Women of the world unite.
BY NANCY LANDAU
When I returned from the International
Women's Year Conference in Copenhagen
I heard someone liken the experience to
the proverbial elephant and the blind men
tale. An apt comparison, I thought. Each
of us there saw a different part, no one
saw the whole elephant, and we're still
putting the pieces together.
And mammoth it was. Half a decade
Nancy Landau is a native Texan living in
Washington, D. C. She backpacks and
travels whenever and wherever possible.
ago, when the first such UN conference
was held by and for the world's women
in Mexico City, 200 workshops were offered at the Tribunal, the non-governmental (NGO) counterpart to the official
conference. This year's nine day alternative NGO Forum began with 800 workshops scheduled. But because that preset program was quickly made more
flexible, participants ended up with 1500
possibilities, 150-175 offerings per day.
The range of topics provided a dazzling smorgasbord of choices, and choreographing one's movements was a diffi-
The Palestinian question turned women's issues into global politics.
cult, bewildering task. Especially since
"our" daily newspaper, Forum 80, failed
to print a daily schedule after the first
day—too little space, they claimed. They
did find space, however, for several patently insulting graphics and photos, and
many women were angered and frustrated
by the internal conference coverage, their
lack of access to it, and the dearth of
women reporters. Margie Paxton, an American originally hired as editor, was dismissed two weeks before the conference,
reputedly to avoid controversy over First
World/U.S. domination. Dennis Hackett,
her replacement, is British.
There were other problems at the
Forum. Workshop rooms were small, and,
although there were 8000 women attending, no space was large enough for
more than 600 of us to meet together
at one time. (Some women expressed
concern that there was a "hidden agenda"
operating to keep us separate.) There
was a scarcity of simultaneous translations and earphones that disadvantaged
the non-English speaking women, and the
native English speakers needed constant
reminding about talking slowly and distinctly for the many who knew English
less well. Food was scarce and expensive,
and many who were sent on small budgets, and others who paid their own way,
literally could not afford to eat.
Perhaps the most . surprising oversight was challenged in words writ large
on posters that went up the very first
morning—"A women's conference without childcare?" Word got around that
when a high-ranking Danish official finally grew tired of all the commotion surrounding the issue, he did get a babysitter sent over. The insult was compounded, however, when the price was
set at $5 per hour per child.
But it seems fair to say that political
issues didn't dominate at the Forum.
"Networking" was the key word and
there were many calls for solidarity and
for work to strengthen it. Other positives were the interpersonal and cross-
cultural relationships that were formed,
and the view we each got of the people
from other countries. There were 2000
more women present than had participated in Mexico City—an estimated
total of 3000 Danes, 2000 other Europeans, 950 from the US and Canada,
250 Africans, and many from other
parts of the world.
The scope of media coverage
and the variety of events that took place
during the conference was illustrated
by the Danish press: when the Nordic
women made a plea for peace, called
for an end to the arms race, and petitioned the official conference with half
a million signatures of support; when the
Ukranians in exile made a plea for their
people in the USSR with a 24 hour hunger strike; when there was an animated
debate between American reporters and
Iranian delegates; when the Soviet feminists who defected were received at
the conference; when a coup took place
in Bolivia, and the Bolivian women
scuffled with police at the Bella Center,
attempting a plea for support; when
Sarah Weddington made a dramatic
speech on women's issues; when the two-
time airplane hijacker and the women of
the Palestinian contingent received much
publicity; when the Group of 77 (most of
the developing countries) equated Zionism with racism.
Because of the Zionism issue, the
decision to channel funds for Palestinian