Hundreds of Jewish women from around the world convened in Jerusalem recently for a conference to discuss the status of women and plan strategies for next year’s United Nations Conference on Women, to be held in Beijing.
Representatives from 26 countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Eastern Europe attended workshops and shared insights. But their primary goal was to lay the foundation for a strong Jewish lobby at the Beijing conference next September.
At previous U.N. world conferences on women, delegates from countries hostile to Israel have initiated anti-Zionist resolutions or walked out during speeches by Israeli delegates.
At the 1975 conference in Mexico, a resolution was brought forward equating Zionism with racism.
“What we asked (of the participants) is that whoever will be able to represent the Jewish attitude or opinion be prepared for any manifestation of anti-Israel or anti-Semitic attacks,” said Dr. Mina Westman, chair of the Council of Women’s Organizations in Israel.
Westman, who will serve in the official Israeli delegation to Beijing, believed that the attitudes of Arab and Muslim participants toward the Israeli and Jewish delegates may not have changed much, despite the ongoing Middle East peace process.
She said a Foreign Ministry official had informed the conference in Jerusalem that Jordanian delegates were considering an anti-Israel resolution.
But she was nonetheless hopeful there would be a change of attitude at the Beijing conference.
“Definitely the atmosphere is better. And who knows, we’ve got 10 months to go,” she said.
The Jerusalem conference also gave delegates a chance to compare notes on the status of women in each other’s countries. Among the American participants were Hadassah President Deborah Kaplan, veteran women’s rights activist and former U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Judith Lichtman, head of the Washington based Women’s Legal Defense Fund.
A number of resolutions were adopted at the conclusion of the conference. They included welcoming the peace process and urging the inclusion of women in all levels of peace negotiations; demanding that governments implement and fund policies to combat violence against women; and calling on men and women alike to create a mutual commitment to work against discrimination.