Date: Tue, 7 Apr 98 09:02:26 CDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: RIGHTS-AMERICAS: Women Call for Action at Santiago Summit
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Women Call for Action at Santiago Summit
By Jim Lobe, IPS, 2 April 1998
WASHINGTON, Apr 2 (IPS) - Nearly 100 leaders of women's groups throughout the Americas have called for concrete action at next month's Summit of the Americas in Santiago to ensure that previous promises are fulfilled to improve the status of women.
In a formal communique released here Thursday by the Women's Leadership Conference of the Americas (WLCA), 90 women from 17 countries from North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, expressed frustration at the progress made since the first Americas summit, held in Miami in December, 1994.
"The pace of progress has been slow... We now challenge our countries' leader to reaffirm their commitments and to do more to turn those commitments into reality," the communique said. It was signed by former and current government, business, and non- governmental leaders, including former Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro.
Special attention must be focused in four major areas - increasing women's educational opportunities; advancing women to positions of power and influence throughout American societies; stopping violence against women and making the Organisation of American States Inter-American Commission of Women "a real bastion for protecting women's rights."
"Furthermore, it is vital that governments monitor, measure, record and report on their successes and failures in these areas," stated the communique, which also called for the creation of a hemispheric mechanism "to measure actual improvements in women's status over time."
Convened by the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue and the International Center for Research on Women, WLCA's first meeting here was held in July last year. The group is chaired by Costa Rican Congresswoman - and former ambassador to the United States - Sonia Picado, and Jan Meyers, a former representative in the U.S. Congress.
Other prominent members WLCA members include former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Cambell, Argentine National Deputy Graciela Fernandez Meijide, former Haitian Foreign Minister Claudette Werleigh, legal advisor to the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAI) Nina Pacari, and Peggy Antrobus, who heads Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWNE) in Barbados.
The communique is designed to influence the outcome of the Santiago meeting Apr 17-19 which will bring together the heads of state of every nation in the Americas, except Cuba. Only one is a woman, Janet Jagan, the prime minister of Guyana.
WLCA noted that the pledges made by the leaders at the Miami Summit - "to strengthen policies and programmes that improve and broaden participation of women in all spheres of political, social and economic life and that improve their access to the basic resources needed for the full exercise of their fundamental rights" - were "valuable (but) somewhat vague."
"We need to stop talking about principles and start implementing laws," Picardo said, noting that the original plan of action failed to include benchmarks for ensuring that these principles are actually implemented and that governments are held accountable.
"This is the greatest weakness of the last Summit's recommendations," according to the communique. "There is nothing to force governments to face up to their failure to produce concrete results."
As for its four priority areas, the WLCA wants to see the summit go beyond general calls to "enhance (women's) productivity through education" by calling for concrete steps to fulfill that promise.
"This time around, governments must commit themselves to increase the quality of schooling to all, especially to girls, and to stop the de facto tracking of girls into courses of study that lead to low-paying, low-prestige occupations," the WLCA said, adding that tracking "has the single most devastating effect on women's professional opportunities."
On ensuring that women attain positions of power throughout their societies, the commuinique noted that only 11 percent of elected legislators in the Americas are women, scarcely any improvement in ten years.
"We propose as a target that, by the year 2002, 25 percent of parliamentary representatives and cabinet-level leaders be women," the communique said, adding that a region-wide conference is also needed to work out strategies to promote women into the highest level of corporate leadership where "the numbers are even more disappointing."
On violence against women, WLCA noted that as many as 40 percent of the hemisphere's women suffer physical abuse at some point in their lives. Government response to this had been "appalling." Specific initiatives, such as the creation of specially trained police and family courts, to redress this afflication should be addressed by the summit, the leaders said.
Finally, while the Miami summit pledged to "further stengthen the Inter-American Commission of Women," the communique said, "we see no evidence that this has happened." The group is therefore calling on governments to convene a blue-ribbon group to propose a reorganisation of the commision to ensure its relevance and power.
The Commission is supposed to ensure that the activities and programmes of the Organisations of the American States (OAS) are sensitive to gender issues. One OAS official told IPS, however, that that the Commission has been so marginalised under the OAS that some consideration might be given to placing it under a different umbrella.
Most important, according to the WLCA, progress in all these areas depends on the creation of mechanism by which to measure progress. All governments "should put in place a transparent, standardised process to collect statistical data on women's position in society, ...(and) a prominent non-governmental commission should be created to oversee this process and report the results on a regular, comparative basis." (END/IPS/jl/mk/98)
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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