This year marks the end of a decade. Launched with a conference in Mexico City in 1975, the "United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace" will officially terminate in July with an "end-decade" conference in Nairobi attended by government-appointed delegations from 159 member nations.
Short of a miraculous series of events between now and July, the decade will end falling far short of its goals. It will end even falling far short of the 14 "minimum objectives to be achieved by 1980" set forth in the World Plan of Action adopted in Mexico City. Those goals had to do with literacy, access to education, training and employment, voting and political rights, promotion of women to policy-making positions, health, sanitation, nutrition and other social services. Not only have those goals not been realized, but in some instances women can be said to be farther behind than they were in 1975.
And more divided. The conference in Mexico City and the mid-decade conference in Copenhagen were much politicized events, both at the official gatherings and the unofficial (but many agree more significant) forums of non-governmental organizations. Cultural, racial, political, ideological differences were obstacles that sisterhood did not always override. Putting it most positively, Gracia Molina de Pik of San Diego, who attended the Mexico City forum, said of it recently, "We had a good fight."
Women in the Los Angeles area have been discussing the situation in earnest recently, assessing the decade and looking toward Nairobi. Two "pre-Nairobi" conferences have drawn hundreds of women from a variety of backgrounds and organizations to share their concerns and discuss what impact they might have on the official conference, to which Maureen Reagan (the President's daughter and a women's rights activist) will lead the White-House appointed United States delegation, and the forum, also in Nairobi.
Last Sunday, "The Road to Nairobi," coordinated by Kagey Kash, past international president of B'nai B'rith Women, was convened at the Airport Marriott by B'nai B'rith Women, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and the Women's Conference of Jewish Federation Council, with about 40 women's organizations co-sponsoring.
More than 300 women came to hear Maureen Reagan report on a planning meeting for heads of delegations that she had attended recently in Vienna and to tell women what they realistically could expect to come out of Nairobi. Phyllis Kaminsky, director of the United Nations Information Office in Washington, presented an overview of the decade, and speakers and participants discussed the politics and networking of the decade.
"Relating the World Plan of Action to Los Angeles" was the theme of an earlier conference held at USC last month, sponsored by a coalition of women's organizations (many of them also represented at the Marriott gathering) with the help of the U.N. Non-Governmental Liaison Service.
There, Hilda Paqui, a Ugandan woman who is an information adviser at the United Nations Development Program in New York, discussed both women's progress and the lack of it over the decade, and talked of the need for some "forward-looking strategies." Local women recounted their experiences in Mexico City and Copenhagen and raised issues, ranging from wife battering to pornography to irrigation to apartheid that they wanted to see discussed in Nairobi.
The focus varied at both conferences. Last Sunday's session concentrated more on the internal dynamics of the conferences, while the USC gathering concentrated more on the status of women. Neither focus provided much cause for jubilation.
At the Marriott last Sunday many women deplored what they called the "anti-Western, anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish" sentiments that prevailed in Mexico City and Copenhagen. They said women's issues were co-opted at those events by political divisiveness. Betty Shapiro of B'nai B'rith, who attended forums both in 1975 and 1980 called Copenhagen traumatic and said that there were times when she was in physical fear.
"The women in Mexico City permitted the rape and ruin of their conference," Phyllis Kaminsky said at the Marriott. "They were unwittingly seduced into having the seeds on anti-Semitism planted in them," explaining that "infamous resolution" equating Zionism with racism that was adopted by the U. N. General Assembly late in 1975 had its inception in Mexico City.
"The extreme politicization at Copenhagen resulted in the assessment of women's progress in the decade being derailed," she said.
At USC, Hilda Paqui started out detailing some progress: a number of governments have created bureaus for women's rights, have appointed women to decision-making posts. At the international level, a women's component is a must for any program seeking funding, a Voluntary Fund for the decade has been established, there is an International Women's Tribune Center.