FALL OF MARXISM: LOSS FOR WOMEN?

By Elizabeth Olson

Geneva - The quality for life for women and girls in much of Eastern Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union has spiraled downward since the collapse of communism, with increasing joblessness and abuse and deteriorating social services, the United Nations Children's Fund has reported.

The agency studied 27 countries, examined a range of social and economic issues affecting women and girls, and concluded that while Communist policies did not guarantee sexual equality, women were generally worse off now.

"In the transition to a market economy, the status of women is eroding further," Carol Bellamy, head of the agency known as Unicef, said Wednesday.

With the collapse of state-supported services and the economic crises of the past decade, many women in the region are facing unemployment for the first time, the report said.

About 25 million jobs have been lost in the region in the past decade. Of these, an estimated 14 million were jobs held by women, it said. In addition, part-time jobs that exist only on paper and that pay marginal wages.

The study is the sixth by Unicef on various aspects of post-Communist Europe, and Ms. Bellamy said it was the first comprehensive look at the range of economic and social issues affecting the 150 million women and 50 million girls in Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Russia.

In addition to the decrease in economic self-sufficiency, women now have a reduced life expectancy in 16 of the 27 countries, it has persisted in about one-third of the countries where data were available. The chief reasons cited were increased smoking, alcohol consumption, drug abuse and unsafe sexual activity. Ms. Bellamy singled our AIDS as one of the region's biggest problems. Five years ago, 30,000 cases of the human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that causes AIDS, were registered. At the end of 1998, there were 270,000.

In Russia and three other countries, one of every 100 girls is infected with syphilis, said John Micklewright, one of the authors of the study. Increased trafficking in women worsens the situation, the report said.

Women's power to improve their lot has been set back, with the number of women who are lawmakers declining about one-third to an average of 10 percent in the countries studied, according to the report.

Among the few bright spots, Ms. Bellamy said, are a rise in the number of women entrepreneurs and an increase in community organizations that are beginning to take the lead in combating domestic violence.

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