NAIROBI, Kenya — Shortly before dawn last Saturday, Margaret Kenyatta picked up her gavel and looked out one last time at the plenary hall of the conference center that bears the name of her father, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's founding father.
The room was filled with several thousand exhausted people who had been there, or in the corridors outside, since 10 a.m. Friday. The floral arrangements surrounding the dais had wilted and died. The last fresh air had been let in from the back doors at 6 p.m. The floor was a sea of trampled resolutions, documents and scribbled notes. The tables were littered with Coke bottles and candy wrappers, overflowing ashtrays, souvenirs of Nairobi or the conference, defunct earphones and headsets for translation, and more draft versions of documents suddenly not worth the paper they were printed on.
Out of sight, in an upstairs corridor off the hall, an Iranian woman had stolen away from her delegation and sat, sunken in a deep leather chair, shoes off and navy blue-socked feet on the coffee table in front of her, her black chador pulled down over her face, dead to the world.
As president of the proceedings, Kenyatta said, "I now declare the world conference to review and appraise the achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace over." Her gavel came down, and the delegates made their way out, too spent for much cheering or tears, but with the weary satisfaction of those who had weathered a storm.
Scheduled to conclude at midnight, the conference had raged on. Consensus (a unanimous vote) had long since stopped seeming anything more than a quixotic dream. A walkout by Israel or the United States had continued to loom as a distinct probability since Thursday. There had been moments Friday and early Saturday, in fact, when it seemed that the good will and productive work of the first week or so of the two-week-long conference might fall apart altogether.
And then, about 3 a.m., the central document under consideration, the "Forward Looking Strategies of Implementation for the Advancement of Women for the Period up to the Year 2000," was adopted by consensus.
That done, the delegates turned to the 105 resolutions introduced during the proceedings. Some had been debated, amended and approved in committee, some remained in dispute, some had merely been introduced into the record. By 3:30 a.m., the conference had agreed by consensus to take the entire lot and list them as unfinished business in the final draft of the Forward Looking Strategies and report of the conference, and advise governments to take appropriate action.
All that remained were the thank yous and congratulatory remarks. Leticia Shahani, the conference secretary-general, declared the conference "a triumph both for the United Nations and for the world." In spite of the hour, it seemed every delegation there would find the strength to utter something.
Denmark, the country that had hosted the mid-decade conference, proposed that the Forward Looking Strategies be known hereafter as the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. Zambia so seconded, mentioning in the process that the outcome of the conference "was a proud moment for Africa."
And the Africans cheered and the others cheered for them. And Margaret Kenyatta delivered some remarks she had written that made the same point in more detail.
What had been perfectly obvious from the beginning began to make itself fully felt--what an important occasion this had been for Kenya, and for Africa. Kenya had a lot riding on this conference. It had taken a risk, hosting what could have been a debacle or a nightmare, or simply the world at its diplomatic worst.
Nairobi was like Los Angeles the morning after the Olympics. More than 15,000 people, most of them women, had come to this city for what was being called the largest meeting of women in history. The conference had gone off without incident. It had gone so well, in fact, that history had been made, and the Kenyans had played on-stage and behind-the-scenes roles in bringing it off. It was a success.
Everyone declared themselves, and the women of the world, winners. The Israelis emerged with a historic precedent--for the first time since 1975 the "infamous resolution" calling Zionism a form of racism would not appear in and was deleted from a U.N. document. The Palestinians emerged as statesmen for not insisting on a reference to Zionism, and for persuading the Iranians follow suit.