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U.N. Reports Explore Issues Facing Women Worldwide

Two U.N. reports released on Wednesday examine the conditions faced by women around the world, the New York Times reports (MacFarquhar, 10/20). The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics report, which is published every five years, offers a compilation of “the latest data documenting progress for women worldwide in eight key areas: population and families, health, education, work, power and decision-making, violence against women, environment and poverty,” according to a U.N. Statistics Division press release (.pdf).

“In spite of increases in the proportion of women receiving prenatal care, Sub-Saharan Africa alone recorded 270,000 maternal deaths in 2005, i.e. half of the world’s maternal deaths,” the report noted, according to the release. Additionally, “[t]he majority of households in sub-Saharan Africa and in Southern and South-Eastern Asia use solid fuels for cooking on open fires or traditional stoves with no chimney or hood, disproportionately affecting the health of women” (10/20).

Reuters, also reporting on the World’s Women 2010 report, focuses on the differences in life expectancy between women and men living in southern Africa. “In the period 1990-95, life expectancy at birth in southern Africa – South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho – was 64 for women and 59 for men. That fell to 51 for women and 49 for men in 2000-05, but rose slightly in 2005-10 to 52 for women and 51 for men,” according to the news service. “In Eastern, Central and Western Africa, where some countries were also hard-hit by AIDS, life expectancy increased slowly but steadily over the same period and now stands at 57 for women and 54 for men,” writes Reuters.

The “report … attributed the modest uptick in southern Africa to the development and improved availability of medical treatments for HIV,” Reuters adds. The article adds details on the progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS in recent years in Africa and compares life expectancy differences between men and women in different regions of the world (Worsnip, 10/21).

“This 2010 report finds overall progress in many areas, including school enrolment, health, as well as economic participation, but it makes it very clear that much more needs to be done to close the gender gap in public life and to prevent many forms of violence against women,” Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Jomo Kwame Sundaram, said during the launch of the report in New York, U.N. News Centre reports. Srdjan Mrkic, head of the Social Statistics Section of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), also called for improvements to be made on data collection on women to allow researchers to more accurately assess the state of women globally.

Population Report

The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) on Wednesday also released the State of World Population 2010 (.pdf) report, which “found that discrimination against women not only exposes them to the worst effects of disaster and war, but also deprives their countries of a prime engine for recovery,” according to U.N. News Centre (10/20).

“‘Women rarely wage war, but they too often suffer the worst of its consequences,’ the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) said in its annual snapshot of the state of the world’s population,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Gender-based violence, including rape, is a repugnant and increasingly familiar weapon of war. The immediate toll it takes extends far beyond its direct victims, insidiously tearing apart families and shattering societies for generations to come” (10/20).

The UNFPA report was published “to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 which focused on women’s rights in conflicts and spoke about ending sexual violence during wars,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C reports (10/20). The report also comes as “international outrage at the evidence of mass rapes – by rebel militia and government troops alike – in a strife-torn region in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),” grows, Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports. It is estimated, “[m]ore than 15,000 rapes were committed there last year,” the news service adds (10/20).

“When women and girls suffer deep discrimination, they are more vulnerable to the worst effects of disaster or war, including rape, and less likely to contribute to peace-building, which threatens long-term recovery,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said during the launch of the report, according to a UNFPA press release (10/20).

“[T]he report pulls together first-hand experiences of conflict and natural disaster from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haiti, Jordan, Liberia, Timor-Leste, Uganda, and the West Bank, stressing the plurality and diversity of women’s experiences of war,” the Guardian reports. Noting the report’s emphasis on the “need need to take a broader look at the relationships between women and conflict, paying special attention to the role of women in preventing conflict and the role of women in rebuilding after conflict,” the news service quotes Obaid as saying, “Experience over the past decade underscores the need to tear down the false barriers between crisis, recovery, and development” (Provost, 10/20).

The report “stresses the need for protection in legal text and policing and swift judicial redress,” AFP continues. “The report also spells out the need for health care and psychological and social support that acknowledges the needs of the individual, for a one-size-fits-all aid package may well be invasive and may backfire,” according to the news service (10/20).

VOA News examines some of the progress countries highlighted in the report and includes comments by International Action Network on Small Arms Program Officer Nounou Booto Meeti on women’s empowerment in efforts to build peace (Hennessy, 10/20).

ABC Radio, meanwhile, reports on the U.N. population report’s emphasis on reproductive health, writing, “while the past ten years has seen a falling adolescent population and an increase in the use of contraception, overall progress has slowed on universal access to reproductive health” (10/21).  

“The 2010 report, for the first time, included an analysis of selected indicators on reproductive health, according to the Citizen/allAfrica.com. “‘When women and girls have the power to decide for themselves when and if they will become pregnant, they are more likely to have healthy pregnancies and seek antenatal care. Their children are more likely to survive infancy and early childhood,’ reads the report in part,” the news service notes (Magubira, 10/21).

People’s Daily Online tracks the estimated population growth in the report: “The world’s population is expected to reach 9.15 billion in 2050 from the current 6.908 billion … India will become the world’s largest country with a population of 1.6138 billion from the current 1.2145 billion, replacing China” (10/20).

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