THIRTY or so St. Louisans traveled to China with a heartfelt
interest in doing something for womankind. There they joined 35,000
women with whom they found much in common. They also found much
that was exceptional. They returned changed by the experience and
still pondering what to make of it all.
The Post-Dispatch asked six local women (and a man) who
attended the Non-Governmental Organization Forum on Women in
Huairou, China, for their impressions. The gathering coincided with
the fourth U.N. World Conference on Women, in Beijing. Their
Linda Lindsey is a professor of sociology at Maryville
University and a member of the board of trustees of the Children's
Even while attending the NGO Forum many of us were acutely
aware that media coverage, especially CNN, appeared to be focusing
on the controversial aspects of the conference rather than the
obvious support and unity which emerged.
The group that clearly received the most media attention was
the large Iranian delegation of fully veiled women with male
"escorts" who were always hovering nearby. They strategically
placed themselves at the entrance to the "Global Tent," which was
the logistical center for all conference activities, including
registration, information and distribution of material.
And distribute material they did indeed - mountains of it.
While China comes in as a close second, Iran takes the prize for
the sheer amount of printed material attesting to the wondrous,
beneficial and equal roles and opportunities of women who live in
the Islamic state. wO
Periodically on each day of the conference they would march
throughout the meeting site and chant support of their freely
chosen way of life under the dictates of Islamic Law. The media
would willingly toddle along behind with cameras and microphones
and report on the evening news that religious fundamentalism was
the issue tearing apart the NGO Forum and creating an aura of
disunity over the entire gathering.
This could not be further from the truth. While religious
fundamentalism was certainly one of several controversial topics
discussed, the Forum was remarkable in its ability to bring
together women of all faiths to discuss matters affecting their
daily lives - from issues related to production, reproduction,
parenting and violence - all of which had religious overtones.
When politics and religion were met head on, as between
Palestinian and Israeli women, toleration and understanding
emerged, even in the face of continued disagreement. I recall a
packed workshop on the topic of weaving the connections of the
world's religions when panelists were again drowned out by yet
another Iranian demonstration. We waited in what I would describe
as "bemused toleration" until they passed and then continued on
with our discussion. I speak from the perspective of attending the
NGO Forums in Copenhagen and Nairobi, which were more divisive but
also smaller, less inclusive and had fewer women on the organizing
bodies or official delegations.
I believe Beijing attests to the recognition that women's
empowerment is beneficial to everyone and that, despite glaring
misconceptions in the media, global sisterhood is a reality that
cannot be denied.
Beckah Voigt is associate artistic director of the Gash/Voigt
Dance Theatre of St. Louis.
There were so many experiences to digest. The numerous sights,
sounds and smells of issues, languages, dress, sizes, colors,
perfume, food and women were incredibly dazzling.
There were many difficulties, but each woman seemed to speak
and each attempted to listen.
Gash/Voigt Dance Theatre's particular niche at the conference
was performance and teaching. This was greatly rewarding for us as
we found many people who had never been exposed to modern dance. …