Review of Beijing NGO forum

The non-governmental organization (NGO) forum on women ’95, an unprecedented large-scale women’s gathering in the 20th century, which closed here Friday, was a grand gathering of global sisters and will surely exert a positive impact on promoting development of the women’s cause worldwide. in the past ten days, 31,000 women from more than 2,000 organizations in nearly 200 countries and regions converged in ruairou, Beijing, voicing their views on major global issues, problems affecting interests of women themselves in particular, trying to influence the UN fourth world conference on women (fwcw) held in conjunction with the forum and promoting the development of women’s cause in their countries and the world as a whole. the Beijing NGO forum was the most successful of similar forums and was unprecedented in its scale in the history of the world’s women movement. the first NGO forum held in Mexico city in 1975 was attended by only 3,000, the second held in Copenhagen attended by 8,000 with 150 workshops and consultations held, and the third in Nairobi drew an attendance of 13,000, with 1,000 workshops held. the Beijing NGO forum was the largest of its kind in terms of both the attendance and the number of workshops held. an ancillary meeting of the fwcw which is going on in Beijing to adopt a platform for action, the NGO forum sponsored about 5,000 events, including plenaries, workshops, training lectures and exhibitions as well as art performances during its convocation from august 31 to September 8. every morning, flocks of women from all countries left the 32 hotels and 60 apartment buildings where they stayed and went to the meeting sites in 75 meeting rooms of various size and 86 tents for 200 dailyworkshops. at the workshops, centering on the theme of “equality, development and peace,” they discussed wide-ranging issues of critical concern for world women today and made useful suggestions. their hot topics covered women’s participation in political affairs and economic development, peace and human security, poverty, women’s rights, education, racial and ethnic issues, health care, violence against women, media, environment, science and technology and girl child. at the daily plenary, khunying supatra masdit, convener of the NGO forum, leaders of regional, national non-governmental organizations, UN agencies and international organizations and public figures in turn delivered speeches analyzing impact of global factors on human social life and challenges posed by them on people, women in particular, and proposed strategies the women movement should take in the light of social transformation. women participants from grassroots organizations, however, were the most active groups at the forum. every day, workshops at the grassroots tent were most attractive to the participants. just few hours before the closing of the forum, some Chinese and Indian women were still busy with their exchanges of views. in addition, the Asia-pacific, Africa, Latin-America, Europe and America, and Arab regional tents were also the gathering and friend-making sites for grassroots women. whether in the huairou international convention center which seats about 1,500 people and in tents and meeting rooms, participants were free to air their views and ask and answer questions. as described by a woman who participated in all the four world conferences on women, at the previous forums, participants sometimes ignored the theme of the forum, or quibbled over side issues, or just screamed out. at the Beijing NGO forum, however, she found the participants express their views more fully, and with diversity, which undoubtedly marked a big progress in the world women’s cause. at the forum, serious discussions were not the only way to express ideas. at the forum venue, people could see art performances such as pantomime, poem recitation, dances and singings and occasionally see paraders shouting slogans and holding streamers. women used various dramatic ways to convey their propositions. a foreign participant described the scene in this way, “at the forum everywhere and every minute, there are workshops and exchanges, and songs and laughters. this is what a true forum is like.”

Although the forum touched upon almost every aspect of women, participants were more concerned with the critical issues for women’s rights in most countries in the world and arrived at a consensus on many of them. “equality, development and peace”, a theme in “Nairobi forward-looking strategy” were still discussed in a broad sense in the current forum. but this forum gave a more practical meaning to the theme. in different workshops on equality between men and women, for example, participants reviewed progress made in different countries and regions. they also probed into different ways of achieving equality such as political, economic, cultural ways as well as from the social and family aspects. to achieve further equality between men and women, the most important thing is to eradicate “poverty of women” and let women first achieve economic equality, participants from developing countries said. “education is an effective way towards equality,” said a participant while calling for intensifying efforts for larger access in women’s education. many participants pointed out that to safeguard and promote women’s rights must safeguard their right of existence and the right of development, which are the basic rights. in this respect, women’s participation in political and economic affairs must be enhanced, they said, adding that there is no development without participation. “we don’t want war” was a slogan which embodied the call for peace by women participants at the NGO forum. women from different continents appealed to the world to abandon weapons, stop killing each other and eliminate wars so as to pave the way for a lasting peace. women from Asia-pacific countries in particular, denounced the Japanese militarists for the disasters brought to women during the war, awakening people to learn from history and cherish today’s peaceful life. media’s influence on women was one of the focuses in the forum in which participants criticized some western press reports damaging to women’s rights and appealed for reports that reflect “the true images of women”. more participants from different countries and regions criticized western media for their biased reports on the forum itself, adding that such negative reports on the forum constituted an insult to the participants.

“the ten days in huairou have facilitated our exchanges,” supatra masdit, convener of the forum, said to more than 10,000 participants who attended the closing ceremony amid rain. “we have built up new ties and made new friends after old contacts are consolidated,” she said. a foreign observer called peace and friendship “the mainstream of the forum”. over the past ten days, the longshan forum site, occupying 42 hectares in huairou, provided an enormous arena for women of different countries to sit around and tell their own experiences and struggles. women from over 50 countries and regions in the Asia-pacific region initiated a number of activities such as “weaving the world together”, which attracted women from other parts of the world as well. they knitted designs of friendship in pieces of cloth which were linked pieced together as a “carpet of peace’, extending1000 meters, a section of which was displayed on the great wall, symbol of china. when the forum was closed, participants embraced each other to the resounding singing of “auld lang syne”, making appointments of their next meeting. the forum also offered the 5,000 Chinese participants an excellent opportunity to make friends. the Chinese women presented Chinese women’s development and experience in workshops on 40 topics they sponsored. in the forum, 100,000 people of huairou and thousands of volunteer students from Beijing and huairou became a ribbon of friendship between the Chinese people and foreign friends. their dedication left such a deep impression on the Chinese and foreign participants that the grassroots organizations from different countries extended their thanks to the people of huairou and the Beijing volunteers. “none of us will ever forget those young and smiling faces,” said a woman professor from Lebanon in a press conference.