While U.S. President George W. Bush’s rhetoric on the rights of women around the world rates a passing grade, his actual record warrants an “F,” according to a new report card issued Wednesday by three major U.S.-based feminist groups.

The groups — the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), and Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) — said that Bush’s rhetorical commitment to upholding and defending women’s rights on global health and development issues consistently went far beyond what he was actually prepared to do and, in some cases, even contradicted his actual performance.

“If words were enough, Afghan women would be on the brink of securing their rights,” said Eleanor Smeal, FMF president. “But instead, with security deteriorating and resources scarce, the situation for women remains dire,” she said, stressing that women were the main victims of the Bush administration’s failure to do more to expand international peacekeeping forces beyond the capital, Kabul. As a result, hundreds of thousands of women and girls in the country have been left to the not-so-tender mercies of warlords and reactionary Muslim clerics, she said.

The report card, a follow-up to one released in August, graded Bush on his rhetorical performance and real follow-up in three key areas: women’s rights and security in Afghanistan and Iraq, a resolution submitted by the U.S. on women and political participation at the United Nations, and support for economic and social provisions in the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) accord.

While Bush rated a “B+” and an “A,” on his rhetorical position on the first two, respectively, according to the groups, he deserved a flat-out failing grade on his actual performance on both, as well as an “F” even on his commitment to recognizing a place for economic and social rights in the FTAA, the subject of an important negotiating round next weekend in Miami.

In August, the same groups gave mainly “Bs” and “Cs” to Bush’s rhetoric in six categories: support for the rights of women in Iraq and Afghanistan; for international family planning; his global HIV /AIDS initiative; reforms to foreign aid; and his commitment to reduce U.S. agricultural subsidies that make it difficult for developing country farmers to compete on global markets.

But in all six areas, they said, his actual performance deserved either an “F” or an “I” for incomplete.

The same applied to the issues on which the administration had acted more recently, according to the groups.

Smeal said that Washington could have done more to ensure that women would be guaranteed the same rights as men in Afghanistan’s proposed constitution, which is being drafted without any participation by women. Nor, she added, has Bush followed through with his promised “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan. It was “only through the efforts of women members of Congress” that $60 million was earmarked last week in the 2004 emergency supplemental bill specifically for women’s programs and another $5 million for the Independent Human Rights Commission.

“Without security and a real commitment of resources, women’s rights cannot be obtained in either Iraq or Afghanistan,” she warned.

Similarly, June Zeitlin, WEDO’s executive director, assessed Bush’s rhetoric in support of Washington’s resolution at the UN on “Women and Political Participation” as excellent but deserving of only a “D” in reality.

The resolution, which was adopted last week by the UN General Assembly, put the U.S. on record as supporting increased women’s political participation, including the promotion of “gender balance in all public positions.” But according to Zeitlin the resolution was directed at poor, developing countries, implicitly ignoring the serious imbalances in the governing institutions in the U.S.

Indeed, in global rankings of women in national legislatures, the U.S. — where women hold only 14 per cent of Congressional and 22 per cent of the seats in state legislatures — ranks 60th in the world for women’s representation in political bodies, far behind much of Europe, Latin America, and some countries in Africa, according to Zeitlin. “Clearly, the U.S. has a lot of work to do.”

Moreover, according to Zeitlin, the U.S. resolution failed to mention CEDAW, a legally binding treaty ratified by 174 countries, that requires governments to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country.”

“Ironically, the U.S., the author of the resolution, is the only industrialized nation that has not ratified (CEDAW), leaving us in the company of Iran and Somalia,” said Zeitlin, who noted that the Bush administration has not even taken a position on the treaty, which has been languishing for years in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This rhetoric would be a lot more believable if the administration applied similar principles to its own polices,” she said.

As for the FTAA, which, if negotiations are successfully completed, will take effect as early as January 2005, the positions taken by the United States appear to favour corporate rights over the economic and social rights of women in the Americas, according to the groups.

The three women’s groups are particularly worried about the emphasis placed in the draft FTAA agreement on the privatization of basic services, including education, water and health care, which are particularly important to women. They also expressed concern about the draft’s failure so far to provide strong protections for basic worker rights, noting that women are often heavily exploited as workers in apparel assembly plants and on big farms that produce export crops.

“In both content and process, the FTAA is structured to favour corporate economic interests at the expense of gender equality, national sovereignty and democracy, and basic human rights and needs,” said Zeitlin.