When the government of India launched a nationwide literacy campaign a few years ago, chances are alcohol abuse was not one of its targets. The women enrolled in the program read in their primer the story of women in another village who forced the local liquor shop to close, and they started talking.
They too had husbands who squandered their meager wages at the local "arrack" shop while they struggled to feed their children and maintain their households. Empowered by this uncommon occasion of collective reflection, the women stormed into liquor shops, drained gallons of alcohol, and shaved the heads of drunken men found lounging at the bar, according to a report in The Washington Post.
When delegates from almost every nation join more than 40,000 representatives of grassroots organizations in Beijing this month for the U.N. World Conference on Women, they will bring with them the power of stories like this. The conference takes place in a country with a human rights record rivaling that of Burma, in a time when the deliberate and systematic rape and capture of Bosnian women has once again hit the press, and when the U.S. Congress is moving to scale back promised programs to combat domestic violence. And when it is over, none of this will have changed dramatically.
Nonetheless the world will be a slightly better place because of the gathering. Coming out of Beijing, women will return to their countries inspired by the solidarity and witness of those with whom they gathered. Western feminists, with our reputation for bringing with us a perspective belonging solely to certain sectors of our countries, will have been challenged to listen to other viewpoints and broaden our scope. Because for the fourth time in 20 years, a large-scale corporate reflection on the state of women in our world will have taken place-reflection that, as it did in India, could lead to action.