WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Bush administration today received low marks from U.S. women's organizations for its failure to follow through on promises made to improve women's political and human rights.
In an audio press conference the women's groups outlined three key initiatives proclaimed by the President--a "Marshall Plan" to rebuild Afghanistan, an emergency AIDS relief plan, and involving women in the rebuilding of Iraq -- and graded the administration on its performance.
In his January 2004 State of the Union address President Bush said, As of this month, that country [Afghanistan] has a new constitution, guaranteeing free elections and full participation by women.
To date, however, the administration has not provided its promised Marshall Plan for reconstruction, and security concerns have remained a grave problem for women. More than 30 schools for girls have been burned to the ground, and women's voter registration now stands at only 2% for a proposed June election, mainly because of fear.
"In the area of the Marshall Plan we simply have not put our money where our mouth is. We are constantly falling far short," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. Smeal added that thanks to the efforts of U.S. congresswomen, $60 million has been added to the U.S. aid budget to fund Afghan women's programs and $5 million was added for support to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
The President earned an "A" for the proposal, but got a "D" for performance.
Speaking at World AIDS Day, December 1, 2003 President Bush said: [My] Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief commits$15 billion over the next five years to prevent seven million new HIV infections and increase support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
However, the women's groups said, the Bush administration has reneged on its $15 billion pledge over five years ($3 billion per year). For the 2005 fiscal year budget the President requested only $2.8 billion for global funds to fight AIDS, and in FY2004, he asked for only $1.9 billion.
Today more than half of all those infected with HIV worldwide, more than half of the 40 million people infected, are women and girls. And in sub-Saharan Africa where the epidemic has taken its greatest toll, over 60 % of those infected are women and girls, said Jodie Jacobson, Executive Director, Center for Health and Gender Equity.
She added that HIV infection rates have risen most steeply among married women and adolescent girls. But the Bush administration believes abstinence-only should be the primary focus for prevention efforts and condoms should be provided only to high-risk groups, Jacobsen said.
The actual funding streams and strategies put forth are not sufficient, nor are they directly affecting those who are most vulnerable in the appropriate ways, said Jacobson.
On AIDS, the President scored a "B" for his rhetoric, but another "D for performance.
On February 16, U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), declared: We in the Coalition are committed to continuing to promote women's rights in Iraq.
Currently there are no women governors of Iraq's 18 provinces. Also, women hold only three of 25 seats on the Governing Council, appointed by the U.S.-led CPA. Iraqi women are seeking representation of 40%.
Under the U.S. occupation, women's participation in the nation-building process has been very limited. We hope women will play a greater role under the new interim Constitution, said June Zeitlin, Executive Director of the Women's Environment and Development Organization.
Zeitlin explained that without some type of quota system, women will not achieve these goals. Afghanistan's new constitution includes a quota for women, and 15 other countries have attained 30% representation of women in parliament as a result of establishing quotas, she noted.
Women's participation in the new democracy is not just about numbers or fairness. Its about shaping policies based on women's diverse experiences and responsiveness to their particular needs, Zeitlin said.
The President's promises to support Iraqi women earned him an "A," but his performance was scored as "I" -- for "incomplete."
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