"One year ago, 20,000 women gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, to plan how to achieve equality by the year 2000," speaker Sarah Harder pointed out.
That being so, more than 300 women met last Sunday to observe the anniversary of the world conference that marked the end of the United Nations Decade for Women.
Although many of them had attended that conference, they had not come to Mount St. Mary's Doheny campus to reminisce but to measure how far women had come in the past year in achieving the goals set forth in the document adopted by the conference, a plan of action for the years 1986-2000, called the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women.
How far? Not far at all. As evident at the conference, women are still committed to getting there--there being equality by the year 2000--but they themselves have yet to figure out just how to do it.
As Harder, the keynote speaker, reminded them, that 372-paragraph document contains "the first intergovernmental consensus about what must happen if women are to participate equally in rewards and responsibilities of life on this planet." And beyond the document adopted by the official conference of delegations from 157 countries was what she referred to as "the milestone of consciousness for individual women and the world" that resulted largely from the unofficial forum sponsored by non-governmental organizations and held at the same time.
Harder, who is president of the 175,000-member American Assn. of University Women, served as a link between the conference and forum in Nairobi, organizing daily briefings by delegates for forum participants.
The meeting in Los Angeles, she said, was evidence "that energy carried out of Africa is still focusing on here-and-now concerns."
Perhaps inadvertently keeping with the U.N. penchant for unwieldy nomenclature, the sponsoring organization, formed last January as a coalition of 40 women's organizations, has called itself the Greater Los Angeles Committee to Advance the Forward-Looking Strategies for Women. It gave the conference an equally long name, the short form of which was "Global Update: Local Action."
Chaired by Lea Ann King, the conference was the latest in a series of activities that began last year with two conferences held before and after Nairobi by a coalition of women's groups and chaired by Kaygey Kash, who served as a consultant to Sunday's conference. The conferences resulted in the establishment of the above-named permanent committee last January.
Between October and January workshops based on the concrete and local aspects of the themes of the decade, "equality, development and peace," were held to discuss "strategies for the future." By January a steering committee of 12 organizations was formed, and organizations were invited to join the general committee. A monthly newsletter was started and the July conference scheduled.
The purpose of all this, as stated by the committee, is to provide a clearinghouse for information, to encourage collaboration on mutual goals and to help unify work for women's issues in Los Angeles and beyond. In a word--a word now popular in the women's movement--the purpose is to network.
The groups, as evidenced by their members who came out on Sunday, represent a cross section ranging from such mainstream organizations as the Junior League of Los Angeles, Business and Professional Women, various Jewish and Christian women's organizations, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (a black women's sorority), to several newer, smaller and ethnically diverse groups such as the Asian Pacific Women's Network, Comision Feminil, Friends Outside, National Women's Political Caucus and the Older Women's League.
In her opening remarks, Harder had said of Nairobi, "For white middle-class women like me, the term 'minority' gained a new and accurate definition. North Americans are only 6% of the world's women; with European and Russian women, we comprise only 22%." Referring to the fact that Third World women accounted for 60% of those at Nairobi, she continued, "We could see in Nairobi that we are the minority."
At Mount St. Mary's, the group had a homogeneous look to it, largely white and almost completely middle class. Despite the look of things, however, it was clear an enormous effort has gone on to get even such a group of middle-class women together and committed to at least exploring how to achieve equality for women.
Also, when Harder concluded her remarks with, "We are our sisters' keepers," she struck a responsive chord. From the concerns expressed, the women did want to reach out to all women, although it seemed they do not yet know how to go about it.
No 'Global Update'
There was no "global update" to speak of at the conference, which was perhaps understandable since the strategies were only officially adopted by the United Nations' General Assembly last December and have only recently been available in print.