"Home, Sweet Home" is a cruel illusion for millions of women not just in the United States but also in countries around the globe, according to an analysis of violence against women worldwide.

"If a person is murdered because of his or her politics, the world justifiably responds with outrage. But if a person is beaten or allowed to die because she is female, the world dismisses it as `cultural tradition,' " says the report from the Worldwatch Institute in Washington.Africa and the Indian subcontinent are identified as particular problem areas by the report, which was written by Lori Heise, a senior researcher with the institute. But no society or socioeconomic group has been spared the problem, she says.

Before the sun goes down Wednesday - International Women's Day - thousands of women worldwide will have been beaten in their homes by their partners, and thousands more will have been raped, assaulted and sexually harassed, according to Heise's figures.

International Women's Day is a congressionally sanctioned event dating back to 1910 that features speechmaking often focused on the strides women have made toward equality. But, as Heise sees it, just being a woman, particularly in a Third World country, can pose extraordinary risks.

In the United States, says Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, as many as 15 million women have been beaten, raped or suffered other forms of physical and sexual assault, and the number rises by 1 million a year.

As Hedy Nuriel, first vice chairman of the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, put it: "For many of us, it's safer to be out on the streets than to be in our own homes."

Heise says that, internationally, women tend to be targets because of their sex and the violence occurs "without social remorse or protest."

"Societies tacitly condone this violence through their silence or, worse yet, legitimize it through laws, customs and court opinions that blatantly discriminate against women," she says.

The problem, she adds, is worthy of international attention but is seldom raised at that level.

In India, she writes, countless women have died as a byproduct of the system in which a bride's parents provide gifts to the groom as part of a marriage settlement.

Murder, suicide or severe abuse is sometimes the price young brides pay if promised money or goods do not materialize, she says.