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Nongovernmental organizations visible


MARCH 31-APRIL 14, 1995

Nongovernmental organizations visible

Women from activist groups attend preparatory meeting to voice concerns and initiate effective policy-making.

By Ashali Varma

UNITED NATIONS, New York –They come from all walks of life, advocates, spiritual leaders, refugees and grassroots workers and their stories are as different as the countries they represent.  The binding force here at the United Nations at the Preparatory meetings is that they have a voice and are determined to be heard.

Rose A. Ross is representing Women United for the Restoration of Liberia.  A tall, soft-looking woman clad in all white, she has lost a child to the civil war that has been tearing Liberia apart.

“There are seven rebel groups fighting each other and most of the boys have joined because they saw their sisters raped and mothers killed.” she said.  “We have had a lot of injustice in our country, it has brought it to chaos.” Ross feels the problem that has to be addressed now is that women should have a greater role in the peace plan of the country.  Women are the nurturers and the glue that holds society together.  She spoke of the Liberia she grew up in where it was safe to go to the river and bathe and children felt free. Now children go to school and when they come back their parents have been killed, their homes destroyed.

In 1972 she started the Dick Ross orphanage for children, to help rehabilitate them.  “We have to create opportunities for our children to give them jobs so that they give up arms. Jobs can be created by giving women access to finance, in training them in agriculture and small scale industries.”

She spoke of the need to improve schools and clinics in rural areas and have better communication facilities so that the children don’t have to go to cities and get into a life of crime. Although the draft Platform for Action projects these needs for women, “My concern is how will it be implemented? We need backing from women around the world. We need them to help us morally and spiritually.”

Badria Suliman Abbas is an advocate from Sudan and represents the Sudanese Women’s General Union. “The problem in Sudan is poverty, we need credit for starting businesses.” Abbas speaks proudly about the fact that women have human rights in Sudan and a right to education and have three ministers who are women. In addition, they have women in the judiciary ‘and civil service.

Maryam Sir Ulkhatim, the state minister for Social Planning for Sudan, added her views on the conference: “I would like to see peace and development for all women. It can happen if men and women cooperate together to achieve this. I don’t think it will happen in Beijing but one day it will happen. I think Beijing is an important step toward it.”

Fanimeh Yazdi is here representing the Women’s Islamic Institute in Iran and she is at the Prep Com to inspire women through spiritual teachings. “My basic work is to teach the holy book, to heal and to find jobs for women. I think women’s rights are neglected all over the world. We may not have rights in Iran but even here in America, women are beaten, raped and discriminated against. Ina conference like this each of us can send a message on how we think we can achieve peace and human rights.”

She believes that technology without spirituality cannot be successful. “No matter how educated you are, you have to have basic values and have to be strong spiritually.” She cites the example of the United States, which though very advanced in technology, has a high rate of crime, teenage pregnancies and abortions. “We have to work hard to teach our children the right way to know our creator,” said Yazdi.

On the other side of the spectrum, the women’s PrepCom has also brought together many organizations spawned in exile. Namgyal Phala, a petite, soft-looking Tibetan woman, is here to represent the Tibetan Women’s organization based in Switzerland. “I was born in Tibet she said, “but my family fled to India when the Chinese came in, and then, from India, some of us were sent to the Pestaluzzi Children’s Village in England. Then I married a Tibetan and we went to live in Switzerland.”

Her organization was started by Tibetan women from all over the world. InTibetan society, she said, women are treated as equals in everything. “We feel very much a part of the women of the world and would like to be present at Beijing, to talk about the issues that unite women.”

Phala is convinced that if this conference was to be held anywhere else in the world they would have had access to it. “Why should politics come into this, every woman should have a right to speak out at this conference,” she said.