by Thalif Deen

United Nations, 30 Mar 2000 (IPS) -- The United States has fallen far short of its commitments to improve the status of women - and ensure gender parity - as spelled out in a key action plan adopted at the 1995 UN Conference on Women in Beijing, a New York based women's organisation said Thursday.

The Women's Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) said that although the Bill Clinton Administration had made important strides, it has still failed to employ a holistic approach to achieving women's equality, particularly on economic issues.

"Despite a booming economy, poverty rates in the US have hardly changed," WEDO said in a report released Thursday, "And women continue to be disproportionately represented among the poor and uninsured."

Titled "Women's Equality, an Unfinished Agenda," the report praises the United States for its accomplishments on domestic violence and for appointing more women than ever before to cabinet, executive and judicial positions. But the Administration has been taken to task for its failure to ratify international conventions concerning the rights of women and children, thereby undermining the progress of women and girls in several areas and damaging US credibility in advocating international human rights.

Due to US Congressional opposition, Washington has failed to ratify two key international treaties: the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

"Women will not achieve equal participation in decision-making and economic life unless gender perspectives are integrated into all legislation, public policies, programmes and projects," WEDO said.

The report also pointed out that success at meeting UN commitments will require vesting responsibility for the advancement of women in a permanent, high-level government body.

Last month, Assistant Secretary-General Angela King, the UN's Special Adviser on Gender Issues, said there has been "significant progress" in implementing the Platform of Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

As evidence, she pointed out that there have been positive responses from 142 of the 188 member states, 116 of whom produced national action plans for women.

"Yet", she said, "no country had fully implemented the recommendations of Beijing or fully achieved de facto equality for women and men."

King said that some countries have even experienced a reversal of some of the gains made by women - primarily because of unforeseen events, including armed conflicts, economic crises and natural disasters.

The concerns listed in the Beijing action plan included: women and poverty; human rights and women; women and health; education and training of women; women and the economy; women and war; women in power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms for the improvement of women; women and media; women and the environment; and the girl child.

But most countries, particularly the 133 developing nations, have complained that their plans to implement the Platform of Action were thwarted by several extraneous factors, including rising debts, declining aid, widespread poverty and the increasing devastation caused by civil wars and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

WEDO Executive Director June Zeitlin said that most welfare recipients in the United States are single women with young children. "The jobs that are available don't pay enough. Childcare costs are prohibitive and educational and training opportunities are limited under welfare reform."

The report said that of the 41 million Americans without health insurance, 21 million are women. The United States still ranks 25th of 37 industrial nations in infant mortality, and black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.

WEDO also said that women are still largely absent in US decision making bodies involved in peacemaking and reconstruction in conflict zones.

Despite women's major and growing contributions to the US economy, women still face discrimination. Older US women are poor at twice the rate of older persons: 13 percent to seven percent.

Without permanent institutional status and funding commitments, WEDO said, the various commissions, committees, task forces and offices on women's status named through the years only provided piecemeal and intermittent direction.

"The promise of Beijing lies in the ability of women around the world to keep the pressure on their governments to affect real and lasting change," Zeitlin noted. (SUNS4640)

SUNS 4640, 4 Apr 2001