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UN World Population Report Calls for Push to Reduce Gender Discrimination, Poverty

A United Nations population report is calling on world leaders to stand by commitments to end discrimination against women and boost spending on women's health and education to reduce global poverty.

The United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA annual report, released Wednesday warns that poverty reduction efforts will fall short without stepped up investment in women.

The report, released in several locations including Bangkok, London and New York, says discrimination against women undermines development programs and hurts the productive capacity of women.

The report calls on world leaders to stand by commitments made at the 2000 Millennium Summit to support investment in women and youth. It says better health care and education are needed to improve conditions for women and their children.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA executive director, in a video presentation marking the report's launch, says gender equality remains a target under the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals set for 2015.

"Gender equality and enpowerment of women is one of the eight goals that constitute the Millennium Development Goals," she said. "And the emphasis on gender equality is because we know that progress for women is progress for families' communities and nations. It's progress for everybody."

The report highlights the widening gap between rich and poor nations. Infant mortality rates in developed nations stand at eight per 1,000 live births compared with 94 per 1,000 live births in the poorest nations.

Life expectancy in developed nations is around 80 years, but it falls to around 50 years in least developed states. In sub-Saharan Africa countries devastated by the AIDS pandemic, such as Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, life expectancy is under 35 years.

The UNFPA representative in Thailand, Garimella Giridhar, said reproductive health problems, including AIDS, are the main cause of death and illness in women and girls aged 15 to 44. Many, he said, could be saved by additional public funding.

"By increasing investments in women and young people in their education, economic opportunities, human rights and reproductive health, we can free hundreds of millions of people from poverty, spare the lives of 30 million children and two million mothers and reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS," added Mr. Giridhar.

The report said problems related to pregnancy and childbirth claim more than half a million lives a year.

Violence also kills and disables more women around the world than does cancer the report says, and it calls for national campaigns to end violence against women.

Bill Ryan, Asia and Pacific UNFPA information officer, says many East Asian countries have made big gains in women's health through education and funding.

"Asia in some ways provides a model for other countries, particularly East Asian countries, that have in the past generation invested in education of girls and women and improving health care," he said. "There are a number of countries that have made remarkable strides, for instance Thailand."

But Mr. Ryan warns that countries such as Laos fall short because poverty and a lack of public spending leave entire communities without hospitals.