2011 U.S. WILPF Congress Reports

Setting the Stage: Beijing +15 and Commission on Status of Women (CSW) Reports, Res. 1325 and Gender Equity

Local2Global and WILPF Practicum Participants present an intergenerational plenary at Congress

An intergenerational plenary was something new for a WILPF Congress. The participants were young women, new WILPF members who had attended a WILPF Practicum – a seminar for study and advocacy at the UN in NYC during the CSW - and older active members from WILPF branches, who attended the CSW on special scholarships (Local2Global) newly funded this year. 

Our challenge was how to discuss our learnings from the CSW, gender and women’s rights issues, the various global topics that WILPF works on viewed through a gender lens, and describe how feminist movement has developed and is being challenged and interpreted in the 16 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995) in just three hours?

During the CSW, Kristen Alder and Janet Slagter became the plenary coordinators for the younger and older groups and designed and developed it through lots of e-mails and facebooking thereafter. We were disappointed that a medical concern caused Kristin Alder to be unable to attend the Congress. (Kristin, we hope you are well, and that this report does the plenary and your work justice.)  

In opening remarks, Jan talked about putting women and gender analysis back into WILPF’s analytical toolbox. She described differences in political understandings that were evident in the NYC discussions among younger and older members, differences important as WILPF - an organization of aging members - considers its future. Vocabularies of explanation and understandings differed. Young members can readily discuss the effects of intersectionality and the heteronormative on global issues, while older WILPFers can easily explain fracking and the military-industrial-congressional complex. There is much to learn from each other.

Jan also presented ideas Kristin sent on the usefulness of women’s gender roles in creating peace, and WILPF’s need to focus on newer U.N. documents that build on Resolution 1325 to monitor conflict-related sexual violence and on state-driven processes based on local contexts in the development of U.N. mandated changes involving women.

Next came the first panel presentation by three older members who had attended Beijing ’95. Robin Lloyd showed excerpts from her film, Peace Train to Beijing, excerpts that captured the exhilaration of the journey and that revealed the need for communication across differences. Robin was thrilled to see the images again, with WILPFers, and to re-remember the event that introduced her to global feminism. Regina Birchem, our former international president, explained the crafting of the contents of the Beijing Platform and showed how it grew out of U.N. conferences focused on other topics, such as children’s rights and the environment. Anne Hoiberg gave a brief history of the U.N.-convened women’s conferences (1975-1995) and highlighted the Beijing Platform for Action (PFA), with its twelve critical areas of concern. As a result of the conference, she told us, President Bill Clinton established the President’s Interagency Council on Women, which was tasked with developing a U.S. Plan of Action to implement the PFA. In 2001, the Bush Administration abolished it. Anne also told the impressive story of her city’s (San Diego) support for monitoring San Diego’s version of the PFA and endorsing ratification of CEDAW. Work at the national and local levels on the implementation of the PFA and CEDAW ratification continues to this day.  

Student activists, women new to WILPF, participants in the UN Practicum in 2010 and 2011, presented the second panel. Christine Willingham discussed the “US women have it made” fallacy, given, among others, the lack of family friendly work policies and policies that address needs of single mothers. This fallacy was evident at the 2010 CSW in the poor attendance and lack of focus on US women’s concerns at the US caucus and the continuing failure to ratify CEDAW. Minjon Tholen noted that young women tend to be marginalized at these UN conferences. Making available more resources to attend the CSW and more tools such as mentorship to promote intergenerational collaboration could be helpful in involving more young women in international women's rights advocacy. Minjon added that holding the CSW on different continents each year or organizing a 5th World Conference on Women would promote the participation of a wider variety of women and invigorate the women's movement. Katie Booher discussed the problematic assumptions of “sisterhood,” given that differences matter. Specifically, she found that most CSW presenters assumed a straight, destined-to-be-mothers population of women. Social movements need to consider all the parts of persons’ identity. Conversations need to occur among widely varying positions, and we need to make allies through rather than despite our differences.

The third panel of Local2Global participants included Barbara Beesley and Shirley Kinoshita. After a tech conflict disrupted their powerpoint plans, Shirley described the ways her own identity is tied to the issues of the CSW, and her work, since she has become the moving force in San Jose’s UN Association, to which she brought back insights from the CSW. Barbara Beesley, a Detroit nun and college teacher, talked very specifically about pondering the intricacies involved in cross-cultural communicating at the CSW, as she considered the implications of an NGO’s description of the seemingly small victory of the use of “social inclusion” as a replacement for “social integration” in a policy document.

The plenary concluded with a directed discussion on questions developed by plenary speakers. Most of the discussion focused on the need to and how to nurture young women’s leadership.  A dedicated WILPF fund should be set up for the Practicum students to attend the Triennial. One young woman said that obviously working together – young and old – is an asset to the whole movement.

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