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Excerpts from Reports from the Beijing Women’s conference - Present Time October 1995

August 31, 1995

We’re at the end of the first day of the conference in Huairou.  The workshop on the 29th was successful  - about 200 Co-counselors attended.  Diane communicated well what we are about here.

Women here are gobbling up our materials and flyers.  We’ve gotten comments like, “who are you? What is this organization that is offering forty workshops, has all these materials, has all this literature, is so well-organized, has women everywhere?”we are everywhere and certainly have the potential to make a huge impact.  I wondered how even 300 of us would be visible among 36,000 women, but after only one day there is no question that we will have a big presence.

Our folks are taking seriously the objective of making friends, and it’s pretty to see how easily it is happening.  Women have come here to meet people, make connections and take home with them all the resources they can get their hands on to assist them with the problems they face at home. 

 

September 1, 1995

The logistics are daunting.  But in the face of this, I have been impressed with the creativity of the women here.  At two workshops where the appointed leader did not show at the proper time, someone took charge and led a vibrant discussion among the people present, many of whom were experts on the workshop topic themselves.

What’s being addressed here are humanity’s issues being looked at through women’s eyes.  It is all about women taking leadership in order to effect change at home. 

The leadership I have seen modeled is inclusive, smart, and inspiring.  It is not about having power over men as men have historically had power over women.  In both workshops, I attended that had men, the men were cheered by the group.  As Gertrude Mongella, the UN honcho the official conference, said, “Women will change the world when they lead it, but they will change it with men as their partners.”

 

September 2, 1995

We have two main sites set up - one where the workshops are held, in an office building, and one in the Grassroots Tent in the diversity tent area.  We have literature for sale at both places, along with displays of the issue papers.  We have generated lots of interests. 

In addition to the RC room in the bank building and the grassroots tent, I heard of several meetings being led yesterday jn the youth tent (including one for ten-year-olds led by Corinne’s daughter, Brianna) and in the peace tent.  We've been asked to do an introductory lecture in the healing tent.  We've scheduled introductions every other day; the demand seems that high.  All of our workshops yesterday (the second day) were well-attended, and quite a few follow-up groups are resulting.  

Many, many wonderful individual contacts are happening. People are excited by how quickly they are able to make connections with women from developing countries, and how interested people are in what we are doing. 

We had a meeting today with the head of the UN Delegation.  It went well.  We introduced ourselves and told her about us and she told us about her agenda.  We offered to set up some caucuses here at the conference for her, and she was excited.  So we are setting up caucuses for young women, Jewish women, African American women, health policy organizers (the key unsettled issues at the UN conference will be around health care).  We figure it will be good for our visibility, experience and and contacts for us to set up and lead the caucuses, and we get to build a relationship with her and her staff in the process.

 

September 3, 1995

The welcome of the Chinese people and they clear and persistent message that I should go home and tell everyone that the Chinese people offer their friendship and welcome to the people in my country remind me of the common humanity that we all share.

Last night an event took place about men supporting women’s liberation that Chris Austill and Ben Zeman ended up leading.  There were 200 people there, with translators in booths like at the UN, translating everything into 6 languages.  It was one of the most hopeful events that many people had attended.  After,  I stayed to support Ben who was interviewed all over the place as the representative of the National Organization of Men Against Sexism.  Women as allies to men who are allies to women.

Some nice anecdote:  A woman from Nairobi told us, “You people are the angels of this conference.” 

Literature isn't selling that well since most of the people don't have the money and people are inundated with new information here.  We plan to urge counselors to buy literature to give as a parting gift to the friends they have made. 

I just talked with a lovely Nepalese woman named Urmila about water usage and policy in Nepal, and how the men make decisions about the resource that women are “in charge of”.   That is, it is the women who collect, boil and use the water but the men decide things like where pipe will be laid and where the spigots will be and for whom.  She is working to change things.  When we separated, she said, “Oh, that was so nice to be listened to here.”  I gave her the list of workshops, with the ones I thought she would be most interested in marked.  I told her she would be listened to when she came and that she had a lot to contribute.  She is a single woman, in charge of all her sisters and brothers, with no parents.  Persuading her bothers to help with the housework is a challenge.  She had a revolutionary suggestion for one of them - to sweep the house from top to bottom rather than go jogging to lose weight.  I gather he was speechless.  

People are really impressed with the thinking and the organization of having our position papers.  Workshops are superb and well-attended.  Lots of listening to each other’s stories with respect.  Several had speak-outs where women spontaneously stood up and said what life is like for them.  one Malaysian woman came up to me after the workshop on personal health and said, “I thought this would be like therapy, like you see on TV but the is not at all like therapy.  This is women sharing their stories and really being listened to.”  An Indian woman, after the Women and Privilege workshop said, “I thought this would be useless.  Why should this conference pay attention to rich women?  But I learned that rich women cry with the same sound as poor women.”

 

Sept. 4, 1995

Well. this has certainly been a worthwhile experiment.  We had a meeting of the whole RC group last night and the tone was very high.  We heard reports from a number of people from different constituencies about what they were pleased about so far.  Barbara said she came with a goal of establishing ten new contacts in Africa and we already met that.  Much good work is happening in the Disabilities Tent and now co-counselors are bringing women with disabilities to other workshops.  We have introductory workshops scheduled in Spanish and Chinese along with a lot in English.

We decided to do some lightweight physical power activities the last four afternoons.  We got that organized with about ten women leading and another twenty assisting. 

Diane Balser led a meeting for RC’ers at the Forum last night.  She suggested we consider going out on our own rather than with co-counselors to make friends. 

A few highlights: one of the problems we have seen with this gathering is that almost all the workshops and events are conducted in English with little or no translation available except Chinese.  That means that North Americans dominate all discussions even though they represent a minority of people here.  Because we co-counselors come from all over the world we have made it a priority to provide translation for fifteen to twenty different languages and we have been encouraging non-English speakers to participate by asking North Americans to wait and to allow those who feel less confident in such an environment to speak first.  It’s working.  We see people’s eyes light up whenever we do this.  People have said that we have made it possible for them to speak in public for the first time and they have a lot to say once they get a chance. 

At a workshop for men against sexism, the leader did not show up so Chris Austin stood up and led the workshop.  He invited men from all over the world to tell their stories.  It was highly successful and many men came up to him later to get more information about using listening skills to make their work go better.

I videotaped two workshops today.  At one on Combatting Internalized Sexism, the women told their success stories, their challenges and one thing they intended to do to make things go better in their lives from now on.  After hearing each other’s stories, the love in that room was overwhelming.  People didn’t want to leave.  One person said her highlight was seeing a Palestinian woman and a Jewish woman smiling at each other.

At a second workshop for Young Women Under Thirty, women from Nepal, Jordan, and Hong Kong talked about what sexism looks like in their countries.  I haven’t heard such terrible stories before.  When Jenny Sazama, the leader of the workshop, got people into groups to express their feelings about they had heard, the room erupted!

 

September 5

Susanne Langer and Gabriella Molnar led a workshop called “First and Second World Women Working Together”.  They introduced themselves and their personal connection and how that connection has transformed their view of the world and of themselves.  RC Theory was interspersed in a completely natural way.  Then they invited each person to say her name, nationality and  lie she had heard about women from the other world (Eastern Europe or US/Europe) and a word in her language.  One of the new women who was attending translated for a Gypsy (she called herself “Ramahn”).  There was a lot of laughing at some of the words.  Then Gabriella did a moving demonstration with the Bosnian woman who had been outrages at a workshop where the Slovenian convenor had ignored what is happening to Bosnian women and children.  We did mini sessions and then Suzanne suggested we split into two groups according to the “world”where we each took time.  It was a powerful workshop!

 

September 6

I am increasingly clear that societal transformation has to happen at the grassroots level.  If we can’t figure out how to help people to find their own best thinking, to find their own capacity for leadership, any revolution will only be substituting one oppression for another.  The women at this conference want a revolution that allows each of us to be close, smart, creative and free.  We will settle for nothing less!

 

September 7

Women and Leadership le by Jo Perry, Diane Shisk and Melphy Sakupwanya.  Fabulous.  It had to be in 2 rooms for groups.  Quick introductions, talks by Jo, Diane and Melphy.  Three different pieces of information on leadership.  Three different styles.   All good.  Then we had mini- sessions and divided into Wygelian groups which we called Leadership Groups.  The women had a blast.  Then we came back for comments and questions.  Well-received, well-done with a long list of contacts from around the world.

The White Women United to End Racism workshop led by Jennifer Wexler, spilled out into the hallway.  People introduced themselves and told a short bit about how they planned to end racism.  It took an hour but was worth it.  Then Jennifer gave basic information on human beings, had mini-sessions, gave more information about standing up for ourselves and how to handle attacks.  She did three demonstrations.  We didn’t want it to end.  Everyone learned.  The representation was international with some women of color there, two of them got to be in demonstrations. 

By the second day here, people knew about No Limits and were wearing our t-shirts.  At the Jewish Caucus (non-RC) on August 30, we accounted for approximately 10 to 20% of the attendance.  We introduced ourselves and our organizations at the meeting, then networked.  During the networking, people asked about No Limits and said things like, “I’ve been around for twenty years and have never heard of your organization.  I want to know what it’s about.”One person noted that  we were the clearest, almost positive presence at the meeting.

At a small support group that I led spontaneously in the Grassroots Tent one day, we we got to highlights of the conference, two women said that learning about RC was their highlight.  Other comments heard over and over are, “This is the only workshop where I get a chance to be heard.”

How I wish you all could be here to see the wonderful impact we women are making the world.  This Beijing conference is like getting a glimpse of paradise -  a gathering of some of the world’s most effective world changers where the many barriers have been let down.  here the beauty, intelligence, and love of women from all over the world is obvious.  And women here have been so open,  So open to making friends, so open to the attention and information we have to offer.  They fall into our laps and want to come back to the workshops and support groups again and again! 

There are opportunities everywhere we look to lead and make a difference.  I introduced myself to a woman who was about to do a program in the Grassroots Tent on Mothers’Centers in Germany.  These are places where mothers can go to be with their children together instead of being isolated in their homes.  The program was excellent with much of what they wanted to say being acted out so women who did not speak English could still understand a lot from the program.  They also made room for others to speak about the situation for mothers in their countries.  In the middle of the program, the German woman leading it came by my chair and said, “I’ll need you to listen to me later!”  After the program, we went to another tent to share some time.  They had no idea of how well they had done. 

 

September 8

RC news: RC workshops are overflowing.  John Kinsella was asked to give an introductory lecture to WorldVision, an international fundraising agency headquartered in Africa because the WorldVision folks said that the No Limits Project was the only group offering consistently useful workshops here at the conference. 

There are so many good stories of women reaching women.  Many of us are deepening our relationships with the women we’re already contacted.  There are support groups every day in the Grassroots Tent and the RC rooms. 

The US Delegate for Women’s Health at the UN Conference met with our healthcare advocates (Jane Zones, Pam Oatis and Pam Geyer) and UN Lobbyists (headed by Cherie Brown) yesterday.  It was a good meeting.  They are trying to help Madeline Albright meet with groups she wants to get input from.  Young Women, Jews, Women of Color are meeting regularly with her, organized by us.  We are having an effect! 


Last modified: 2015-01-26 11:52:05+00