The Fourth World Conference on Women, 1995


Next to getting married and having babies, nothing else can match the excitement of being a UN delegate from the National Council of Jewish Women to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, September, 1995.

When I heard about the conference, I decided that I had to go! I told the President of the Greater Detroit Chapter that I was going and she called New York to tell them. Imagine my surprise when New York called me and asked me to be one of the two NCJW representatives to the UN at the Conference! The President explained that I would be required to present talks about the Conference to the public when I returned, and present a workshop on HIPPY (Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters) in Beijing, and that she had already checked my credentials. I accepted.

I have 29 years of experience as a schoolteacher and a public speaker and was reasonably certain that I would be able to work with my co-representative as a presenter and public speaker.

The Fourth World Conference was convened in 1995 by 128 nations of the United Nations to study and make suggestions to improve the lot of women, worldwide. (The Conferences met in 1975, 1980 and 1985.) The nations met for 2 weeks and, in 5 different languages, discussed the worldwide problems of women and potential solutions. Each delegate was connected to a translator. Problems and their solutions were entered into a book called The Platform for Action. Problems on which there were disagreements were identified in print.

NGOs from around the world were invited to come to the Wairou Conference which was held for 3 weeks (the UN Conference went on for 2 of those weeks) in a suburb of Beijing called Wairou.

Before we left, I met in Detroit several times with a group of fellow travelers from the Detroit area, including Mildred Jeffrey, a well-known union organizer, and Maryann Mahaffey, the chairman of Detroit City Council, and we applied to the Conference. We were accepted, but we learned that our visas did not come through, and that our Beijing hotel was being turned over to the press! Our travel agent said not to worry, that this was due to the incompetence of the Chinese. She was right. We traveled without a visa and were shunted to another new hotel in Beijing and we never did get our visas!!

The Wairou conference was exciting, full of workshops and meetings every day. We met with members of the UN daily.

The HIPPY workshop that we ran was well attended by about 5 women from the International Council of Jewish Women, and other women from Europe, Africa and Asia. We gave the women information on how HIPPY is set up and run, addresses of organizations who supervised HIPPY, and other information describing its usefulness as a teaching tool. All HIPPY material is developed locally by the parents and teachers. A pre-school child is read to daily for 20 minutes by a parent, from material developed by his/her parental group. Parents meet once a week under the tutelage of a leader to describe reading progress and discuss problems. The parent may be learning to read along with the child. When the session ends, the parents become leaders of new groups. Leaders are paid. In our Wairou group, one parent from an African nation was in tears because she had to give up her preschool teaching job because she refused to wear a veil.

In a Chinese restaurant we set the plans for a press conference and there was a Chinese policeman watching us the whole time to see that we did not interact with the other Chinese people. At the conference we had a diverse group of American participants holding posters. But, during the conference Bella Abzug came through the room in her wheel chair and big hat and the entire conference of newsmen rushed to get her opinion. Mildred Jeffrey had introduced us to her and we were friends, but that was the end of our press conference.

HIPPY had its initiation in Arkansas with Governor Bill and Mrs. Clinton. The State of Arkansas is still using HIPPY successfully.

I had many good and bad experiences in Beijing. The guides were all English speaking students and they did a fine job. I had a tape recorder with me to record women’s voices, but it mysteriously lost its voice when I left it in my room one day. The food was good in the hotels, but we, as a group, ate in a Chinese restaurant every night. It had one menu with English translations and we passed it around every night. Dinner for one, with Chinese beer, cost about $3.50. The women were fascinating and friendly, especially the Jewish ones from Iran. We celebrated Shabbat with them on Friday night but it was hush hush. We did not talk about it.

I did not tell my husband this, but we were warned to travel in groups of 2 or more. In case one person was picked up, the other(s) could tell what happened.

Apparently the Chinese were in our room while we were conferencing. I found my passport and ticket on the hotel floor. One of our company went to put on a jacket and found a pin, which she always wore on the lapel, was moved to the shoulder of her jacket. Something happened to my tape recorder.

The Chinese were very concerned about HIV infection. When we left, a Hong Kong newspaper had an article about the fires that could be seen for miles from burning bed sheets.

The 1985 Conference showed evidence of anti-Semitism, but I had no reports like that in 1995. When I went to a caucus meeting I announced myself as a representative of our Jewish organization. I got no reaction.

This conference was the experience of a lifetime. Thank you fellow NCJW members for allowing me to represent you at the UN and for contributing to the cost of this trip. If you wish to read the Platform for Action you can find it at: