Some pictures speak a thousand words; others speak a thousand years. Such was the image of U.S. feminist Betty Friedan sitting under a tree in Nairobi, Kenya, with some 100 women from perhaps as many nations gathered in a semicircle around her.
"Dialogue under a tree" was the image of all that was right, good, hopeful, and energizing about the United Nations Women's Decade Conference in July. More than 14,000 women from around the world gathered in one place to celebrate their sisterhood, to recognize the achievements made in women's rights over the past decade, to share their struggles and concerns, and to continue striving for the lives and hopes and dreams of women around the world.
When the dialogue moved from under the tree to the inside of Nairobi's Kenyatta Conference Center for the official meetings of the conference, however, it became less inspiring and more adversarial. But even under those conditions the conference was able to produce a significant document that represented the unanimous agreement of women from 157 nations on 357 feminist proposals (See "For the Record," p. 11). The governments of the world now have a record of the world's women speaking with one voice on such important matters as employment, political participation, child care, and household work.
But for all its basking in the accomplishments of the women's movement, its righteous indignation at the untold suffering of women, and its unwavering commitment to the empowerment of women, what the U.N. Women's Decade Conference boiled down to was men. Some of the world's most influential women succumbed to ancient, unjust male attitudes and political structures.