Women's status still a work in progress; Beijing+5: Five years later, much remains to be done to bring equality to the cultures of the world.


GIRL POWER? Not exactly.

The Beijing+5 summit on women last week found, not surprisingly, that the world has fallen short of goals outlined in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women. Addressing controversial topics from reproductive rights to political representation on a global scale often magnifies differences rather than sameness: Ideologies clash; hidden agendas are perceived.

Meanwhile, "the initial enthusiasm of Beijing has given way to disillusion," as one German delegate put it. How can it not when female infanticide and "honor killings" of women (usually seeking freedom from abusive spouses) are accepted practices? When AIDS is sweeping through the female population in Africa, and millions of African women are still subjected to the "tradition" of genital mutilation? When rape is a tool of war?

Next to those, political and earning power seem like niceties.

Still, the quest for social justice for women must not be derailed.

The single best thing every country can do to help women is educate them. Two-thirds of the 130 million children in the world not enrolled in school are girls. Ignorance breeds acceptance of the unacceptable, and it must be countered at every level.

Women in the United States are hardly immune from many of these problems. Yet delegates from other nations correctly noted that voices from our country have gone sadly quiet in recent years.

The lack of coverage of the summit in the U.S. press would seem to back their criticism. Yet American women have an opportunity, and obligation, to step up to the challenges of Beijing+5 -- before the Fifth World Conference on Women rolls around.

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