A senior United Nations official has voiced fears that rising religious extremism poses a new and major threat against women.  

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Noeleen Heyzer, the head of the U.N. economic commission for Asia and the Pacific, warns that religious extremism may be a more serious threat to women than other problems, such as warming temperatures.

"My greatest fear is that the rise of extremism - even more so than the financial crisis and the climate change agendas because what we thought were archaic and that we had actually been able to show that these are dangerous laws to have in our societies they are coming back; in terms of stoning of women and the public caning of women," she said. 

She expressed that concern to 300 delegates from more than 60 countries in the Asia-Pacific region at the U.N.'s conference on the status of women in Bangkok this week. Delegates conferred on the progress the region has made in improving the status of women.

The economic crisis has taken a toll on jobs usually filled by women in Asia, especially making textiles and electronics. Heyzer says unemployment and volatile food and fuel prices together undermine the development gains made by women.

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Joanne Sandler, deputy director general of the U.N. Development Fund for Women says the damage from the economic crisis extends well beyond rising unemployment. It often pushes women into jobs that offer no security or are unsafe.

"We can already see even the crisis is creating more informality, less security for women workers; women workers get hit in a particular way - the way that then increases things like violence against women," said Sandler. "We're already seeing women who are going into more insecure areas of work who then become more vulnerable to sexual harassment, sexual violence."

Sandler says governments need to give women a say in economic policy.

Devaki Jain, an economist and women's rights activists in India, says despite progress in laws to protect women, many vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers, still face discrimination.

"Women's economic rights haven't been sufficiently embedded into the legal systems to be able to say 'I can't lose this job'. When the domestic workers who migrated to the Western countries now there is less of a demand for them because of the recession; so many of the [employment] agencies are just dropping them."

The conference in Bangkok concluded Wednesday, which is when the U.N. Population Fund released its annual report.

The report warns that women, especially in poor countries, are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially in agricultural communities. Drought and erratic rainfall force women to work harder to secure food for their households. Girls often drop out of school to assist mothers.

The report says discrimination against women hampers development and may make it harder for developing agricultural economies to cope with the effects of climate change.