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Women's work is never done

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UNITED NATIONS, Aug 31, 2005 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- The U.N. Women's Development Fund is calling for increased attention to the direct relationship between women's work and poverty.

Created in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals are a set of eight time-bound targets and quantitative indicators aimed at reducing world poverty by 2015.

Calls by the fund, known as UNIFEM, came at the release of it's 2005 report, Progress of the World's Women 2005: Women Work and Poverty. The MDGs mandated organizations like the fund, known as UNIFEM, regularly complete research around specifically defined development indicators, such as women's employment.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton recently proposed scrubbing almost all mention of the Millennium Development Goals from the Draft Outcome Document, a summary of priorities and reforms to which world leaders were to commit themselves at the conclusion of the summit.

"It is extremely important, after all the consultations over the last five years that formed these goals, and people who are now working around them, to definitely put them on the agenda, said Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer, at a news conference at U.N. World Headquarters Wednesday in New York.

Additionally, Heyzer said, the MDGs were the result of a "consensus of all the countries on development."

"They are clear goals with clear indicators, and we are bringing partnerships around that," she said, adding, the MDGs demanded nations were accountable to one another.

The UNIFEM report said the frameworks and indicators provided by the Millennium Development Goals allowed the agency to document and analyze small but measurable progress toward increasing women's political participation, and decreasing the gender gap in primary school education.

However, successful gains in women's employment, the indicator of women's economic status, included a caveat, an increase of female informal laborers.

"Women are concentrated in more precarious forms of employment in which earnings are low," said the report.

The term" informal work" referred to casual or day labor, paid domestic work, temporary or part-time work, or employment with informal businesses. For example, women may become "industrial outworkers", or "homeworkers" by taking in sewing for a local factory.

UNIFEM researchers found women, especially poor or undocumented women, sought informal work in addition to the time-consuming unpaid domestic work which, for the most part, falls exclusively to women. As a result, the agency said, nearly 60 percent of the world's workingwomen labor in the informal economy, not including agriculture.

"The average earnings from these types of informal employment are too low, in the absence of other sources of income, to raise households out of poverty," the report said

Moreover, despite any gains the additional income may provide, UNIFEM found women working in the informal economy had poorer health, fewer rights and benefits of employment and greater exclusion from market and political institutions that govern their situation.

"Increasingly, rather than informal work becoming formalized as economies grow, work is moving from formal to informal, regulated to unregulated, and workers lose job security as well as medical and other benefits," said Heyzer in the report.

UNIFEM advocated for women's increased "assets, access, and competitiveness" in the informal economy.

Heyzer said the United Nations, governments, private companies and non-governmental organizations could work together to support informal workers. For example, UNIFEM was building partnerships with socially responsible corporations to create markets for baskets woven by Rwandan women.

The report said change for women's situations required a conscious effort by all economic actors. Policies aimed just at stimulating economic growth, the agency said, had not created either sufficient employment opportunities or jobs that paid enough to allow families a chance to escape poverty.

Among the strategies Heyzer suggested, she emphasized the need for increased visibility and value of women's work in policy-making as well as greater access by women to credit, unions and targeted business development.

To help accomplish UNIFEM's right to work policy goals, Heyzer said she looked to the summit. In particular, she said she hoped the Draft Outcome Document would support efforts toward all eight Millennium Development Goals.

For example, Heyzer said she would like to see support for the U.N. Trust Fund on Violence Against Women, which was managed by UNIFEM, reach a capacity where it would be able to respond adequately to demand. Need for fund resources exceeded 15 times available supply, she added.

The changes proposed by Bolton removed most mentions of the Millennium Development Goals and limited international obligations for development aid projects such as the U.N. domestic violence trust fund.

"Of course the MDGs can be improved. I personally would like to see them improved," said Heyzer. The MDG indicator for women's poverty, the percent of women in non-agricultural wage employment was limiting, the report said, because it did not account for the quality of women's work.

However, MDG monitoring requirements meant UNIFEM could compare data globally and compulsory reporting demonstrated the extent to which member nations were in compliance with their international obligations, the report said.

Heyzer joined U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his full support for the MDGs. Marie Okabe, spokeswoman for the secretary-general, said Tuesday, in a statement from Annan, "The Secretary-General and the United Nations stand fully behind the Millennium Development Goals, which are internationally accepted and which have the broad support of member states and civil society."

In a statement released Monday, Annan said, "Let us not forget that women's rights are human rights. Their full implementation at the national level is thus a legal obligation."

Copyright 2005 by United Press International.

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