Forum addresses U.N. conference

By Carolyn Smith

Arizona Daily Wildcat

In an effort to boost the understanding of women's rights, three participants of the Non-Governmental Organization Forum on Women in Huairou, China, addressed a group of about 80 Tuesday night.

Sponsored by the University of Arizona chapter of Amnesty International, Tucsonans Judith McDaniel, Herminia Cubillos and Traci Carroll each presented their views on the conference and what they saw as crucial parts of the experience.

The Forum on Women, which ran Aug. 30-Sept. 8, was held in China in conjunction with the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

McDaniel, author of "Lesbian Couples Guide," held a workshop in Beijing on Lesbians, Political Activism and Spirituality. She said if human rights are defined, then women's rights are also defined.

Giving a brief overview of the U.N.'s history with women's conferences, McDaniel said the U.N. forums set an international standard, especially in the area of funding priorities that are important for women's non-governmental organizations.

"Women's voices together have more impact than in individual countries. Through networking, sharing information and resources, women are brought closer," McDaniel said.

McDaniel said that as a result of the conference, rape has been acknowledged as a wartime crime for the first time in history.

"Where rape was used as an instrument of war, it is now a violation of human rights and punished as a crime of war," she said.

McDaniel said she has been asked many times why the conference was held in China, and her answer was simple.

"Because there had already been a U.N. conference in North America, in Europe, and in Africa. China volunteered to host the conference in Asia," she said.

McDaniel said her experience of being a political prisoner in Nicaragua in 1985 made her realize the people there saw her as someone different from the U.S. government, and in Beijing she made the same distinction between 5,000 Chinese women participants and their government.

"Five thousand Chinese women attended the forum and they were wonderful. They shared themselves, their country and their culture," she said.

On the down side, McDaniel told the audience she was disappointed by the interference of Chinese officials. She said the U.N. promised that in every area designated for the conference that women would be allowed to hold demonstrations, but Chinese authorities videotaped parts of the conference, as well as taking tapes away from some participants and silencing others.

"I was stopped in the middle of my workshop by a Chinese official who asked if I knew any Chinese lesbians. I told him if I did I wouldn't tell him," she said.

McDaniel was also upset with the fact that women with physical disabilities had no access to any of the workshops, including the workshop for women with physical disabilities. She said again the U.N. promised that there would be adequate access for the women with disabilities, but what they did provide did not even come close.

Herminia Cubillos, a local advocate for social justice within the Hispanic community for many years, focused on health care. She said the conference helped her understand that her local activism has an impact on the world, and that she felt more inspired to continue her work in Tucson and the Phoenix areas.

"As a Hispanic woman I was interested in other women's experiences around the world . what really bonded women were the issues involved particularly environmental issues and economic structuring," she said.

She also noticed the difference in terms of access to voicing frustrations within government.

"We (in the U.S.) demand our rights, we demand that our professionals find solutions to problems, but in some countries you'd get arrested for that," she said.

The third speaker, Traci Carroll, is a physical therapist from Tucson and a graduate student in international health. Carrol went to China with RESULTS an international citizens lobbying group whose purpose is to create the political will and end poverty and hunger and said she was most influenced by a man from Bangladesh who was at the conference.

"I had to spend time with the press telling them what was really going on, just so they wouldn't keep asking about the weather conditions and how we were handling the mud," she said.

She said she came back with women's stories and is eager to continue her work in health issues.

The UA chapter of Amnesty International holds a meeting for old and new members every Wednesday at 5 p.m. in Modern Languages Building Room 503.

Read Next Article