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Profiles of 8 Who Will Attend Nairobi Forum : United Nations Decade for Women Will End With 50 Participating From the Southland

July 07, 1985|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

This weekend, 8,000 to 10,000 women from 159 nations begin arriving in Nairobi, on Africa's east coast. Among them will be more than 50 women from Los Angeles and Southern California.

They will participate in two events marking the close of the United Nations Decade for Women--a forum for non-governmental organizations followed by an official U.N. conference of government-appointed delegations.

Launched in Mexico City in 1975, the Decade for Women was intended to further the rights of women.

The forums and conferences held in Mexico City, and midway through the decade in Copenhagen in 1980, were beset with divisiveness.

Despite this, a World Plan of Action was adopted, and many women reported that friendships were formed and a consciousness-raising about women was launched and has been growing ever since.

The forum for non-governmental organizations begins Wednesday. It is to this meeting that most of the Southern California women are headed. The forum will overlap and be followed by the official U.N. conference, which runs from July 15-26.

Maureen Reagan is leading the 36-member U.S. delegation to the official conference.

The women profiled below are a sampling of Southern Californians attending the conferences.

"Maybe one indicator of how far I've come (during the Decade for Women) is that I did not attend the Mexico City Conference in 1975 because I was afraid to go alone !" Billie Heller said recently. Getting an early start to Nairobi, she was speaking by telephone from Paris. "I'm embarrassed to say it. At that time I didn't know my peers. I did go to Copenhagen five years later by myself."

Married and the mother of three grown children, Heller has combined feminism with volunteerism. "I came out of the Nader movement," she said, referring to consumer activist Ralph Nader. A resident of Beverly Hills, she was an original convener of the Gray Panthers in Los Angeles County and worked with OWL, Older Women's Liberation. She is on the steering committees of the National Women's Political Caucus and Women For:, a local political support and action group.

She traveled to the Copenhagen conference alone, with a journalist's credentials representing Spokeswoman, a now-defunct periodical. She is attending both Nairobi conferences with credentials from NWPC's newspaper. And, she said, she has registered as a participant at the non-governmental organizations forum.

"I would like to do something there on elected women," she said. "A lot of workshops sort of evolve on the spot, and I'm hoping this will be the case."

She said she was "as traumatized as most of the American women who went" to Copenhagen: "I saw it, I felt it, but I learned a great deal. Some of the women who were involved in workshops on aging came away feeling they had accomplished more in those 18 days than they could have done in years. . . . It's true the PLO or their supporters had someone at almost every workshop. It was rough. But as traumatic and difficult as it was, the one-to-one contacts were very real. Those relationships were worth everything, no matter how divisive it was at the formal level. A lot of women go with the desire to share."

Including Heller. She is taking the next few weeks seriously. "I'm very concerned that there are a whole lot of problems involving women, but most women are too busy trying to put bread on the table to do anything about them. People like me have a certain amount of luxury. . . . I used to be embarrassed by it, now I'm not. Someone has to do this, and most can't."

Gracia Molina Pick of San Diego traveled to Mexico City and Copenhagen for the previous U.N. conferences, and she will be on the spot again in Nairobi--as international chair of Comision Feminil Mexicana Nacional. She is, she offers in the following order, "a feminist, an activist and a Chicana."

Pick said she came to the feminist movement from a 30-year background in the civil rights and peace movements. She is a founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus and Comision Feminil, the latter out of her conviction that for the time being, the concerns of Latinas need to be addressed separately from those of men.

She is going to Nairobi to attend the non-governmental organizations forum with the national chair, Beatriz Olvera Stotzer. In Los Angeles "the home team" will be managed by Sandra Serrano, who will keep members informed about the proceedings.

At the forum, Comision Feminil will be especially involved in 12 workshops concerning migrant workers, she said. The commission is a member of the International Organization for the Defense of Migrant Women's Rights, formed after the Copenhagen forum, she said, and is at the point of drafting a treaty.

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