WRI Women's Working Group and the Beijing Conference

A core group meeting of the WRI Women's Working Group was held in London on March 24. The meeting opened with a warm welcome for Dominique Saillard, the new WRI and Peace Newsstaff member. Several important issues were on the agenda: how to improve communication and keep in touch with women interested in the women's working group; the process for accepting new core group members; an evaluation of the Days of Action (including the "Crossing the Lines" campaign); the women's presentation at the upcoming (December 1994) Triennial in Brazil; and more. It was decided that the WRI Women's Newsletterwill be published three times this year, and then perhaps on a quarterly basis, in order to improve communication. Maggie Helwig, who has moved to London from Canada, will continue her capable work as convenor of the group and help with coordinating preparations for the Triennial. The next meeting of the women's working group will be July 8, in London.

The upcoming (September 1995) United Nation's World Conference on Women (WCW) was also discussed. It was strongly felt, for the reasons given below, that the WRI Women's Working Group should not have a presence at the WCW itself. A draft statement was drawn up explaining the reasons. The question was then asked, "What should our strategy be regarding the regional preparatory meetings? Should the women's working group boycott these also or try to influence the agenda setting process?"

Some members had previously expressed concern that a strong anti-militarist voice was needed, in order to make sure that the WCW does not recommend increasing the number of women in the world's militaries. Within the WCW organization there are those who argue that the militarization of women promotes women's equality, by providing jobs and access to decision making. If the WCW action plan does recommend the increased recruitment and training of women, this could influence many international and national policies and programs. While there are excellent reasons to condemn the venue for the WCW, who is going to oppose the militarization of women? The debate about participation in the WCW preparatory meetings is still being discussed.

Why the WRI Women's Working Group Will Not Go to Beijing

  1. The Chinese government is maintaining an illegal military occupation of Tibet. Many Tibetan women have been imprisoned for peaceful independence protests, held under appaling conditions and usually subjected to torture, including sexual abuse; the reports that perhaps thousands of Tibetan women are being subjected to forced abortions need to be investigated immediately.
  2. The population control policy of the Chinese government amounts to a systematic attack on women's rights. Chinese women may be subjected to forced abortions or birth control; women who bear more than one child face legal discrimination against themselves and their children.
  3. The Chinese government is waging a relentless repression against autonomous civilian initiatives and organizations. The only women's groups allowed to function are those operating under the strict control of the Communist Party, mainly the All-China Federation of Women (ACFW). The 1995 UN conference would be completely monopolized by the government and the party-controlled ACFW. There will be no space for any independent voices or discussions which are not sanctioned by the government. The government-organized UN Conference would actually be blocking significant discussions and meetings which bear meaningful relevance to the problems and solutions facing women in China.
  4. The only reason the Chinese government wants to hold this conference is to show its citizens and the world that it is getting support from the international community, despite its flagrant violations of human rights. The 1995 conference would legitimate the repressive regime in China and elsewhere.
  5. The Chinese government will be extra vigilant from now until the conference against any signs of independent organizing by women's groups or on women's rights all across the country, especially near Beijing. Official vigilance will include secret police surveillance, intimidation, and detention.
    It is standard practice for the government to carry out detentions and police intimidation to ward off any expressions of unsanctioned opinions or activities during important national and international meetings. For example, during the government's lobbying for the 2000 Olympic, the state coerced support from citizens and organizations across the country. Shops and work units were forced to display posters and banners declaring their support to holding the Olympics in China. People and organizations will be coerced into giving donations to the event, which will worsen the already meagre income and resources of ordinary people.
    In March 1994, at least two dozen activists were detained by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) during the National Peoples' Congress (the Chinese parliament) and the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Conference in Beijing. Most of the detainees were arrested simply because they were active or had expressed their own opinions about the state. Similar police intimidation and detentions will take place during the 1995 UN WCW. As a result, instead of supporting efforts for the promotion of women rights, the meeting will actually add extra pressure on and victimize activists.
  6. Independent women groups not sanctioned by the Chinese government would not be allowed to attend. This censorship applies to both inside and outside the country, most notably women's groups from Taiwan, Hongkong, Tibetan women living in India and Macau.
  7. It is almost certain that many topics would be ruled off the agenda by the Chinese government. These would include not only the status of Tibet--and perhaps parallel cases such as East Timor--but issues such as coercive birth control and abortion, and any discussion of lesbianism and lesbian rights.