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24 July1999

Women Lag Behind on UN Index

By Gustavo González

SANTIAGO, Jul 13 (IPS) - Latin America has much work to do on women's political and economic integration and gender equality, declared the regional director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The region is falling behind on gender issues, said Elena Martinez, the UNDP regional director, as she ended her visit to Chile on Tuesday after the regional launching of the UNDP Human Development Report 1999. The document, which the UN has published annually since 1990, uses a human development index (HDI) to rank the 174 countries involved in the study based on the opportunities available to their populations.

The UNDP states that gross domestic product (GDP) and per capita income are only partial indicators of development, and that an integral look at development must also include elements such as health services, education, and life expectancy.

This year's report focuses on the search for ''globalisation with a human face,'' while in 1995 the report was dedicated to questions of gender in development, with emphasis on the status of women. Since then, the UNDP annual report has included a gender-related development index (GDI) and a gender empowerment measure (GEM) as complementary and specific categories of the HDI. The gender category used by the UN refers to the social functions that are designated based on biological references such as sex, which are often translated into differences that discriminate against women.

The GDI includes the same basic data as the HDI - such as life expectancy at birth, access to education and per capita product - but focuses on the differences between men and women in these areas as a way to measure the status of the female population in each country.

The GEM, on the other hand,''uses variables explicitly created to measure the relative empowerment of men and women in the political and economic spheres,'' explained UNDP experts. The number and percentage of women in parliament, in leadership and managerial positions, in professional and technical jobs, and the per capita product specifically of the female population are among the gender empowerment indicators.

The results of the UNDP report generally show significant differences between the human development index, the gender development index and the gender empowerment measure within each country. Chile, which ranks highest in Latin America in terms of its HDI - 34th out of 174 countries - does not do as well when measuring women's opportunities in the political and economic arenas, stated Martinez.

Chile also ranks 34th for its GDI, but in terms of its GEM, it falls to 54th place - among the last places in the Latin American and Caribbean region for this measurement .

Just 21 of the region's 33 countries are included in the gender empowerment measure because most of the English-speaking Caribbean nations, Argentina, Bolivia and Nicaragua did not provide the necessary data. The Bahamas ranked highest in the region for its GEM, and was number 13 internationally, while its HDI was 31st in the world, ahead of Chile and Barbados. Cuba is second in the region in GEM, ranked 21st internationally, but is 58th as far as HDI. The GEM and HDI world rankings for Costa Rica are 23 and 45 respectively; Trinidad and Tobago - 24 and 46; the Dominican Republic - 25 and 88; Ecuador - 29 and 72; Colombia - 31 and 57; Mexico - 33 and 50; Belize - 39 and 83; El Salvador - 41 and 107; Venezuela - 43 and 48; and Guatemala - 44 and 117. The ranking continues with Panama at 47 (GEI) and 49 (HDI); Honduras - 53 and 114; Chile - 54 and 34; Uruguay - 56 and 40; Guyana - 57 and 99; Suriname - 60 and 64; Peru - 63 and 80; Paraguay - 65 and 84; and, finally, Brazil - 70 for gender empowerment and 79 for HDI.

Latin America's rankings for the gender-related development index are better overall than the gender empowerment measure, as there has been progress in the region's per capita growth. However, the UNDP regional director indicated that, in economic and social terms, Latin American women are still lagging behind. She warned that ''there is still much left to do'' on the agenda regarding gender policies.

Caring for children, the sick and the elderly continues to be almost exclusively women's work in the region, said Martinez, and women also feel economic pressure to work, something they often cannot fully satisfy. In the labour arena, there is an accumulation of tensions that hurts women, often related to lower compensation and inadequate social security and health coverage, stated Martinez.

Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the UNDP report, are virtually excluded from access to the tele-communications revolution. The region's Internet users are almost exclusively male.

[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)