Beijing Bound: Local women make global links
BEIJING BOUND
Local women make global links

by Marcy Rein
     It's a long way to China from the dusty fields of the
Central Valley, the streets of San Jose or the halls of
Berkeley High School. But Mily Trevino-Saucedo of the
Campesina Leadership Project, Cherri Gomez of Women's
Economic Agenda Project (WEAP) and Berkeley freshman Josina
Morita have dreams and plans they hope will take them to the
United Nations Fourth World conference on Women in Beijing
Sept. 4-15.

     These three, along with dozens of other women activists
from Northern California, will join an estimated 25,000
women from all over the world for the conference and
accompanying NGO (Non-Governmental Organizations) forum.

     The conference will hear reports on the status of women
and finalize a "Platform for Action" to guide future UN
policy. The Aug. 30-Sept. 8 NGO forum will feature a  galaxy
of workshops, demonstrations, media projects and cultural
exchanges.

     The two events gather "an incredible knowledge base" of
women, says Linda Burnham of the Women of Color Resource
Center in Berkeley, which has been organizing around the
conference for more than a year. At the UN women's
conference in Nairobi in 1995,  Burnham saw "a powerful
impact on women's activism and individual women...It's an
unparalleled opportunity for women to grow, to expand
people's minds as to what are women's rights and how women
around the world think and struggle around them."

     Change has rocked the world since Burnham was in
Nairobi. Touched off by socialism's demise and the free
market's triumph, the global changes come into individual
women's lives in ways that become clear as they talk about
Beijing.

     Cherri Gomez felt the brunt of one of those changes,
the structural adjustment policies that shredded safety net
programs around the world. Gomez had her first child at 16,
was a single mom, sometimes on welfare, sometimes making a
sparse living picking fruit.

     Now she is studying at San Jose State University, and
organizing with WEAP to fight phony "welfare reform." She
wants to go to Beijing to "learn from women who feel like
trusting politicians isn't an option," who have new
strategies to secure housing, health care and child care.
"By putting our heads together, maybe we can learn some
things," she says. "The world is small now. Problems
everywhere are connected."

     On another edge of the last decade's changes are the
women of the Campesina Leadership Project, many of them
immigrants forced from their countries by war and economic
dislocation. The Project is the first statewide network of
farmworker women, founded in 1992. Its 200 members in 20
regional committees "do everything from the bottom up," says
organizer Mily Trevino-Saucedo.

     Their proliferating projects range from testifying in
Washington and Sacramento on workplace hazards such as
pesticide exposure and repetitive stress injuries, to
developing AIDS education tools and support programs for
women dealing with domestic violence.

     Seven Project members  plan to go to Beijing to talk
about conditions U.S. farmworker women face and the
organizing they are doing. The trip is also part of
"connecting with each other, understanding they can make
strong changes in their communities," says Saucedo. "They
think of themselves as women leaders, and want to meet
others," says Burnham. Planning for the conference brings "a
new level of self-consciousness about their work," she says.

     Josina Morita, a core member of the Bay Area Youth
Delegation,  says Beijing  "will help me learn more, get
different perspectives on girls' issues." Delegation members
spend their weekly meetings planning fundraisers  and
talking about the ways women's issues enter their lives.
"Girls get impressions you have to be a certain way that
lead to low self-esteem and feeling you can't fight back.
That's how abuse happens," Morita says.

     Official and unofficial meetings leading up to the
conference also offer opportunities to build connections and
strengthen alliances. Gomez, Morita and Saucedo all
participated in a Jan. 29 meeting, "Local Actions, Global
Links" organized by the San Francisco and East Bay chapters
of the National Organization for Women, with the  Women of
Color Resource Center (WCRC). Around 120 women attended the
day-long session to get an overview of the UN conference and
discuss issues they would bring to it. Among other groups
represented were the Sacramento Women's Network of the
Multicultural Center at CSU/Sacramento and the Women's
Action Coalition.

     The WCRC "wants to provide a way for women of color
activists to interact intelligently and be informed, whether
they are lobbying on the official document or connecting
with other NGOs," says Burnham. WCRC has made specific
efforts to see that homelessness and immigrant rights are
considered in the UN document. "Will this produce one more
house for one more woman?" Burnham says. "Probably not, but
the process of contacting people, talking, educating,
lobbying is a political process that effects important
alliances."

     Some organizers hope to use the event to project
ignored issues onto the wide screen of international
attention. Lesbian rights were mentioned exactly once in the
official conference in Nairobi, says Rachel Rosenbloom of
the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
(IGLHRC).

     "Issues [faced by lesbians] vary enormously from region
to region, from loss of custody of children to
discrimination in employment and immigration to government
harassment of activists," she says. IGLHRC is lobbying to
get inclusionary language into official documents. This is
"symbolically very important," Rosenbloom says, as UN
findings can affect government policies.

     With the April 30 registration deadline for the Beijing
conference approaching, activists interested in attending
are turning their attention to raising the $2000 or so it
will take to go, exploring every option from grants to bake
sales.

     Cherri Gomez and some colleagues in WEAP organized a
day-long conference, "Building Bridges: Beijing or Bust," to
be held March 6 at San Jose State. For info: (408) 924-6500.

     The WCRC is focusing on political and practical support
for women who are fairly sure they want to go. For info:
(510) 848-9272.
     Other contacts: BAYD, (510) 654-5954; Sacramento
Women's Network, (916) 278-7170; IGLHRC (415) 255-8680.
     To register for the conference, contact the NGO Forum
on Women 95, 211 E. St., Ste. 1500, New York, NY 10017, fax
(212) 922-9269, e-mail .