Report: The Fourth World Conference on Women
by Jo Freeman
as "The Real Story of Beijing," in off our backs,
Vol. 26, No. 3, March 1996, pp. 1, 8-11, 22-27.
the twenty years between the First World Conference on Women, held
in Mexico City in 1975, and the Fourth, held last September in Beijing,
China, the women's movement has swept the globe. Not the same movement
in every country, it is more like a well-used patchwork quilt, organized
and tightly sewn in some places, ragged and torn in others, and rudimentary
in many. But as the most recent conference in Beijing made clear,
it is pervasive. In every country, even the smallest or least developed
there is a greater awareness of women, women's problems and women's
importance than ever before. And in every country, women's consciousness
about themselves has changed. Feminism is no longer viewed as relevant
only to the industrialized nations of the North. In all but the most
conservative of countries, the feminist message that women are people,
not just wives and mothers, is taken seriously.
in the past, there were two parallel conferences. The official Fourth
World Conference on Women (4WCW) was held in the Beijing International
Conference Center (BICC) from Sept. 4 through the 15. There 4995 official
delegates from 189 countries fashioned a Platform for Action with
the aid and advice of 4035 representatives from 2602 Non Governmental
Organizations (NGOs). Added to this mix were 3,245 members of the
press and another five thousand representatives and staff from UN
agencies and many other intergovernmental organizations, who hung
around advising, observing, talking and meeting.
separate conference, of, by and for NGOs was held from Aug. 30 through
Sept. 8 in Huairou, a small town 35 miles northeast of Beijing. It
was originally planned for the Beijing Workers' Stadium, but in March
the Chinese Organizing Committee (COC) announced that there were "structural
defects" which made that location unsafe. No one believed this
story; the alleged defects could not be confirmed. The foreign press
reported that Li Ping, Prime Minister of the People's Republic of
China (PRC), ordered the NGO Forum moved after he was heckled about
human rights issues at another UN Conference held in Copenhagen that
month.1 Despite a worldwide protest
that the Huairou facilities were "totally inadequate" and
an initial rejection by the NGO Forum facilitating committee, the
COC would not budge; hold it in Huairou or not at all. However, the
COC did withdraw its' request that only 20,000 be allowed to come.
Instead it erected numerous hurdles for those wishing to attend which
had almost the same result.
participate in the NGO Forum each person had to send $50 and a proper
application form to the Forum's New York office by April 30. Acceptances
were mailed in May and June. The COC then announced that original
acceptance letters and hotel registration forms had to be sent to
Beijing and only when the latter were confirmed could one apply for
a visa. As soon as the forms began arriving, the COC changed the hotel
form and demanded that everyone send new ones. The COC also changed
the hotels. Confirmed reservations made by a travel agent were often
July the COC decided that participants had to have special conference
visas; getting these required confirmed hotel reservations and even
people with all the proper paperwork couldn't get them quickly. Only
27,000 applicants succeeded. Of the 35,000 people who registered by
the April 30 deadline, between 25,000 and 26,000 survived the winnowing
process to go to Beijing, including roughly 1,500 men.2
By the time Forum participants arrived in Beijing, they were exhausted
by the hassle, time and anxiety consumed just to get there. And there
was more to come.
practice of holding parallel meetings to official UN conferences dates
from 1968. Initiated by the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations
(CONGO), each takes on a life of its' own once the Planning Committee
is formed and fundraising begins. The $5.2 million it cost to produce
this Forum came primarily from interested governments and foundations,
though the World Bank also contributed significantly. Both the official
conference and the NGO Forum were the largest in the UN's 50 year
history, attracting a combined total of over 50,000 people.
Unlike the official conference, attendance at the NGO Forum is not
restricted. Any number of women and men, even without a real NGO affiliation,
could attend provided they properly registered and could get transportation,
accommodations and a visa before departing. PRC nationals were restricted
to 5,000 women selected by the All China Women's Federation (ACWF).
In addition the Chinese tried to limit the participation of Tibetans,
Taiwanese and a few others. After the conference I asked the head
of the ACWF in the southwest province of Yunnan how those from her
area were chosen. Her description reminded me of delegate selection
to the Democratic and Republican conventions in those years in which
there is no serious competition for a party's nomination; women were
picked because of what they represented, who they knew, and their
own financial ability to attend. Not all were subsidized.
Although I have been involved in the feminist movement in the US in
some way since it began in the mid-sixties, this was my first international
conference, and my first exposure to the international women's movement
other than my presence at the birth of Nyfeministene in Norway in
1970. In order to attend the official conference at least part of
the time, off our backs obtained media accreditation for me
at the UN and for the conference. This was no mean feat for a small
feminist monthly. There was no separate press accreditation for the
NGO Forum; anyone with a UN press pass could go.
I paid my own way. My only subsidy was bed and board in the home of
my Chinese friends, whom I had helped during the five years they lived
in New York. They live in a large apartment building on the Northwest
edge of Beijing and had long urged me to attend the conference and
stay with them. After I arrived they told me that they took "some
little risk" because it was illegal to permit foreign guests
to stay overnight. In fact, Rule 2 in a pamphlet handed out to conference
attendees by the "Security Committee for the Fourth World Conference
on Women" said that those staying "in your relative or friend's
house" should register with "the local public security organ"
(the police). We didn't do this. But Mr. ## liberally handed out the
"little gifts" he told me to bring to the ever observant
elevator operators and others in his neighborhood. When approached
by the neighborhood watchwoman, his wife assured her that she knew
"how to handle" foreign visitors. There were no problems.
This was the first of many rules I was to break. An American working
in Beijing I met at the NGO Forum observed that the biggest profession
in China is making rules; the second biggest is breaking them. I practiced
the latter. The only rule I couldn't crack was the requirement that
all press sleep in Beijing. In fact, we were supposed to stay at a
limited number of expensive hotels. That was not enforced, but when
I tried to find accommodations in Huairou, I was refused. At the Pass
Distribution Center, which also assigned sleeping space, I was told
that none of the hotels or the newly built "apartment estates",
which provided primitive accommodations for $10-$20 a night, would
accept me even though they had space. If I had separately registered
for the Forum and kept my press credential hidden I might have been
allowed in, but foreigners had to have a conference credential to
rent a bed in Huairou, and mine said press. Since the busses back
to Beijing left before the evening entertainment, this effectively
kept the press from reporting on most of the cultural events and limited
my access to the "Huairou experience."
Fortunately, the COC had busses leaving early every morning from major
hotels all over Beijing; one was a short ride on a public bus from
my friends' apartment. Boarding a Beijing bus during the 7:00 a.m.
rush hour severely tested my New York City subway skills. Getting
off without losing my backpack in the human crush was harder. The
conference buses by contrast were luxuriant; one almost didn't mind
the hour's ride on the newly built highway to Huairou. I had a lot
of good conversations with some interesting women (and a couple men)
from many countries on that bus. No one even asked to see the $10
pass I bought to ride it. The same Western face that kept me out of
a Huairou hotel got me on the bus without any questions.
There is no simple way to describe the NGO Forum or the Huairou experience.
Organized around the theme "Look at the World Through Women's
Eyes", there was no political issue which dominated each days'
discussions as had been true of past conferences, where North/South
and Middle East conflicts replicated themselves almost everywhere.
The essence of the conference was not in any event large enough to
observe, but in thousands of conversations and exchanges of ideas
and experiences that took place in small groups, over meals and on
Think of the NGO Forum as making a cake the old fashioned way, "by
guess and by gosh". Imagine an embryonic university, or a free
school with minimal distinction between faculty and students. Mix
in a county fair with theme tents, an exhibition hall, booths and
tables. Throw in a dab of flea market. Add a computer room and a film
(actually video) festival. Sprinkle with bulletin boards and poster
walls, many spontaneous ad hoc demonstrations and lots of dancing
and singing. Put all of this on a gerrymandered campus consisting
of some aging middle school buildings, a shooting school, a paved
over soccer field, a movie theater (renamed the Beijing-Huairou International
Conference Center), some half finished cement structures, and numerous
tents in all shapes and sizes. Pour in four days of rain and lots
of mud. Stir with several thousand little spoons, moving in different
directions at different speeds. And bake the entire concoction in
a large oven of culturally diverse entertainment, both professional
The taste was sweet, but the batter was lumpy; you never knew what
the next bite would bring. The administration of this temporary school
produced an impressive catalog of over 5,000 events, but making them
happen when and where they were supposed to happen was problematic,
even when the weather co-operated. My estimate from my own experiences
and my informal survey of other participants is that about half of
the workshops one tried to attend were not there. Some were moved;
some were canceled, some were changed. A lot just didn't happen. The
administrators didn't ask the workshop organizers when they would
be in China before assigning times; some didn't know until the last
minute that they had a time slot. Even after the program was printed,
workshop leaders were posting requests on the Internet asking to exchange
time slots to correspond with their travel plans and plane tickets.
Nor were the events rationally scheduled. Three workshops for disabled
women were listed on the third floor of the Middle School, which had
no elevators. Workshops on similar topics were often given the same
time slot. No one could predict how many people would come to each
workshop; most were overflowing while some rattled around in too much
Exhibitors also had trouble. Typical was the Once and Future Pavilion.
Originally a long, low shed housing a shooting school in front of
a muddy courtyard with gun stands and targets, one end was transformed
into a science and technology exhibit only a few days before the Forum
began. At the other end were booths and tables for Women in Alternative
Media, including Women Ink, the publishing bureau of the International
Women's Tribune Center, and FIRE (Feminist International Radio Endeavor)
from Costa Rica. In between were spaces displaying the wares of such
entities the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), set
up after the 1975 Mexico City conference, WILD Women (Women in Livestock
Development) and women inventors. The first two days the exhibitors
were still setting up, and for several days they had no audience because
few knew where they were. The crowds increased as the NGO Forum wound
down. In the meantime rows of outside exhibition booths in the specialty
tent area remained unoccupied. Offered to NGOs at $300 each, many
groups declined to occupy them when they discovered their remote location
and exposure to the elements.
Tents were group in thematic clusters, but whoever decided what went
where missed a few beats. The tent for People with Disabilities was
in one of the farthest, most hard to reach areas, while that for Youth
was near the entrance. (The former was later moved to a more convenient
spot). Large tents for each region of the world were erected on a
hill between the shooting school and the middle school. One of the
most popular spots, the narrow paths to get there were always congested
and the rain caused a wall holding up one of them to collapse (the
only damage was to a truck; the wall was quickly repaired). What was
labeled as the Healing Tent was put next to the Quiet Tent. While
many forms of massage and other nonmedical techniques were exhibited
in the former, most of the time this tent was used for ballroom dancing
with musical accompaniment.
The COC had touted the fact that several meeting halls were set aside
for those wishing to hold religious services. Rule 5 informed us that
"Out of respect for the religious beliefs of participants, we
have designated ... places for religious activities.... Please refrain
from staging religious activities or distributing religious publicity
materials in other places." These places were four small rooms
with tiny labels: Bhudda Hall, Catholic Oratory, Christian (i.e. Protestant)
Oratory and Mosque. The Islamic room had separate entrances for men
and women with a sheet dividing the space inside. Although members
of other religious faiths were present (especially the Baha'i) they
didn't have their own space.
There were language barriers. The simultaneous translation into six
official languages that had been promised didn't happen. With a few
exceptions -- Latin American workshops were in Spanish and Islamic
ones in Arabic -- English dominated, overwhelmingly. At the Forum
there was some systematic translation with hearing devices between
French and English, but most of the rest was private. Women who didn't
speak English huddled next to a friend or volunteer translator. Fortunately,
there was a lot of good will and multilingual volunteers. Nonetheless
those who spoke (or at least understood) English had a lot easier
time than those who didn't. How hard it must be was brought home to
me the night I spent at the Pass Distribution Center trying to gain
admittance to a Huairou hotel. The continuous flow of new arrivals
from the airport were addressed by the Chinese Volunteers only in
English. One group from South America knew only Spanish and French.
After watching the two speak past each other for a couple minutes
I offered to translate; my Spanish is lousy but it was the best available.
English was also the language of both of the conference newspapers.
An international crew of 23 published 8 to 16 pages of Forum '95
daily with funds from several corporations and governments. World
Women also published daily, during both the NGO Forum and the
official conference. Only 8 pages, but with many color photos, its'
publisher was China Daily the official national English language
paper in the PRC. The former, with an occasional piece in French,
was more likely to print hard news, as well as profiles of people
and places. The latter gave more emphasis to dining and touring opportunities,
cultural events and reprints of speeches. As was typical of its' parent,
it emphasized the positive aspects of the news. However it was the
only paper to print an official explanation of why the Chinese police
tried to confiscate a video shown by Tibetan exiles. This "was
an attempt to split China, and was deemed unacceptable to the police
officers on duty and an infringement on China's sovereignty,"
else the joint meetings were about, they were about words. The sheer
volume of words was overwhelming. In preparation for the meetings
countries large and small produced millions of words. UN agencies
produced still more words. The words were spoken at preliminary meetings,
official and unofficial, and printed on documents. Several forests
were decimated. Thousands of pounds of pamphlets, posters, leaflets
and books were shipped to Beijing and passed out there and at Huairou.
Every day I picked up more paper than I could comfortably carry and
I was highly selective. Of this I shipped back forty pounds back to
New York. Just reading the titles, publishers and the places tells
a great deal about who came to Beijing and why. Included in my pickings
were the following in English:
"The Condition of Women in Romania (1980-1994)", National
Report of the National Committee for World Conference on Women (70
"Women's Studies Center at the Party School of Central Committee
of Communist Party of China" (short pamphlet in Chinese and English),
"The Program for the Development of Chinese Women (1995 -- 2000)",
All China Women's Federation (28 pages).
"Women Association of Moldova" (short pamphlet)
"The Wisdom behind the Islamic Laws Regarding Women", The
Islamic Assembly of North America (33 pages).
"Dalit Women Living in Caste Discrimination", Feminist Dalit
Organisation, Nepal, (6 pages; Dalit means Untouchables).
"RUWA - An Introduction", Rajasthan University Women's Association,
Jaipur, India, (short pamphlet).
"Beneath Paradise: A Collection of poems from the women in the
Pacific NGO's Documentation Project", International Women's Development
Agency, Australia (84 pages).
"Report of Polish Women associated in nongovernmental pro-family
organizations of Polish Federation of Pro-life Movements ... prepared
for IV World Conference on Women" (20 pages).
"We are fighting for Equality in the Japanese Workplace",
Equal Work Equal Wage Tokyo Circle, (36 pages), "NGO Forum Report
by Women Workers' Group from Tororen" (16 pages), "Gender
Issues in Saitama Prefecture, Japan", (6 pages).
"Some Information about the situation and role of nuns in Cambodia
and of the "Cambodian Association of Don Chees (nuns) and Lay
Woman" founded in May 1995 (3 pages).
"Training on Gender Violence in the Contemporary Pacific Context",
Fiji Women's Crisis Center, (short pamphlet).
"Emang Basadi Newsletter - Women's NGO Bulletin", Botswana
"New Voice: Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace", (4 page newsletter).
"National Report on Women in Malta", Commission for the
Advancement of Women, Malta, 1994, (67 pages).
"The Philippine NGO Report on Women: Issues and Recommendations",
National Steering Committee of NGOs, (63 pages).
"National Report on Advancement of Libyan Arab Women", The
National Committee, Women's Affairs, Secretariat of the General People's
Congress, The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, (62
pages in English and 60 pages in Arabic).
"Women of Tunisia - Women's Organizations and Associations",
and "The Legal Status of Women - 1993 Reforms" (short pamphlet),
Republic of Tunisia Ministry for Women and the Family (16 pages).
An Asian Women and Shelter Network was started in March 1995 to
prepare for Beijing; at Huairou women who had been involved in housing
issues for years redefined them to include women's special concerns.
These will be taken to Habitat II, a UN conference on housing to
be held in 1996.
Western women working in construction have long viewed themselves
as engaged in "nontraditional" occupations. At an NGO
Forum workshop they discovered that for women in many countries,
such as India, construction is a traditional female occupation.
It is when technology changes it from one of primarily heavy lifting
with poor pay to a skilled or semi-skilled job with better pay that
males take over. After listening to the stories of Indian women
Vivian Price, a union electrician from Southern California, realized
that "women from Southern countries do heavy work and are kept
out of skilled work; women from the North have a tiny foothold in
skilled work but are told that women are not strong enough."
In the Peace Tent women from many different religious faiths discussed
how to live together with people who believe differently.
Center for Korean Women and Politics was founded in March 1990 to
do relevant research. It also runs training sessions for women candidates,
newly elected politicians and others interested in electing more women
and acts as the Secretariat and resource center for the Asia Pacific
Women in Politics Network.
the Filipinos the Center for Legislative Development created a Women's
Legislative Program in 1992 to monitor legislation and provide seminars
for candidates and organizations. The 25 women elected to Parliament
that year formed a caucus to enhance their impact.4
In Thailand the Gender Watch Group was formed in March 1993 to monitor
the government and political parties on gender issues, in order to
"put women's rights into the Thai Constitution, to shift political
power from men to women, to ensure the implementation of the government
stated polices on workers, prostitution, and job discrimination against
women." It publishers a newsletter which evaluates legislative
actions. One stimulus was the fact that women were over half of the
actual voters in the 1992 elections, but only four percent of the
Members of Parliament. In the 1995 elections, 50 % more women were
elected as MPs.5
Nepal there is a Women for Women Empowerment Program to provide training
on gender issues and a support network for women professionals.In
Bangladesh a Women in Politics program was launched in February 1994
to increase voter awareness, educate the political parties about women's
issues, and involve more women in the political process.
June 1994, the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP)
brought 237 women from 155 NGOs in 23 Asia-Pacific countries to Manila
for the First Congress of Asia-Pacific Women in Politics.6
In the next year CAPWIP published a regular Bulletin and held
regional conferences in Bangkok, Bangladesh, Nepal and Taiwan.
India the Centre for Social Research organized several regional conferences
of women political leaders, grassroots activists and academics in
1994, to prepare for a national conference held in February 1995.
whose President was also the Convener of the NGO Forum, Khunying Suptra
Masdit, planned five regional women and politics conferences in Huairou.
Four of them happened; that for Western Asia (aka the Middle East)
only attracted one person from that region, a Palestinian who only
wanted to talk about Israeli oppression.
There were other workshops on women and politics in addition to those
organized as part of the Congress. At one I heard African women describe
their problems: raising money, getting on the party lists and being
taken seriously. I learned that in Botswana an NGO called Emang Basadi,
formed in 1986 in response to the Nairobi conference, is training
women in political skills. In Uganda 15 % of the seats the 1994 body
created to design a new Constitution were reserved for women. The
women delegates -- 17% of the total -- formed a Women's Caucus, held
"Gender Dialogues", and joined with others to organize the
Forum for Women in Democracy. In Zambia, which doesn't reserve seats
for women, a nonpartisan National Women's Lobby Group convinced the
Constitutional Commission to incorporate women's rights proposals
into the draft Constitution.7
legislative aide for the European Parliament reported that her own
behavior varied with the sex of the MP she worked for: she obeyed
the man and argued with the woman. When someone asked how American
women created the gender gap I explained that there were in fact three
gender gaps (based on sex, party and attitudes toward abortion), but
that credit for them really belonged to women's anger at President
Ronald Reagan. However, the feminist movement prepared the ground
and key catalytic events galvanized mass consciousness. Afterwards
I walked with a woman from Nigeria exchanging views on the barriers
of women's greater political participation.
When I went to a large workshop entitled Italian Women and Politics
the three speakers were all from New York, and none were Italian.
But a small one led by a Moldavian MP, with women from her country,
Russia, Norway, Uganda, Poland, Romania, Australia, and the U.S. had
a great discussion (in English, with private translation into Russian
for some) on the relative importance of electoral systems, reserved
seats, parties, and the general status of women in enhancing women's
opportunities. The Norwegians are light years ahead of the rest of
us. In 1991 the leaders of the three major political parties were
all women; no matter who won the election, a woman would be prime
minister. There is a social consensus that a cabinet "where much
less than half of the members were women would look strange and undemocratic."
The Constitution does not reserve seats for women, but "four
of the six major Norwegian parties apply a gender quota system in
nominations to elections and the composition of governing bodies of
the party at all levels."8
all of these workshops there was a great interest in the role of reserved
seats for women. Many countries require that from ten to thirty percent
of a party's slots, or legislative slots, go to women. In India the
constitution was amended in 1993 to require that one-third of local
council seats be reserved for women, but Indian women are already
demanding an increase to fifty percent. Some are convinced this is
the only way to increase women's influence quickly; others that the
women will just be lackeys of the men. All agreed that a strong feminist
movement is crucial to changing consciousness about women's importance
There were a few themes that kept cropping up in workshops on very
different topics. One was how much women work, and how little it counts,
or is counted. During the 1950s, before there was much consciousness
about sexism in the U.S. or any place else, I often heard a couplet
describing woman's fate. It went:
Man must work from sun to sun.
A woman's work is never done.
In Huairou women from all over that world made that same claim in
many different ways, only now it was as a complaint rather than a
lament. Women around the world aren't ready to go on strike, but they
are demanding that their unpaid work be measured and valued. The U.N.'s
Human Development Report 1995 asserts that women do eleven
trillion dollars worth of "invisible work." Based on data
from 31 countries, the Report asserted that "Women work
longer hours than men in nearly every country", performing 53%
of the economically productive work in developing countries and 51%
in industrial countries. However, women are only paid for one-third
of these activities while men are paid for two-thirds. Consequently
women are 70% of the world's 1.3 billion poor.9
women's work were accurately reflected in national statistics, it
would shatter the myth that men are the main breadwinners of the world,"
said Mahbub ul Haq, principle co-ordinator of the Report and
a former Pakistani finance minister.
These calculations include non-market work by both men and women which
is economically valuable, such as collecting firewood and carrying
water. While few propose that women be paid for this work, many feel
that it should be counted. Once governments understand women's full
contribution to a country's economy they might be more willing to
invest in women's health and education.10
Women from the third world complained that investment in women is
being undermined by structural adjustment programs demanded by the
World Bank so countries can repay their foreign debts. The resulting
reductions in social spending fall more heavily on women and girls.
According to Oxfam, during the 1980s per capital outlays on education
in Africa fell by a third, and on health by two-thirds. When parents
must pay school fees because the government no longer provides free
education, they pay them for boys first. When there is limited food,
males eat before females. Rationed health care also favors males.
As a result, according to the UN, there has been a 60 % increase in
poverty for women since 1970 compared to a 30 % increase for men.
Women are two thirds of the one billion illiterates.
The World Bank acknowledges that "gender equality is not only
a matter of social justice but also good economics.... [It is] one
of the best investments a society can make." It published its'
own analysis, emphasizing the need for "public interventions"
to promote equality "because of market failures and social externalities".
These included changes in law, increased access to credit, encouragement
of women's business enterprises, "safety nets specifically targeted
to vulnerable groups", and redistribution of education subsidies
from tertiary institutions to primary and secondary education where
female enrollment is higher.11
It took the position that it was government policy and not international
monetary policy that caused women to bear the brunt of economic hardships.
Another theme was the pervasiveness of violence against women and
girls. The UN reports that "documented evidence reveals violence
against females to be a widespread global problem." Each year
roughly one million girls are forced into prostitution and 100 million
girls suffer genital mutilation.12
At the NGO Forum there were so many different workshops on violence
-- rape, domestic violence, war, dowry murders, trafficking, genital
mutilation -- that one person could not have attended them all in
the nine days.
In these workshops the tone was more personal than in those on economics
and politics. Testimony and anecdote evoked emotions in a way that
dry statistics did not. At the Global Tribunal on Accountability for
Women's Human Rights some women spoke for themselves and others for
women who could not be there. One described the life of Warda of Algeria,
who was kidnapped at age 17 by Muslin militants and repeatedly raped.
Another told the story of Agnes, a 14-year-old Ugandan who was forced
into sexual slavery by anti-government rebels and birthed a baby "she
now fights not to hate." Mary McGoldrich of Ireland recounted
11 years of psychological and physical abuse by a husband in a country
that did not allow divorce. And Daphne Scholinski, a lesbian from
California, described her adolescence spent in three mental institutions
where she was committed by her parents for a "gender identity
In contrast to the scheduled workshops and panels, the regional and
theme tents were centers of activity that was more spontaneous. The
first day I spent a few hours in the very large Peace Tent watching
groups form and dissolve. At one point there was a major meeting at
which Cora Weiss of Women for Peace spoke and then led group singing.
Another time I found myself on the edge of a discussion group of about
twenty women arguing in Italian. Often there were scatterings of small
groups of women just sitting, eating, talking and displaying literature.
If there was any organized scheduling of all this activity, it wasn't
The Grassroots tent held a variety of events every day. It was run
by GROOTS International (Grassroots Organizations Operating Together
in Sisterhood), "a bottom-up global network of existing indigenous
women's organizations with a vision of developing ... a movement giving
voice and power for change to low-income and poor women's initiatives".
The idea for this network emerged from the Nairobi NGO Forum, but
GROOTS wasn't officially founded until a 1989 meeting in Jamaica.
Since then GROOTS has "reached more than 13,000 women in fifty
countries ... [through] workshops, over seventy forums, focus groups
community conversations, surveys, questionnaires and open letters"
to involve them in generating proposals for international meetings,
as well as this Forum.13 Every
time I entered this tent, there was an organized meeting of some sort
going on, let by women from different regions.
The Lesbian tent also had organized events, but I usually saw four
or five small group discussions rather than the larger ones at the
Grassroots tent. It was the most tightly organized of the theme tents,
with a receptionist at the entrance who monitored visitors and the
literature table. Eight co-ordinators selected at the beginning of
the week allocated time and space to any lesbian group that needed
it, but a lot of their time was spent simply explaining lesbianism
to women from countries where the subject was so taboo it could not
be discussed. Photographs were also restricted; permission had to
be asked for each one. According to Kate Wilson, one of the co-ordinators,
lesbians held two dances -- one in Beijing -- and one march, where
"we had a lot of fun". Although a lot of Chinese men hung
around the first couple days, they eventually left the tent alone.
The only problem, she said, was that they confiscated their literature
in Chinese. She found the whole experience to be "a positive
one" with a lot of networking and outreach.
Although I didn't read the Western press until I returned, most of
the reportage missed the message of the conference, which was admittedly
diffuse and hard to grasp. Instead the press focused on a perception
of oppressive security measures and the numerous logistical problems.
I did hear about "the Western press" while in Huairou. Several
Chinese, seeing the press tag hanging from my Western neck, politely
told me how biased we were. Since I couldn't interpret stories I hadn't
read, I tried to explain press relations strategy. "The press
is like a hungry lion", I said. "If you don't feed them,
they go hunting, and their favorite prey is criticism and scandal."
truth the press paid little attention to the real accomplishments
of the COC, such as the magnificent opening ceremonies, complex transportation
system, clean grounds, ornate flower displays, thousands of young
Volunteers from local universities who worked 16 hour days to help
participants and almost enough toilet paper in a country where BYO
is the norm. The COC did not run the press operation at the Forum,
and the Westerners who did were amateurs. There were no regular press
conferences or efforts to provide reportable stories. The response
to almost every question was "we're working on it." With
inadequate ready-to-eat fodder reporters blew a little scandal and
criticism into major stories.
At one press conference a hundred reporters and a couple dozen TV
cameras waited impatiently for a major announcement only to be told
that there was nothing to announce that day. As the reporters grumbled,
human rights lawyer Reed Brody strode to the microphone and announced
that out of 50 Tibetans registered for the Forum from other countries,
only nine had obtained visas to enter the PRC. He described how they
were filmed by Chinese men who covered their ID badges and tried to
confiscate their video. He then answered questions on the Tibetan
exiles. When he left, a couple other participants with their own agendas
took over the mike.
This was press food. The stories I later read didn't mention the booth
obtained by subterfuge that displayed banners declaring "Tibetan
Women in Exile" and "STOP the KILLINGS!" where the
nine women and their friends talked to anyone who came by. Nor did
they mention the Tibetan tent put up by the PRC, which was bigger
and more colorful than the African, Asian and Latin American tents
in the same area, or interview the women in it (who were pro Chinese
government to be sure). Instead every major newspaper wrote about
the unsuccessful attempt of Chinese security guards to confiscate
a video tape on Tibet entitled "Voices in Exile" from a
hotel showing and the demonstration by the nine women wearing gags
to protest repressive Chinese rule.
This was not the only demonstration. There were too many to count.
Rule 8 of the Security Committee informed us that "Procession,
demonstration or sit-in by participants should be carried out within
the place designated by the Conference." After some initial,
well publicized difficulties the Forum Facilitating Committee and
the COC agreed that within the campus "people would be totally
free to carry on any activity" and that there would be "no
security, no surveillance, no censorship".14
The cornucopia of demonstrations was largely ignored by the media,
even though they made great camera copy. Beating drums and gongs,
the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery
by Japan demanded reparations for all the World War II "comfort
women" forced to service Japanese soldiers. Bosnian women wrapped
in scarves protested U.S. policy. Lesbians marched up the main street.
Women sewed together banners brought from all over the world and wove
their way through the campus before pinning them to the wall of one
structure. Nothing was sacred. Esprit, a corporation which provided
38,000 bags for Forum participants to carry all the paper they picked
up, was leafleted for using "sweatshop labor in the production
of its garments". Only Women in Black, who managed to march a
few blocks off of the campus to protest violence against women before
being turned back by the Chinese police, received more than a bare
mention in the major press.15
The COC did create the impression of serious security, but most of
this was an illusion. We all had to walk through metal detectors at
four entrances to different parts of the campus. Going to another
area required exiting and reentry through still another metal detector.
This certainly seemed oppressive. The first day the line to go through
each one was long and the "Safety Inspection" signs which
hung over them were a source of derisive commentary. I put my backpack
on the belt and walked through the metal detector expecting the usual
hand search on the other side. My "photographer's vest"
was embedded with metal. The pockets housed buttons and film canisters.
As I walked through I heard the detector beep, but no one wanted to
search me. The young woman in uniform simply smiled and motioned me
on. I watched others go through, and for most of them it beeped as
well. The next time I didn't even take off my backpack.
someone would be told to put their bags and packs on the belt. But
by the end of the day, most walked through the detectors carrying
everything, while the guards just smiled.
The second day the machines were turned off. We still had to walk
through them, but they no longer beeped.
The machines were turned back on the day Hillary Clinton spoke at
Huairou, but the procedure didn't change. Rain moved her appearance
from the soccer field to the movie theater. The latter only had 1,200
seats and we all had to enter through the one door that led to the
metal detector. This created quite a crush of bodies and umbrellas
on the front steps. I edged my way through the little crannies in
the crowd that occasionally opened up, wondering how many of the short
people would be trampled, or the tall ones stabbed by umbrellas. When
a TV crew plowed through I ducked in behind them and followed closely
until I was through the door. There I threw my pack on the belt and
went through the metal detector.
usual, no one did a hand search, no one paid attention. The crowd
The guards would not let me enter the main floor of the auditorium
because press were supposed to sit in the balcony. Upstairs I found
that all the front row seats were occupied by Chinese men. I doubt
they were there out of enthusiasm to see Hillary. Nor did they provide
potential security. They wouldn't see anything happening behind them,
and couldn't reach any disturbance on the floor. During Hillary's
speech nothing was done when women held up banners on the main floor
protesting US policy in Bosnia. If those women had been in the balcony
they could have draped their banner over the edge and not blocked
anyone's view. The illusion of security created more problems than
In the balcony the photographers and TV cameras packed the two aisles.
I could have shot my camera over their heads by standing in the back,
but I couldn't sit and see. When I spotted a cluster of empty seats
in front of the stage to my left I went down to try again. This time
I ducked through a side door into a long waiting room that paralleled
the auditorium, where several workshops and slide shows had already
been held. Doors from this waiting room led directly to the side aisles
of the auditorium. They were not guarded. After waiting in the crowded
aisle I grabbed a seat a few rows from the stage.
These seats had been roped off for "Hillary's people", but
she was so late that some were opened up to those in the aisles. The
entire auditorium was soon filled with wet, irate women demanding
to see Hillary. They sat on the floor and stood in the aisles. Forum
staff insisted that we created such a fire hazard that some had to
leave, but after waiting in the rain for so long, no one would cooperate.
The day was saved when Shirley Mae Staten, who was in charge of cultural
events at the Forum, went to the podium and announced we would begin.
She didn't tell us that Hillary was still an hour away. Instead, she
led the crowd in singing freedom songs from the civil rights movement
and cracked jokes. When someone yelled from the audience "are
you Hillary?", she pointed to her black skin and close cropped
grey hair and said "You got that right. Hillary just got a sun
tan." The crowd roared.
From ear and eyeballing the crowd, I guessed that two-thirds were
Americans old enough to know the words to the songs. When Staten asked
other women to lead songs in Spanish and Chinese, I calculated that
10 percent knew the former and 5 percent the latter. The women who
had stood in the rain and pushed their way in to see Hillary were
largely her peers. By the time she finally arrived, Staten had turned
that hostile horde into a lovefest. We were having a good time.
Since the crowd in front also blocked my view, I left my seat to shoot.
As I worked my way to the foot of the stage I nodded to the secret
service agent, wondering if he knew how many of us had set the metal
detector off. From a nice spot at the edge of stage right, about fifteen
feet from the podium, I took my shots. I only shoot a camera. So much
Just as the Western press exaggerated the kernels of truth about Chinese
security measures and Forum logistical problems, so did the Chinese
emphasize what they feared most about Western women: sexual deviance
and moral corruption. On the plane over Canada a headline in the Toronto
Globe and Mail caught my eye: "Half-naked activists China's
worst nightmare".16 I was
into the second paragraph before I realized their "nightmare"
was us. "We can't afford to have half-naked lesbian activists
walking through the Streets of Beijing" the story quoted one
municipal official as saying privately about the forthcoming Forum.
Since I long ago learned not to believe everything I read in the press
I dismissed this report as a journalistic fantasy. But the rumors
persisted. Standing in line to register two days later, other Western
women told me about the rumor that prostitutes and lesbians were invading
Beijing for the Women's Conference. Again I dismissed it -- until
my Chinese friends asked me if prostitutes and lesbians really were
coming. Yes, I said, there will be some prostitutes and lesbians.
Only some, they asked. It seemed that the Chinese press was
writing that the NGO Forum would be flooded by lesbians, nudists and
AIDS carriers. Hotels and police were issued white sheets to throw
on anyone who publicly disrobed.
American expatriates living in Beijing told me they were asked about
this by their Chinese friends and colleagues. It was spread through
neighborhood committee meetings, warnings to taxi drivers and Volunteers
and was even "on the buses" -- i.e. everywhere, as the official
explanation for moving the Forum out of Beijing. Toward the end of
the Forum, one of the Chinese women who had chastised me about the
biased Western press matter-of-factly asked me when would we hold
the nude demonstration. "The what?!" I sputtered. She had
heard that it was a tradition at all women's conferences for the women
to parade in the nude, as an affirmation of the beauty of the female
body. As I stood waiting for the bus back to Beijing, shivering in
the light rain, I wondered where they got the idea that we would want
to take our clothes off. I wanted to put more on.
One answer was given by Virginia Cornue, a Rutgers University anthropologist
I ran into on the bus. A former Executive Director of NOW-NYC and
a friend I hadn't seen in years, she was living in Beijing to study
women's informal organizations and self-help groups. "There is
a long tradition of associating Westerners with spiritual pollution",
she said. The Chinese have always tried to protect their people from
the moral contamination of the colonizing powers. "The rumors
about sexual deviance and licentiousness fit into their preconceived
notions about Westerners in general and Western women in particular,"
she said. Since "homosexuality is viewed as a psychological abnormality
and prostitutes are the trash of society", the rumors that these
were the women coming to the Forum helped deter personal contact.
Spreading these rumors was consistent with the other actions the Chinese
took, or appeared to take, to draw a curtain between their people
and the international visitors. Friends staying in hotels told me
how few of the staff spoke even rudimentary English; most hotel staff
in other PRC cities they visited as tourists spoke some English. One
reported that only certain taxi drivers were allowed to pick up those
wearing NGO Forum badges. One day, when I was slightly lost in Beijing,
I opened my map ten feet from a police officer, expecting him or someone
to offer directions. Though the Chinese I met in similar circumstances
outside Beijing and after the conference were very friendly and helpful,
I was completely ignored by everyone at this time. The officer obviously
didn't know Rule 11 of the Conference Security Committee: "The
policemen will help you warmheartedly if you have any difficulty."
Needless to say the only nudity I saw was on one small poster in the
movie theater lobby in Huairou. Showing back views of naked male and
female torsos, it said "Why should this (male) body rather than
this (female) one sit in a university chair?" Put up by a Norwegian
student association it was gone when I passed by fifteen minutes later.
Mere facts and logic always have a hard time defeating preconceived
ideas. Even my Chinese friends, who spent five years in New York and
knew lots of Westerners, believed the rumors had some basis. The only
time they showed any interest in the Forum was when I brought back
a poster for a workshop on prostitution -- one of dozens of posters
I collected. Indeed Mr. ## told me his son's friend had seen Western
women disrobe on a Beijing street that very week. "Why wasn't
it in the papers?" I asked. "Why would the women disrobe
if not to get publicity." "Our papers wouldn't print something
like that," he rejoined. I told him none of us had heard about
any nude protest, nor had the Americans I met who lived in Beijing,
including one working as an English editor for China Daily.
But he believed it nonetheless.
The NGO Forum overlapped by five days with the official UN conference,
forcing those who could attend both to choose. I missed one day at
Huairou to see the opening ceremony on Sept. 4, and attended four
days of the UN conference after the NGO Forum ended. The opening ceremony
wasn't particularly instructive, but it was fun. When I went to the
hotel to board the bus to the Great Hall of the People, I was almost
denied entry because I didn't have a printed invitation. Had I stayed
in a hotel I might have known that a press pass wasn't enough; you
needed an invite from the PRC host committee, available from your
embassy or a benefactor in the UN. I told the bus Volunteer that a
friend had my invitation and would meet me at Tian An Men Square.
She let me board. Hundreds of busses from all over the city converged
on the Square with police escorts that literally pushed all traffic
out of the way. The Square itself, a popular cite for tourists and
locals, was closed to anyone not involved with the event. At the door
I saw Chinese Volunteers checking invitations, so I hung out on the
steps looking for "a friend".
Just as it seemed my luck was running out I spied a cluster of people
dragging something up the stairs. It was Bella Abzug in a wheelchair
(at 75 she can walk, but not well or long). Bella and I are not bosom
buddies, but we have known each other since I volunteered in her 1976
Senate campaign (as her chauffeur among other things). I went over
to say hello, took a photograph and began chatting with her aide,
Susan Davis, Executive Director of WEDO which Bella heads. Susan had
an extra invitation for Bella's daughter, Liz, but they hadn't found
her. Would Bella like to have a personal photographer, I asked Susan.
Sure, she replied, handing me the yellow envelope.
Once inside we were directed to the third floor mandated by our invitations.
But Bella did like it; from her wheelchair she couldn't see. "Gertrude
Mongella (head of the official conference) told me I could sit on
the first floor," she insisted. Over Susan's better judgement
and the protests of the Chinese Volunteers, back down the elevator
we went. On the first floor the Volunteers tried to stop us because
yellow invitations were not permitted there, but Susan just pushed
the wheelchair forward with a steely eyed glare while Bella repeated
"first floor, first floor" and pointed at her wheelchair.
The young Chinese Volunteers were quite distressed as their obligation
to enforce the rules contested with their mandate to be polite and
helpful. Their limited English was not up to more than repeated requests
for us to stop and they weren't willing to throw themselves in front
of Bella's wheels. Eventually they returned to their posts and we
On the main floor there were plenty of unoccupied seats. Susan parked
Bella in a spot down the aisle and we took seats nearby. When the
speeches began I noticed a half dozen cameramen taking photos near
the stage. "I want to go down there" I told Susan. "This
is too far for my lens." "They are all Chinese", she
said. "The rest of the press are in the balcony." I looked
up and behind me and saw a swarm of press people and cameras looking
down. "Just one good shot", I replied, easing out into the
aisle. I walked down it in a crouch, my camera held out before me
so observant security guards would know my intentions were harmless.
I got a couple good ones from the foot of the stage about ten feet
from President Jiang Zemin before I saw a man motion me to leave.
As I turned I saw an empty seat behind a front row desk right on the
aisle. I sat down. While enjoying the great view and wondering how
long it would be before someone asked me to leave, I read the name
plates of the people in the front row. Next to me sat Mr. Mongella.
The empty seat on his other side was for his wife, who was at that
moment speaking from the podium. In the middle of the front row were
several elderly Chinese women whose name plates were in Chinese characters.
I introduced myself and asked if the seat I was in belonged to anyone.
No, he said. "I'm taking photographs for Bella Abzug. Do you
mind if I stay?" "Bella's a fine person," he said.
Later, during the entertainment, when the Chinese opera singers tossed
souvenirs into the audience, I fetched a couple from the floor in
front of us and tossed him one for his wife. I kept the other one.
Periodically I left my seat to take a shot from the foot of the stage,
but I was close enough to get some pretty good ones from the seat.
It was a photographer's field day. After the speeches and entertainment
I collected some unclaimed programs and finally went outside. There
I ran into Liz Abzug. Fortunately she had another invitation. "I
had a great time with yours," I told her.
When I returned to my friends' apartment they were surprised that
I had gotten in without an invitation. When I told them where I had
sat, they were incredulous. "You were lucky," they said.
"No", I responded, "I was brazen."
The Fourth World Conference and the 130 page Declaration and Platform
for Action it produced were the end product of a lengthy process.
Three conferences on women intended to mark the beginning, middle
and end of the UN Decade on Women, were held in Mexico City in 1975,
in Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985. At the last one there was
some sentiment to hold a future meeting to assess implementation of
the proposals, however the UN General Assembly did not vote to do
so until 1990. It was held in Beijing because the PRC and Austria
were the only two governments willing to host it and the general sentiment
was that it was Asia's turn. Two-thirds of the language in the final
documents was agreed upon long before Beijing. Organized under the
aegis of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the Fourth
World Conference was preceded by five regional conferences in 1994
in Argentina, Austria, Jordan, Senegal and Indonesia, all of which
produced their own Platforms identifying the important issues in each
region. Reports on implementation of the Nairobi Strategies were submitted
by 165 Member and Observer States. The CSW held three preparatory
meetings in preceding years. At the third in March of 1995 it spent
three weeks reviewing a draft prepared by the UN Secretariat and negotiating
At that time there was a major controversy over use of the word "gender"
when several conservative Catholic and Muslim countries objected that
the word was a smoke screen for an alleged five genders. "It
covers a whole range of meanings, including homosexuality, lesbianism,
bisexuality, whatever you want," stated Khadiga Karar, a delegate
from Sudan. Right wing groups in the U.S., Central and South America,
parts of the Middle East and Africa turned this false accusation into
a propaganda attack on the entire conference. However, the UN resolved
the matter by appointing "an informal contact group to seek agreement
on the commonly understood meaning of the term 'gender'." Their
recommendation -- that gender "be interpreted and understood
as it was in ordinary, generally accepted usage" without defining
what that was -- was approved in Beijing by the meeting Chair, Patricia
Licuanan of the Philippines, without comment, thus diffusing the entire
There was still plenty to do in Beijing. Of the 362 paragraphs in
the draft, 438 sets of brackets in 171 paragraphs remained. These
were debated until the very last minute. Decisions were reached by
consensus; brackets indicated a lack of consensus. Delegates try to
find language on which they can agree, even if the result is very
vague and subject to interpretation. Toward this end numerous Working
Groups and Contact Groups are created, though the most productive
negotiations are often between unofficial nongroups. This process
has created its own jargon. Even in UN reports terms such as "informal
informals" and "non-papers" abound. Countries which
disagree with the consensus can add "reservations" or "interpretations".
Those from almost fifty states (and some non-states) added another
twenty pages to the Platform for Action.
The NGOs maintained a powerful presence throughout the official conference.
For the first time they had organized parallel conferences to all
of the UN preparatory meetings. By the time they came to Beijing the
NGO representatives already had long standing working relationships.
There they created an organized lobby, known as Equipo (Spanish for
team). Every morning at 8:00 both the UN Secretariat and Equipo briefed
NGO delegates, press and whoever cared to attend in a large auditorium
at the Beijing International Conference Center (BICC). They kept score
of government commitments to the points in the Platform for Action
and reported these each morning. By the end of the conference at least
90 governments had made public commitments to improving the status
of women, though the biggest problem -- paying for them -- was avoided.18
The donor nations resisted demands that they underwrite commitments
made in the Platform. Indeed, the new president of the World Bank,
James Wolfensohn, warned that existing aid programs were threatened
by budget cuts in the West.
When not lobbying official delegates, NGO reps had a wide range of
things to do. A daily dose of official speeches could be seen on wide
screen TV in an NGO lounge. UN Agencies organized workshops and panels
on issues before the Conference. Between 20 and 30 caucuses as diverse
as Algerian NGOs, Wisdom in Action, Girl Child and Indigenous Peoples
held daily meetings in which the topics were often a continuation
of those discussed at the Forum. Except for the surroundings I couldn't
tell the difference; in Huairou we stood in aging classrooms and tents,
while at the UN meeting we crowded into the gilt-and-plush rooms of
the Beijing Recreation Center or spread out on the main Disco floor.
were even more daily newspapers than in the NGO Forum. World Women
continued to publish in English. Earth Negotiations Bulletin
and Earth Times, which produce regular reports on UN activities,
became dailies in Beijing for the duration. Beijing Watch was
published by the Women's Feature Service, normally based in New Delhi,
and inserted into Earth Times. Each had a slightly different
take on events. ENB provided detailed daily reports in English
and French. The other three published regular news stories, interviews
and columns, including some in French and Spanish. Yet despite all
this coverage, staying on top of what was happening was very hard
as most of it was diffuse and behind the scenes.
Arguments over sex, in its various forms, continued to dominate. Most
of the reservations and interpretations to the Platform concerned
this theme, especially to the sections on "health" and "human
rights". After much debate the term "feminist" was
retained, but four references to "sexual orientation" were
removed after it became apparent that inclusion was only supported
by Western governments plus Japan. (Three governments -- Israel, South
Africa and the U.S. -- added interpretations of other language to
include this phrase). Use of "families" rather than "family"
created concern that this would embrace same-sex couples. Several
states added that "family" must be interpreted in the traditional
sense of originating from a "union between man and woman".
As in previous conferences, strong disagreements over abortion lurked
in the background of discussions on reproductive health, reproductive
rights and the right to control sexuality. Some states also interpreted
these rights to mean "responsible use of sexuality within marriage"
and others to apply "solely to heterosexual relationships."
Condemnation of rape, whether in the family or as a weapon of war,
was probably the only sexual issue on which there was no dissension.
There were other points of contention. Arguments over "equity"
vs. "equality" were prolonged; both words were left in the
final document. Assaults on inheritance rights favoring males resulted
in language that could be interpreted as each country chose. Models
of development, distribution of resources, economic skewing by the
globalization of the economy and structural adjustment policies came
under fire. Intellectual property rights, hazardous waste disposal,
and commercial utilization of traditional knowledge and practices,
all caused caustic conflicts.
Although most issues had been discussed in previous conferences --
particularly the 1994 one on Population in Cairo and the Social Development
Summit held in Copenhagen in March 1995 -- there were some new ones.
Sections on the girl child and the environment were added to the original
draft. Violence against women was directly attributed to the attitude
that women are secondary beings. Improving the status of women was
acknowledged as crucial to economic development. The Platform took
a holistic view of women's health, expanding it's importance beyond
Most felt the Fourth World Conference was a success, though many certainly
had a vested interest in saying so. The European Parliament endorsed
it on Sept. 21, calling on member states to implement the Platform's
provisions. Earth Times, which is not feminist, and WEDO, which
is, both gave very positive assessments.20
At the least, the two conferences compelled governments to assign
staff to write reports on the condition of women. At the most, they
escalated government understanding of the importance of women. As
Bella Abzug of WEDO told a follow-up meeting in New York "we
won the words at Beijing." If words alone could conquer, victory
Not everyone was happy. The Vatican was "not entirely pleased".21
Some women at the NGO Forum issued an alternative "Beijing Declaration"
which focused on the consequences of economic restructuring. One way
of judging satisfaction was to read which countries "reserved"
on what. Most "interpretative statements" were from Catholic
and Islamic states; the Vatican alone wrote four pages out of twenty.
The US wrote three.
What governmental actions will come from this conference remains to
be seen. It is up to women's organizations in each country to monitor
the progress of their governments in fulfilling the commitments each
made in Beijing. While such actions are important, the real benefit
of the dual meetings was the exchange of ideas and experiences and
the alteration of attitudes. If one believes that ideas matter, then
international conferences serve a useful function to the extent that
the views of participants are spread beyond the confines of the conference;
the more people who are involved, the more useful it is. From this
perspective the Fourth World Conference on Women and parallel NGO
Forum were catalytic events. Women from everywhere resolved to "bring
Beijing home" and, to judge from the notices on the Internet,
have been conducting local forums continuously since then.
The meetings were also important for women's organizations and feminist
groups. Never before had so many from all over the world come together.
Never before had so many felt so empowered.
Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund,
credited the major involvement of NGOs for "more progress than
observers believed possible." UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali
lauded the "the growing influence, passion and intellectual conviction
of the women's movement".22
According to political scientist Elaine Wolfson, head of the Global
Alliance for Women's Health, the Fourth World Conference represented
the maturing of the feminist movement. What were perceived as radical
ideas in Western countries, and a form of cultural imperialism elsewhere,
twenty years ago, are mainstream today. Her interpretation is confirmed
by the final Report of the Secretary General which stated,
"The conference ... reaffirmed clearly that societal issues must
be addressed from a gender perspective in order to ensure sustainable
development."23 Or as explained
by Gita Sen, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management and
a founder of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN),
"in Cairo, we had to scramble and lobby intensively for governments
just to understand what we were talking about. In Beijing the vast
majority of governments have gotten the point."24
South China Morning Post, April 17, 1995. The Daily Telegraph,
August 26, 1995.
According to NGO Forum staff, actual figures aren't available
because the COC controlled the registration procedures at Huairou
and refused to give them the computer disks or information on who
or how many actually came.
World Women, Sept. 4, 1995, p. 2.
Lee, Lynn Frances, "Transformational Politics and Women
in the Ninth Philippine Congress: A Critical Analysis", Journal
of Legislative Development, Vol. 1, No. 1, Special Issue on Women
in Politics, January 1991, pp. 24-78.
Quotes from a pamphlet entitled "GenderWatch Group".
See also: Suteera Thomson, Women in Decision-Making Positions:
Politics and Administration, Bangkok, Thailand: Gender and Development
Research Institute, June 1995, 40 page booklet. Suteera Thomson and
Maytinee Bhongsvej, Putting Women's Concerns on the Political Agenda,
Bangkok, Thailand: Gender and Development Research Institute, 1995,
46 page booklet.
Why Women, What Politics?; Proceedings of the First
Asia-Pacific Congress of Women in Politics. 154 pages.
African Women in Politics: Together for Change; Three Struggles
for Political Rights, 16 page pamphlet published by the African-American
Institute, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women, 1995.
Women in Politics: Equality and Empowerment, 10 page
pamphlet published by the Equal Status Council and the Department
Affairs and Child Care of Norway; n.d.
United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report
1995, New York: Oxford U. Press, 1995, pp. 4-6, 88.
Opposing views were printed in Forum '95, Sept. 2, p.
2 ("Valuing unpaid work can boomerang" by Birgit Wing) and
Sept. 7 p. 3 ("Wages for women" by Ruth Todasco, International
Women Count Network.
"Toward Gender Equality: The Role of Public Policy",
Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1995, quotes from pp. 54, 67 and
Human Development Report: 1995, p. 44.
Building Communities: Celebrating Grassroots Women's Work,
A Report from Grassroots Organizations Operating in Sisterhood. Sept.
1995. 64 page pamphlet.
New York Times, Sept. 3, 1995, p. 1; Sept. 4, 1995,
p. 1. Quotes from Forum '95, Sept. 3, 1995, p. 1.
"'Women in Black' Defy China's Police", New York
Times, September 5, 1995.
Toronto Globe and Mail, August 24, 1995, p. A16.
"Report of the Informal Contact Group on Gender",
United Nations document A/CONF.177/L.2. Annex IV to the Report
of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 4-15 September
These were compiled and summarized by Interaction and are available
at its' web cite at http://www.interaction.org/ia. A printed version
is available from WEDO at 845 Third Ave., 15th floor, New York, NY
10022, and are summarized in its newsletter News & Views,
Vol. 8, No. 3-4, December 1995, p. 5.
The Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women,
UN document A/CONF.177/20, is available from the UN and at gopher.undp.org
Earth Times documented its' evaluation in ten pages
of its Sept. 28, 1995 issue. WEDO produced a 14 page "Brief Analysis".
Headline over column by Jack Freeman on the "Vatican View"
in Earth Times, Sept. 28, 1995, p. 9.
Quotes from Sadik and Boutros-Ghali are from columns each wrote
for Earth Times, Sept. 28, 1995, p. 16.
United Nations General Assembly, "Implementation of the
Outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality,
Development and Peace", Report of the Secretary-General,
Sen, Gita, "Viewpoint: Sign All the Documents, But Then
Send the Cheques", Beijing Watch, Sept. 12, 1995, p. 8.