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UN Reports Women Still Lag Behind Men 10 Years After Action Plan  - 2004-12-19

The U.N. Economic Commission For Europe reports progress has been made in improving the economic and social condition of women, 10 years after an action plan for women was adopted in Beijing. But, it says more must be done to close the gender gap.

The report looks at the condition of women in countries in North America, Europe and Central Asia, 10 years after governments adopted an ambitious program in Beijing to improve their lives.

Although progress has been made, the U.N. commission finds glaring gaps exist between what men and women are paid for the same work of equal value. On average, it finds women earn 60 percent to 75 percent less than men.

On another issue, the report finds women still face the double burden of having to take care of the home, while, at the same time, working at a job. It says women lose out on social pension schemes, because their unpaid work as homemakers or volunteers is not considered.

Diane Elson is professor of economics at the University of Essex in Britain. She says governments must calculate the value of this unpaid work, and include this in their social security, taxation and public service systems.

"Pension credits that take account of this time spent doing the unpaid work of caring for children, or old people, the issue of the length of the school day in several countries, I think in Western Europe. " said Diane Elson. The issue of state provision of child care, I think these are the practical ways in which governments can take account of the unpaid work that, particularly women do in caring for other people."

The report notes women in the richer North American and Western European countries fare better than their counterparts in the former Soviet states and Central and Eastern Europe. For example, it says, there has been a dramatic decrease in real wages, and an increase in unemployment in Moldova and in Ukraine.

Olahova Beafa, who represents about 400 non-governmental organizations in this region, says poverty is a huge problem across Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states, known as the CIS.

"Poverty increases violence against women, and it is closely linked with trafficking,said Olahova Beafa. "Over 100,000 women are being trafficked per year in CEE [Central and Eastern European] and CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries. These women are exposed to violence and to forced prostitution."

The U.N. report says more than one half million women work as prostitutes in these countries. It says the sex industry in the European Union member states has become one of the most lucrative businesses. It says traffickers make profits of between $5 billion and $9 billion a year.