NAIROBI — We are the world
We are the women
We are the ones who do two-thirds of the work
So let's start living. . . .
Forum '85: The 1985 Non-Governmental World Meeting for Women opened officially Wednesday at the Kenyatta Conference Center here. The festive mood is reflected in the parody they sang. The crowd, estimated at 6,000, most of them women, packed the assembly hall and balconies, overflowed the hallways and stairways, while hundreds more milled around on the mall outside.
Crowds of women, many of them in national or tribal dress, cheerfully jostled each other through packed doorways as every one of them passed through airport-style metal detectors and handbag searches. They came loaded with tape recorders, cameras--which they handed to obliging strangers for group shots--and growing armloads of conference paraphernalia. Japanese women, anticipating a day that was likely to get out of hand, brought their lunches in bento boxes.
Once inside they patiently waited for the increasingly stuffy hall to fill up, entertained sporadically by Kenyan school choirs. They gamely faltered their way through a new song composed for the forum, then happily sang out full-throated when the "We Are the World" parody was introduced.
And they lost no time working the room--networking style. Bella Abzug, smiling and seasonal in a natural straw hat, made her way down an aisle, stopped constantly by friends and strangers.
One Australian woman beamed up at her from her chair and said with wistful admiration, "To think if somebody like me could get to talking to somebody like you. . . ."
"Anytime, anytime," Abzug assured her.
"You know, I stood for election once. . . ."
"Listen, we have a panel coming up," Abzug went on, inviting her to next week's panel on elected women called "What If Women Ran the World" that she was conducting.
Loret Miller Ruppe, director of the Peace Corps, appeared in the crush near the back of the hall. The Peace Corps has arranged for interested forum participants to visit volunteers on sites outside of Nairobi. In addition, she said, they had flown in three volunteers from various regions of the world where the Peace Corps operates.
In another section of the room, three Afghan men dressed in well-tailored business suits made use of the wait to get in an earnest conversation with some young American black women from Atlanta. Clearly in support of their country's current Soviet-backed regime they carefully explained their version of the current situation. The other topic of conversation was their repeated protestations that the official American stance against "politicizing" the forum and conference was unfeasible and impossible. They got no argument on that from the American women.
Meanwhile, women from the ad-hoc committee of non-governmental forum participants staying at the Inter-Continental Hotel passed out bulletins about a meeting scheduled for that night. They are appealing to all women who find themselves in the same dilemma--that is, being forced out of a prepaid hotel room on the 12th to make room for the governmental delegations arriving for the official U.N. conference marking the end of the Decade for Women--to join them in their protest. They are considering a lawsuit. They are refusing to vacate their rooms until the matter is solved to their satisfaction. In the meantime they have invited delegates to share their rooms with them.
Three American women from the Overseas Education Fund International who are staying at the Inter-Continental took the bulletin and discussed their dilemma.
Connie Horak of Los Angeles and Marelyn Tank and Maxine Hitchcock of Washington said the fund has official status for the conference and conceivably does not come under the eviction, or would not if they pulled rank.
However, they have with them, Hitchcock said, 30 invited guests from Third World countries, whose trips have been financed by the Ford Foundation. These women are to be bumped too.
The irony, Hitchcock said, is that all 30 of them are lawyers and have been participating in an OEF project, about which they will conduct panels at the forum. The project? How to help Third World women become aware of their legal rights and secure them. It is no wonder, she said, that these 30 lawyers have been playing a major role in challenging the U.N. Secretariat and Kenyan government over accommodations.
The OEF women, she said, simply did not know how they would proceed, and she called it "our moral problem."
Meanwhile, several seats down from her a South African woman in traditional dress asked an American if she had a bottle opener. The South African had brought two Cokes with her. The two of them tried the American's eyebrow tweezers, then finally succeeded with a coin.