordingly," it said.
The majority of the world's poor are women, and since Beijing "women's livelihoods for the most part have worsened, with increasing insecure employment and less access to social protection and public services," the report said.
Economic liberalization and globalization have eliminated many regular jobs in the so-called "formal sector," pushing women further into informal and often precarious work, it said.
Informal sector work now accounts for 90 percent of women working outside agriculture in India and Indonesia, 75 percent of women in Zambia, and 66 percent in South Korea, it said. Data from 2002 also reveal that 43 percent of women over 15 in urban areas in Latin America lacked their own income.