A First Hand Report from the 4th World Conference on Women NGO Forum in Beijing China, Sept. 1995


VISION AND PURPOSE of the NGO Forum: "To bring together women and men to challenge, create and transform global structures and processes at all levels through the empowerment and celebration of women."

Feminist Women's Health Center is very fortunate that Beverly Whipple, Executive Director and Co-founder of FWHC traveled to Huairou, China for the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Forum which paralleled the UN Fourth World Conference on Women (4WCW) in Beijing in August-September 1995. She wrote the following about her experience there.

More than 30,000 women from around the globe came together to discuss ideas, issues, problems, and solutions. They offered each other incredible insights, experience, wisdom, fresh ideas, diversity of opinions, and shared a common commitment to the empowerment and celebration of women.


From the moment of arrival, it was amazing to be part of a huge sea of color . . . colorful faces, costumes, banners, posters, tents, umbrellas, flowers. Many women wore clothing portraying traditional indigenous dress in their country. Several dressed as characters for street theater. Others turned their bodies into messages.

During the opening ceremonies 20,000 Chinese women and children performed music, dance, marching and drumming; culminating in the release of 20,000 peace doves. Artistic and cultural events involving women from around the globe began that day and continued throughout.


Just reading the book describing them is fascinating. It is 200 pages long with about 15 listings per page! Here's a sampling: composting toilets, birth control injections, challenges for Arab women, women's circus, economics and disabilities, self-empowerment of African women to the year 2000, Somali women and the civil war, military sex slaves and the struggle against militarization, non-electoral forms of political action, new marriage contract, international roundtable on women's spirituality, critical consumption and sustainable production, women's expression in Japan.


The plenary portion of the conference was designed in three stages. First was to analyze and evaluate global forces affecting the quality of life for the human community including:

  • Approaches to Governance including Citizenship and Political Participation
  • Obstacles to Peace & Human Security including the Effects of Militarization, Violence and Poverty
  • Challenges Posed by the Globalization of the Economy, including the Impact of the Technological Revolution on Work
  • Rise of Conservatism in its Various Forms
  • Media, Culture and Communications: Challenges and Opportunities

The second stage was sharing strategies, experiences, and successes of the past ten years. The third stage focused on commitment to the future with an inter-generational dialogue bringing together current and future leaders and activists.


Throughout the NGO Forum, there was a special Youth Tent devoted to the issues of girls of today and the women of tomorrow.


Protest messages were delivered via signs, posters, skits, demonstrations, songs, banners, and boycotts. Here's a sampling:

  • No US/French Nuclear Tests
  • Eradicate Poverty Not Poor People
  • No Forced Abortion in Tibet
  • Stop Barbaric Stoning to Death in Iran
  • Population Control is Anti-woman, Racist, Eugenic
  • Stop Waste (next to a pile of throwaway McDonalds' containers)
  • No to Patriarchy
  • Lesbian Rights are Human Rights

Once and Future Pavilion

One of the most unusual exhibit pavilions was called "Once and Future." It offered an holistic, people-oriented, environmentally sensitive approach to science and technology, a vision of technology for local, personally empowering, sustainable development.

The Pavilion was sponsored by OFAN, the Once and Future Action Network, which makes technology accessible and combines women's traditional knowledge about resource management, health, nutrition and wellness, with modern technology. OFAN promotes women's greater participation in decision-making levels regarding use of science and technology. They believe that when women's concern for families, communities and the environment is incorporated into planning and decision-making, a reallocation of resources is possible.

The OFAN Pavilion contained such diverse demonstrations as wheelchair making, paper recycling, bridging the gap between north and south in household energy use, women's control over technologies, practical traditional medicine, and empowering female teachers in math and science.

Forum '95

Forum '95 was the independent daily newspaper that chronicled the NGO Forum. Women journalists, editors, cartoonists, photographers, and layout designers, all from different countries, produced a phenomenal daily publication. Computers and cameras were donated by Apple Macintosh and Nikon.

Beverly's Self Help Presentations

One reason Beverly (with Nancy B. and Julie C. from the Feminist Women's Health Center in Atlanta, Georgia) went to Huairou was to teach "self-help" regarding women's reproductive health.

At their first presentation, the slides were difficult to see in the outdoor, open air tent. Even so, each woman learned about the history and politics of the women's health movement and about the ease of examining her own cervix and vagina using a plastic speculum, mirror and flashlight.

No women from China attended this first workshop. The reason was later discovered ... the location had been changed because the inflatable tent had collapsed in the rain. The lesbian tent was right next door and they graciously allowed us to use it; they did not have a workshop scheduled for that time-slot. Since lesbian rights are considered subversive, Chinese women stayed away.

Their next presentation was inside a classroom. When the security staff left momentarily, scarves quickly covered the windows and Suzann Gage performed a personal self exam in front of the 30-40 workshop participants so they could see how easily it is done. Suzann is a nurse practitioner, acupuncturist, and naturopath. Her drawings of the female body appear in A New View of a Woman's Body, a book published by the Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers. (To buy the book call 323-650-1508)

Suzann discussed the variety of cervical secretions and appearances, natural treatments for common ailments, differences in lesbian health, and she explained menstrual extraction (a low-tech removal of the uterine contents which can be done safely in the earliest stages of pregnancy). Each attendee left with a speculum of her own.

In another workshop, Becky, Suzann, and Beverly discussed abortion methods, including menstrual extraction. When an audience member challenged the teaching of ME, other audience participants rushed to defend it. They said it was an important piece of woman-designed and woman-controlled technology and knowledge; it should be shared. Becky is a woman's health writer and speaker. She has written several books and articles for the Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers.

Beverly was able to distribute two important books, When Birth Control Fails... and A Woman's Book of Choices. Both give detailed information about abortion. Among those who got copies were physicians from Chile and China.


Internet technology played a large role in Beijing and Huairou connecting women in attendance with those back home. Follow these links to other sites about the 4th World Conference on Women:

  • The United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women, the Commission on the Status of Women, and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
  • Linkages - a multimedia resource for environment and development policy makers at the 4th world conference on women.
  • Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women CEDAW
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights

"[When] you connect your very special personal with the very important political, you will begin to know your own power."
- Rebecca Walker

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