World's Women Worse Off in Past Decade: Report

Monday, July 26 2010

Thursday, March 3, 2005

By Deborah Zabarenko UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Life for many of the world's women has become tougher in the decade since a global U.N. conference in Beijing agreed to push for equality and economic development, a grass-roots group said on Thursday.

The report, released as some 6,000 women's activists converged at the United Nations, blamed governments for failing to act on pledges to improve conditions for women in the final document from the 1995 Beijing conference, known as the Platform for Action.

The current U.N. meeting is meant to assess how far women have come in areas such as economic development and the ending of gender discrimination since the Beijing meeting and a follow-up conference five years later.

"Governments are...failing to mobilize the political will and leadership needed to carry out the commitments made to women at Beijing," said June Zeitlin of the Women's Environment and Development Organization, which wrote the report. "As a result, many women in all regions are actually worse off now than they were 10 years ago."

Beyond government inaction, women's progress was hindered by growing poverty, increased militarization and fundamentalist opposition to women's rights, Zeitlin told a U.N. briefing.

But closed-door negotiations have turned on a US demand that a key U.N. document be amended to say the Beijing action plan does not recognize abortion as a fundamental right.

Those who oppose the US anti-abortion stand say Washington's attempt to insert the issue into the debate is beside the point of this conference.

Most governments, especially the Europeans, oppose the US amendment, making it difficult for the Bush administration to get it adopted. Abortion is legal in most European nations as it is in the United States.

"It is truly outrageous for the US government to introduce the word abortion into our work this week," said Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition and a delegate to the Beijing meeting.

'DESTRUCTIVE DISTRACTION'

"It's a very destructive distraction," said Gladys Mutukwa, who heads Women, Law and Development Africa, when asked about the impact of the proposed US amendment. "The right to abortion is just one aspect of reproductive rights of women, so to just keep on one aspect is not productive and it does not have support."

On Wednesday, US officials signaled they may drop their demand for the anti-abortion language, but insisted it had widespread support.

The grass-roots report, which sought information from women's networks but not from governments, said the US government's commitment to the goals of the Beijing conference was wavering, with debate stalled on a global agreement that bars discrimination against women.

Problems for women differ regionally, said Patricia Licuanan, who heads Asia-Pacific Women's Watch. In tsunami-ravaged parts of Asia, women were often victims of rape and violence, and reconstruction efforts were male-oriented, she said.

"When they build new housing and they build kitchens, it's obvious that the males who design this kitchen have never been in the kitchen and so they build this small, low structure of corrugated steel where the woman who is cooking is fried herself," Licuanan said.

In Africa, women's rights are entwined with the spread of HIV/AIDS, Mutukwa said.

African women are disproportionately affected by the AIDS epidemic because their culture makes it difficult to negotiate for safer sex practices, and governments have not supported women's rights to guard against infection, Mutukwa said.

(additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold)

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