"NO" to prejudice and to violence
The NGO Women's Forum came to an end on 8 September 1995 with several hundreds of grassroots women's groups expressing thanks to the Chinese organizers and criticizing the Western media portrayal of the UN Women's Conference and its NGO counterpart. These groups carried banners and placards expressing gratitude to the Chinese people for their hospitality and held a procession in the form of a dragon dance during the closing ceremony of the NGO Forum. Over 700 organizations signed an Open Letter of Thanks, which is reproduced below.
WE write this letter to the people of China who are playing host to more than 30,000 women who have gathered in Beijing and Huairou, for the Fourth World Conference on Women. We write on behalf of several thousand women and groups attending the NGO Forum who feel a deep sense of gratitude for the unmeasured warmth and hospitality with which we have each been cared for; cared for by all of you - whether you are the ones taking care of us in the hotels, the enthusiastic young volunteers in the meeting centres, the ordinary women and men on the street, all of you who have helped make our stay comfortable, our meetings meaningful.
We thank you all too for helping us to understand and appreciate the hospitality of cultures not yet overwhelmed by crass commercialisation. We thank you for showing us that language need not be a barrier for us to reach out to one another.
We write this letter to the international media that has been responsible for much of the negative projection of the entire conference and of China. The dominant images are that of the lack of adequate infrastructure; the exaggerated reports of surveillance and monitoring; the apparent obsession of the forum with the singular issue of human rights record of China; the politics of absolute confrontation that the NGO Forum is supposed to have adopted. These voices have been echoed by many of the participants from within the conference who do not seem to have reconciled themselves to the idea of having Beijing as the venue of the conference.
Perhaps there have been some breakdowns in logistical arrangements; there have been instances of questioning by the police. However given the fact that over 30,000 people have to be catered to and that Beijing is also the venue for the UN conference that has the presence of so many heads of state, such unfortunate instances are understandable and could happen in any country.
There have been very many workshops and demonstrations held on contentious issues including nuclear testing, repressive state policies, population programmes etc, and they have all been conducted with no major disruptions. Even the 'Women in Black' demonstration at which more than 3,000 women participated, speaking out against the many forms of violence in their societies and in their countries, went ahead with no interruptions whatsoever.
What seems to underlie these criticisms is an attitude; an attitude that could be taken as insensitivity to other social systems at best or racism and prejudice at worst. It also betrays an unfortunate inability to separate the politics of the nation state from the nature and culture of its people.
We write to all the nation states of the world, including China. We, the women who have come here from diverse lands and cultures, write to tell you that we are saying 'NO' to all forms of violence in our societies - be it the violence born out of our cultures or violence born out of state policies. We therefore say 'NO' to the violence of wife battering, to the violence of fundamentalism, the violence of big dams, of nuclear power; we say 'NO' to the violence of all wars and armed conflicts. And that, is the one single message from the women gathered in Beijing to the world - 'No' to all forms of man-made violence.
And so we leave Beijing - stronger in the belief that we need to tread gently on paths created by other ways of life and living, for they have much to teach us and we have much to learn. People of China - our warm thanks to you. (Third World Resurgence No. 61/62, Sept/Oct 1995)