Next Steps After Beijing Laid Out by the Numbers
Have they come a along way? A quarter of a century after the first UN conference on women, the numbers tell the story.
THE delegates to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women this week have been offered an invaluable road map to where women have been - or not been - and how far they still have to go to attain equality with men. ''The World's Women 1995'' is a 188-page report of statistics that convey a powerful point: Men and women frequently live in different worlds in terms of their access to resources, health care, education, and professional opportunities. ''The statistics make it clear that there has been some progress but also that great disparities remain between women and men everywhere,'' says Joann Vanek, chief of the UN's Statistical Division in New York. (At Beijing conference, Mrs. Clinton attacks China's family-planning abuses and treatment of visitors, Page 7.) She adds that 20 years after the first UN conference on women, enough data are now in hand that governments can accurately evaluate the status of women and recommend policies to reduce or end gender inequities. The most noticeable changes noted in the report are strides in education, with increasing numbers of women advancing to the secondary level and beyond. Progress has been most rapid in Latin America, where female literacy rates in most countries now exceed 75 percent. The least progress, in education as in most other areas of social development, has been recorded in sub-Saharan Africa. In Latin America, the Caribbean, West Asia, and developed nations outside Western Europe, women actually outnumber men in post-secondary schools. Higher levels of education and widely available family-planning services have translated into lower fertility for women in nearly every part of the world. Average global fertility - the number of children women give birth to during their reproductive years - has dropped from just over six to just under four during the past quarter century. Adolescent fertility, although declining, remains high, limiting the chances available to women to extend schooling, gain employment, and acquire a decisionmaking role in the family and community. Even with higher levels of education and a lower fertility rate, women are finding it hard to compete with men in the workplace. While a high percentage of men is economically active (72 to 83 percent worldwide in 1990, according to the report), economic activity among women remains generally low (from 58 percent in East and Central Asia down to 21 percent in North Africa). Where women do work, their contributions are usually undervalued and underreported. Large numbers of women raise children and do subsistence farming that sustains the majority in regions like sub-Saharan Africa. ''The work [women] do in these areas is of tremendous importance to the well-being of families, communities, and nations but it is poorly measured in official statistics,'' according to the report, which notes the comparatively limited access women have to resources like credit and land. Women have also had trouble in almost all countries reaching the highest levels of influence in the public and private sectors. At the end of last year, the governments of only 10 of the world's 191 countries were headed by women. Few women worldwide held parliamentary seats or headed government ministries. Publication of ''The World's Women 1995'' reflects a recent shift away from an emphasis on women solely toward an emphasis on women in relation to men. As a result, ''data users know much more today than 20 years ago about how women's and men's situations differ in social, political, and economic life,'' the report says. * Charts shown are from the UN report, ''The World's Women 1995,'' except the women's empowerment index and marathon records.