WRI Women's Working Group's statement on the UN World Conference on Women to be held in Beijing in 1995

The War Resisters' International Women's Working Group will NOT be attending the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing.

While we felt that there was much that an anti-militarist women's organisation could offer to the conference, and while we particularly want to argue against the suggestion that greater involvement of women in the armed forces can in any way contribute to work for women's rights, we are so appalled by the choice of Beijing as a location that we feel we must boycott this meeting. Some of our reasons follow:

  1. The Chinese government is maintaining an illegal military occupation of Tibet. Hundreds of Tibetans are imprisoned for entirely peaceful independence protests, held under appalling conditions and usually subjected to torture. A large number of these prisoners are women, particularly Buddhist nuns; some of them are still in their teens. Women prisoners are routinely subjected to sexual abuse; among the many reports received in the last year, we have heard of a Tibetan women tortured until she suffered a miscarriage and denied medical attention afterwards; women who have had electric cattle prods inserted into their vaginas; and many other atrocities. There are also reports -- unconfirmed, but urgently requiring investigation -- that hundreds, even thousands, of Tibetan women are being subjected to forcible abortions.
  2. The population control policy of the Chinese government amounts to a systematic attack on women's rights. It is known that Chinese women may be subjected to forcible abortion or birth control, and that women who bear more than one child face legal discrimination against themselves and their children. Canada has recognised China's population control policy as, in itself, grounds for Chinese women to be granted asylum in other countries.
  3. Women's rights are also violated by the Chinese government's treatment of lesbians. There have been reports for over 15 years that electro-convulsive 'therapy' and medicines to induce vomiting are widely used to 'cure' homosexuality. Lesbianism is treated as a psychiatric disease, though the World Health Organisation has declassified homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder.
  4. The Chinese government is waging a relentless campaign of oppression against any autonomous civilian initiatives and organisations. The only women's groups which are allowed to function are those operating under the strict control of the Party and the state; the main group of this kind is the All-China Women's Federation, the only group in China that has been heard from in the preparation of the conference. The World Conference on Women would be completely monopolised by the government and the party-controlled ACWF. There will be no space for any independent voices or discussions which are not sanctioned by the Party/state to take place at all.

At a time when women's rights and well-being are under acute threat, as they have been in the last few decades in China, the government-organised UN conference would actually be blocking significant discussions and meeting which might bear relevance to the problems, and possible solutions, facing women in China.

  1. The Chinese government will be particularly vigilant from now until the conference to prevent any sign of independent or dissident organising by women's groups or on women's rights all across the country, but especially in Beijing. The means of official vigilance will certainly include police intimidation and detention. It is standard practice for the government to use these means to ward off expressions of unsanctioned opinion during the sessions of any important meetings, national and international.

A man was arrested in Shanghai last year for expressing opposition to the holding of the Olympics in China. His whereabouts are still unknown. During the whole period of government lobbying for the Olympics, the state regimented and coerced expressions of support from citizens and organisations across the country. Shops and work units were forced to display posters and banners declaring their support for holding the Olympics in China.

More recently, at least two dozen activists were detained in February and March, 1994, during the sessions of the National People's Congress (the Chinese parliament) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing. Most of the detainees had done nothing specifically targetting these meetings, but were arrested simply because they were active or had expressed independent opinions.

It is certain that similar intimidation, harassment and detention will take place before and during the World Conference on Women. As a result, instead of supporting efforts for the promotion of women's rights, the meeting will create additional hardship for activists genuinely trying to forward this cause.

  1. People and organisations will be coerced into giving donations to the event, which undercut the already meagre, and shrinking, income and resources of ordinary people. During the Asian Games in 1990 and during the bidding for the Olympics, extra levies and "contributions" were imposed on individuals and work units.
  2. Independent women's groups not sanctioned by the Chinese government will not be allowed to attend. This censorship applies to groups both inside and outside the country. Women's groups in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Maucau, and Tibetan women living in India will probably be denied visas. This would make the parallel NGO gathering at the conference meaningless. We have already seen how this is developing -- at the recent Asia-Pacific NGO Preparatory Meeting, NGOs from Taiwan were told they could not participate unless they were willing to "represent Taiwan as a Chinese province."
  3. It is almost certain that many topics would simply 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.
  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 and civil rights.

The 1995 conference will act as no more than an extremely expensive and cynical exercise legitimating the repressive regime in China, and similar regimes elsewhere. The conference will not benefit women in China, and will most likely increase their suffering.

The War Resisters' International Women's Working Group will continue to work to see that, if Tibetan, Taiwanese or Hong Kong women wish to attend this conference, they will be allowed to do so. We will try do what we can from the outside to ask that the prohibited issues be put on the agenda. But we cannot endorse this conference with our presence.

WRI Women's Working Group, May 1994