On the Issues
The Progressive Woman's Quarterly


Exclusive Beijing coverage

Photo: OTI team in Beijing On The Issues
team in Beijing:
Merle Hoffman (left),
Joy Silver (center),
and Ronni Sandroff.

(Photo: Trudy Mason)

Funny how listening to Communist rhetoric ("Chinese women have had full equality since 1949") sharpens your ear to the nuances of U.S. propaganda. Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton's speeches at the historic Fourth World Conference on Women took on the inequities facing women worldwide, but implied that women in the U.S. had nothing more to do than act as role models.

Most of the stateside media coverage at the conference took its cue from Republican attacks on the meeting and the subsequent White House hustle to appear tough on the Chinese. There was no on-the-ground observations of what was really occurring among the assembled 30,000 women leaders. Media critic Laura Flanders calls it "wildlife reporting" when people like ourselves get captured in a shot or two, waving a fist in the air, but are not invited into the television studios to sit on comfortable chairs with the generals and bankers and set the agenda. Flanders's biting speech on the global media is part of On The Issues' Beijing coverage, which also includes:

"Just Say Beijing." A rundown of how the key UN planks that reflect a changing world consciousness on the rights of women.

"The Restaurant." A Belgrade journalist's personal account of how women activists evaded Chinese interference and established unusual alliances.

"Once Upon a Meeting." Warsaw-based reporter Peggy Simpson traces the phenomenal growth of global feminism from conferences in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), and Nairobi (1985).

"Post-Beijing Agenda" includes Fran Kissling, from Catholics for Choice, on religious fundamentalism...Noleen Heyzer, new head of UNIFEM, on specific, regional solutions for women in developing countries...and former Congresswoman Bella Abzug, a major force behind the conference, who has a few choice words for George Bush who was in China at the same time, spreading fertilizer and sowing sexism....

Hillary and the A Word

Beijing, China -- Tuesday, September 6, 1995

Hillary Clinton's speech at the U.N. Forum on Women in Beijing included an almost full litany of the horrors that women are subjected to, including the killing of female infants, genital mutilation, brideburning, rape and other examples of "intimate violence." But though she strongly endorsed women's right to plan their families and space their children, she never mentioned the word abortion. An estimated 400,000 women worldwide die each year from illegal, botched abortions. Any discussion of the crisis in women's healthcare must include a call for access to legal, safe abortion.

Mrs. Clinton told a CNN reporter that after her speech she was congratulated by a few members of the Vatican delegation. What is wrong with this picture? Mrs. Clinton did not hesitate to step on the toes of her Chinese hosts by pointing out the human rights violations of forced abortions and sterilization. But she ignored the problem of forced motherhood in the U.S. But her reticence in naming the a-word leads us to believe that she's still afraid of stepping on the toes of American fundamentalists and is putting politics above the truth of women's lives on this issue.

-- Merle Hoffman from Beijing

Conference Site A Metaphor for Women's Lives Worldwide

Beijing, China -- Friday, September 1, 1995

"Look at the world through women's eyes" is a theme of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. But the woman's eye-view at the NGO Forum reveals working conditions that reflect fear, disrespect and disregard of the serious work women have come together to do.

They sit in saris, business suits, blue jeans and colorful African dresses, huddled under canopies and umbrellas, earnestly listening, writing notes, pressing hands, trying to ignore the sheets of rain puddling around their feet. Huairou County -- the prettied-up construction site trying to pass as a conference area for the NGO Forum on Women -- is awash with mud. The site seemed passable in the sunshine on the Forum's first morning. But it's now been raining for two days. The tents are limp and damp. There is no drainage. The hastily laid pavement blocks are buckling. Some entrances have been closed because of electrical wire danger.

30,000 women from all parts of the world are wading though block-wide, ankle-deep puddles, searching for meetings they've spent years preparing for, looking for the colleagues from other parts of the world who may have strategies to exchange. Everyone hates to give up, to go shopping (as the Chinese hosts clearly want us to do). For the speakers (when you can find the ones you came to hear) are excellent. Their talks are grounded in years of hands-on experience and elevated by deep and serious consideration on how to translate ideals into incremental gains for women. And the questions from the audience are equally provocative and challenging.

Many Forum members have come to China at great personal expense. Others are very conscious of the costs to their purse-poor, mission-proud organizations. These women leaders have no intention of failing their difficult quest. But they're forced to work, to build alliances, under conditions that no group of male leaders would put up with for a second!

"This has to be a conference of commitment," Noleen Hyzer of Singapore, the dynamic new director of the United Nations' Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) told ON THE ISSUES before opening day. "Past UN conferences have produced little but pieces of paper listing what should be done. But this is the largest number of women ever coming together after extensive national and regional preparation. We're frustrated, outraged, fed up that our needs have remained a piece of paper for so long. This is a last chance to address priorities, implementation, and mechanisms of implementation."

The sight of women leaders huddling in the rain seems an apt metaphor for the condition of women worldwide. The Chinese government spared no expense for the thrilling opening ceremony -- with its welcoming blimp, 20,000 doves and a cast of thousands of singers, dancers, musicians and clowns. Then they tucked the conference away at a dangerous site, an hour from Beijing, where the "dangerous examples" of committed, powerful women had less chance of rubbing off on Chinese citizens. The welcoming ceremony, performed for all the world to see, was first class. But the accommodations are creating tremendous obstacles to filling the mission of the meeting. So far, we remain muddied but unbowed.

-- Merle Hoffman and Ronni Sandroff from Beijing

Plan for September 6 Day of Action

Where will you be? What will you do?

New York, Thursday, August 30

Couldn't get to Beijing? On September 6, you can join with the women in Beijing in the first annual International Day of Action for Women's Equality by planning or participating in events in your own city or town. This day of action is the culmination of 180 Days/180 Ways Women's Action Campaign that began in March, 1995.

For 180 days women all around the world have been working to create a 180-degree reversal of negative trends that threaten progress towards women's equality. Actions have shown the growing strength and diversity of women's networks and groups around the world.

In Beijing, one action is a Court of Women, a World Public Hearing on Crimes Against Women to be held at the Culture Palace, NGO Forum in Huairou. It is the sixth of eight such hearings held in different parts of the Asia-Pacific region dedicated to the millions of women who have survived and continue to survive in an increasingly violent world. Court Coordinator is Corinne Kumar, AWHRC-India Secretariat, Bangalore, India.

What you can do to help is take action locally to make your state, city or county government more responsive to women and lay the groundwork to implement the Platform for Action adopted at the Conference in Beijing.

While Day of Action leaders in the U.S. call for a meeting with President Clinton, all women and men who are not in China can use September 6 to:

  • Call for women's equality and gender justice worldwide
  • Let governments know that demands for equality will not end in Beijing
  • Show support for women at the conference

Women and men in Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroun, Canada, Colombia, Ghana, Holland, India, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Norway, South Africa and the United States have already planned a number of events that will support the goals of the UN Conference and draw attention to the needs and concerns of local women.

More info on the Internet. If you are on an APC network, just add 180days to your visit list. Otherwise, subscribe to the free women-180days list by contacting

and typing *only*

subscribe women-180days

See you at the Day of Action!

On the Issues Media Bulletin: for Immediate Release

Hear All the Womens' Voices

New York, Friday, August 25

Harry Wu is safely home from China; and Hillary Clinton prepares to depart for Beijing, where she will address the official U.N. delegates' conference.

"Remember, her voice is just one voice. All the women's voices at the conference remain important. To the extent that her voice sheds light on our vision for global women's rights, she serves an important purpose," On the Issues Publisher Merle Hoffman said today.

Women as different as Bella Abzug, founder of Womens Environmental Development Organization, and Georgie Ann Geyer of United Press International have reacted to the attempts to control Hillary Clinton's access to the conference by stating that "she is a woman in her own right and she should be allowed to attend and say anything she wants." "Mrs. Clinton remains a passionate advocate for women's rights," Hoffman said, "But she is limited positionally by her role as the wife of the President, and thus is constrained by foreign policy and other considerations in what she can say or do in Beijing."

"In Beijing, it is up to all the women to move the vision forward," Hoffman concluded.

In other news today:

  • Chaos reigns at airports as thousands of women begin to arrive.
  • Reporters have been banned from certain areas.
  • Beggars and dissidents have been expelled from Beijing.

Fuss Over Hillary Obscures The Real Problem

August 18, 1995

"Let's not be distracted by President Clinton's waffling over whether Hillary Clinton should head the U.S. delegation to the Fourth U.N. International Conference on Women. Women need real power, not the illusion of power," Merle Hoffman, Publisher of On The Issues magazine, said today.

"Icons like Hillary Clinton can shed the glaring light of the media on the issues, but it is up to all of us to make the changes. The Conference on Women to be held in Beijing-- the largest human rights conference in the history of the U.N.-- is not about doing business through icons. We are about radical transformative visions of positive social change and elevating the status of womens' lives throughout the world," Hoffman emphasized.

"Hillary Clinton is not an elected official, nor does she represent the world's women, many of whom live lives of daily struggle. The Conference is about all women, those who can get to Beijing and those who cannot", Hoffman said.

The pressure to not send a U.S. delegation-- which has so far taken the forms of bills in the House and Senate and a letter to President Clinton from Senators Jesse Helms and Robert Dole and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich-- now focuses on Hillary Clinton (See below: Two Wrongs Make It Far Right). Ms. Harry Wu, wife of the imprisoned American human rights advocate, has personally asked Ms. Clinton to stay home as a protest of her husband's imprisonment.

"Even if Ms. Clinton attends, she reportedly will only address the conference on one day and move on. We welcome Ms. Clinton, as an elevated and privileged woman who can reinforce the U.S. positions, in Beijing. But it's up to all of us to make the difference," Hoffman said.

Two Wrongs Make It Far Right

July 31, 1995

Because a Chinese-American citizen is wrongly imprisoned in China, right-wing members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are working overtime to cancel all American participation in the Fourth United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing in September.

Yes, it is wrong to imprison Harry Wu, reportedly a human rights activist traveling with a passport and a visa, and yes, it is wrong to cancel America's participation in this important conference.

"News and analysis vital to women frequently does not appear in America's news media," On The Issues Publisher Merle Hoffman declared today. "This serious effort on a broad front to pull the U.S. out of the Beijing Conference is not getting media coverage and we intend to alert women to what is happening. We hope that women all over the world will read our news and analyses. Activists, editors and writers are welcome. Let's get the story out!"

WHAT YOU CAN DO-- House of Representatives-- Call, fax, or email your Representative today to vote against HR 2047. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced the bill, and stated that the Beijing Conference should reject any internationally recognized Right to Abortion and Equal Pay for Equal Work of Equal Value. His statement makes it clear to many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's) that Mr. Wu's plight is being used to kill the participation of America's governmental delegation in this important conference.

Senate-- Jesse Helms, Newt Gingrich, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole and others signed and sent a letter to President Clinton urging him to cancel participation "at any level or in any fashion" until Wu is released. Call, email, or fax the White House and express your opinion; These messages are counted you know. (The email address for the President:

BULLETIN! Most Favored Nation-- Congress voted this week to renew China's Most-Favored-Nation status. A vote against MFN status for China would have been a direct and effective way to fight for human rights in China. This opportunity has been ignored, yet the women's conference is targeted!

Go to Beijing '95: Special Report.

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