Friday, November 07, 2008

Gloria Feldt looks back to Beijing in a post from March 2006

Gloria Feldt is the author of The War on Choice: the Right-wing Attack on Women’s Rights and How to Fight Back and Behind Every Choice Is a Story. She was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1996-2005 and is a Columnist for MaximsNews.

UNITED NATIONS - / 21 March 2006 - Think back with me to September 1995, to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing .

Thrilling and ambitious goals were set for improving the lives of women, and that improves the lives of their families, their communities, and the world.

The official conference was in Beijing , but the much larger convocation of nongovernmental organizations was literally stuck in the mud in Huairu, an hour's drive from the city.

Thousands of us got there early on the morning of 6 September. We stood packed together under a roof of brightly colored umbrellas, jockeying for the few hundred seats inside the auditorium where then first lady of the United States , Hillary Clinton was slated to give a speech.

All those years of clinic defense had taught me how to get through a crowd unscathed. I was fortunate not only to get inside but to get a seat.

The program was running late; Hillary was running even later and the crowd was getting restive. Just as it seemed a revolt might be brewing, Shirley May Springer Stanton, the cultural coordinator of the conference, walked onto the stage and began to sing a capella, ever so softly:

Gonna keep on moving forward, never turning back, never turning back.

Then she asked the audience to join her.

Gonna fight for women’s freedom, never turning back.

Pretty soon the house was rocking.

By the time the first lady arrived and gave her brilliant "human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights" speech, it truly felt like the global movement for women's rights was unstoppable.

It was, you might say, an ovular moment.

Here in the United States , that moment seems long ago.

Our administration's federal budget slashes and gags funding for international family planning services that could reduce the millions of unsafe abortions and risky pregnancies that cause 500,000 women’s deaths each year unnecessarily.

But the U.S. women's movement can take inspiration from working in sisterhood with women from around the globe.

While the United States fails to meet its commitments to the global public-health community, and indeed is rolling back women’s human rights to make their own childbearing decisions every day, many other countries have stepped in to fill the void left by America 's abdication of leadership.

Women's development projects are also fueling economic growth around the world while bringing greater equality to the women in their societies.

Sex trafficking and other acts of violence against women, long merely routine facts of life, are becoming subjects of international media attention and human rights action and female heads of state have been elected in Europe, Africa and Latin America just in the past year.

Maybe in the U.S. next time around?

The recent deaths of Betty Freidan who sparked American feminism’s second wave, Rosa Parks, who showed that one woman can change the world, and Coretta Scott King, whose definition of civil rights always included women’s rights, were a sharp reminder to me that no movement for social justice moves forward without struggle, nor does forward movement necessarily go in a straight line.

Televangelist and political power broker Rev. Pat Robertson called feminism a "socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

We can laugh at this outrageous statement only long enough to notice who holds political power in all three branches of the federal government and many sates today.

In the pressure cooker of vilification and political retribution, it is tempting to quit or squabble about strategy.

To question the agenda, to retreat, reframe, retrench—when we know we must always move forward, fueled by passionate commitment for our mission and values.

The global women’s movement--not those who have opposed progress for women--has always advocated for the full panoply of just social policies from economic justice to universal access to quality health care.

And all of us who support it need the political will, courage, commitment, stamina and a never-ending creation of inspiring initiatives that touch real people's lives.

A movement, after all, has to move.

Let us remember, proudly, that we have changed the world -- much for the better -- for justice and equality. That's exactly what scares our adversaries so much.

We will keep on moving forward. We will not be deterred.

I’ll never forget a group of African women at the Beijing conference who told a story about how they stamped out spousal abuse in their village.

The women banded together, took their cooking pots and took up positions outside of the homes of men who had committed violent acts against their wives.

They banged those pots so loudly that the whole neighborhood took note and the men agreed to change their behavior.

Each country has different reasons to bang the pots on this international women's day 2006.

But the refrain for all of us who aspire to global justice for women is the same.

Gonna raise our voices boldly, never turning back, never turning back.

Gonna keep on moving forward, never turning back, never turning back.

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