The NGO Conference on Women in Beijing

By Stocker, Barbara | Free Inquiry, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

The NGO Conference on Women in Beijing

Stocker, Barbara, Free Inquiry

I first heard about the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) World Conference on Women in Beijing late last winter when I read about it in the paper. I thought, "Boy, wouldn't it be great to go along?" and began to make a few inquiries. I got the name of a professor at Webster University, who said, "It would be great to have you." I sent in a deposit and began to attend planning meetings. It was a matter of filling out forms and applications, sending in those awful passport-style photos, and waiting for processing. Actually, I was never quite sure whether I was going or not and would tell people, maybe I was going to Beijing. My attendance application was approved, but I didn't have a room reservation or plane tickets until much later. In fact, I got my visa the day before leaving.

There were eleven of us in the Webster group including one professor, a few students, and several hangers-on like me when we took off on August 24. The Chinese had moved the NGO Forum from Beijing to Huairou, about ninety minutes away, perhaps in an attempt to discourage participation. Our hotel was another 20 minutes outside of Huairou in a very rural area.

There were actually two conferences going on. The first was the NGO Forum, consisting of representatives from non-governmental organizations. There are thousands of these around the world from many countries. They have different purposes and agendas but come together like a patchwork quilt to make an effective whole. The purpose of the Forum was to conduct workshops and draw up documents and ideas for the second conference, the Fourth United Nations Conference on Women. There were from 25,000 to 35,000 attendees at the NGO Forum from August 31 to September 8 and about 5,000 delegates at the U.N. Conference, which started later and lasted longer.

Our first day was devoted to sightseeing. We went to the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall, where I got a T-shirt with the message, "I climbed the Great Wall." The second day we arranged for more sightseeing. When our guide asked, "Where do you want to go?" several of us answered, "Tiananmen Square."

"You can't go there," he replied. We got to go to the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, but not Tiananmen Square, even though it was only a block away from the Forbidden City.

Then we began to hear the rumors. The Chinese were afraid that they had let some really wild feminists into their country who were going to take their clothes off and dance naked in Tiananmen Square. We even heard that the police had been issued blankets to throw over us just in case. Nevertheless, I had watched the students and their freedom demonstrations on television. I had watched the troops open fire, and I didn't want to be so close to this historical place without going there.

The next day seemed as good a time as any to go to Beijing by ourselves. But we couldn't find a bus running and all the taxis were in use. It seemed that we weren't going to be able to get there when someone said that a bus rented by a Cypriot delegation was going to Beijing. Since we agreed to pay (about $6.00, U.S.) and there was room they decided to take us. We got to Beijing and arranged to rent two taxis for the afternoon, and went to Tiananmen Square. It had just rained. I felt the symbolism of the flags and passersby reflected in the wet pavement, washed clean, but which would always hold the stain of blood spilled for freedom.

The taxis we had couldn't go to Huairou, but we found others that agreed to take us. When we got near Huairou, the drivers drove around a while, stopped, and said, "Get out." They didn't have permits to go into Huairou. So there we were on country road. We began to walk into town, hoping to find taxis to take us to the hotel. By then it was dark and the shuttles were no longer running. We found two women who spoke fair English and said they would find us some taxis. It turned out they were undercover police officers and the taxis were brand new Mazdas with white-gloved drivers, but they did drive us back and they did collect a fare. …

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