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New UNIFEM Report says Gender Equality and Women's Rights Sill Lagging

UNIFEM, the UN Development Fund for Women, has released its new biennial report on the progress women have made in such areas as politics, economics and justice. The report is called: Who Answers to Women? Gender and Accountability.

The main author, Anne-Marie Goetz, is UNIFEM's adviser on governance, peace and security. From New York City, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the report's findings.

"When we ask who answers to women, we're asking about accountability. Accountability is about ensuring that power-holders answer to those affected by their actions. And answer means they give an account and if they've done something wrong there are consequences. What we point out in the report is that this question is never asked from the point of view of women. Women experience accountability differently from men. [There are] perhaps in many societies a greater tolerance for a relative lack of accountability to women," she says.

How does accountability differ? Goetz says, "It's easy to see in the justice system. There's a range of crimes that are not even considered crimes in some countries. I'm speaking specifically about…crimes of sexual violence. In many countries…sexual violence is very difficult to lay charges for, to prosecute and get convictions. So women experience justice differently from men, where some crimes against women are not treated in the same way as crimes against men."

Another example is the clearing of landmines, such as in Angola. Goetz says, "Roads and bridges were the first to be de-mined, which was terrific for soldiers returning home. Wells and fields were not, which is where women and children were found."

The UNIFEM report covers five key areas, "where the need to strengthen accountability to women is urgent." They are politics and governance, access to public services, economic opportunities, justice and the distribution of international assistance for development and security.

Regarding politics and governance, Goetz says, "Right now, around the world, there [are] more women in government in elected positions than ever before. But the fact is, women are outnumbered (by men), as a global average, in parliament or national assemblies, four to one. The global average of women in public decision-making in elected positions is just 18.4 percent. Why does that matter? Well, from a pure democratic justice perspective, there's a problem if women are not able to compete in the political arena to the same degree as men. There's also a consequential effect. Because the number of women in politics…actually has been shown to result in stronger spending on priority areas of women's concern."

The report also says women still lag economically. "Still around the world, women earn on average between 15 and 17 percent less than men for the same work. And that's a sign of an accountability failure, a failure to uphold equal pay standards and international labor rights standards," she says.

The economic situation for women has also affected migration patterns, according the UNIFEM report. "Women have recently become 50 percent of global migrants. This flow of migrants with tertiary education has become feminized. More women than men with high qualifications are migrating," she says.

Goetz says this can have "devastating implications" for developing countries, leaving them without women who can be economic leaders. She adds that while education is improving for women, there's still much to be done regarding women's equality and gender empowerment. "Our report shows it's going to take 40 years, another 40 years, for developing countries to get anywhere near parity in politics. The area of the Millennium Goals which is most seriously off track is decreasing maternal mortality. If women did have power over decision-making, if power-holders answered to women, I feel very certain that we would not see such high numbers of women dying of easily preventable and purely natural causes in pregnancy and childbirth," she says.