Women's conference ends with conflict Elitism charged amid summit's "spirit of energy."

July 13, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

DUBLIN, Ireland -- Women from 53 countries ended their international summit on a note of conflict, with some of the 400-plus delegates complaining that elitism -- not solidarity -- was the net effect.

Although many participants praised the four-day conference organized by Washington activist Irene Natividad, the gathering closed yesterday with a protest by Irish working-class women who said that they had been denied a voice here.

The 10 Irish women received a standing ovation after being allowed to take the floor during the conference's final 20 minutes.

Alluding to panels filled with high-powered executives, lawyers, academics, politicians and activists, Cathleen O'Neill warned: "Women like us must never be overlooked again when global forums are being organized."

The next forum is planned for 1994 in Barcelona, Spain, followed by another the following year in Beijing.

Ms. Natividad, who wasn't present for the protesters' presentation, later brushed off the criticism, pointing out that several grass-roots organizations were represented on the speakers' list.

"No gathering occurs without some glitches," Ms. Natividad said. "Above the glitches, there was a spirit of energy to propel women forward."

The conference drafted resolutions about women and politics, labor, religion, health and the media.

"This is an endless process," said author Betty Friedan, founder of the feminist movement. "It may never be completed. It's an evolution.

"We may make mistakes," she told the closing session. "We may trash our mothers or each other for two minutes, but we resolve it, we move on."

Although its women are among the least liberated in Europe, Ireland was chosen as the site of the forum to salute the election 19 months ago of its first female president, Mary Robinson.

Prominent speakers included Ms. Robinson; Iceland's president, Vigdis Finnbogadottir; former U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug; and former Tiananmen Square student leader Jingqing Cai.

Khadija Abu Ali, a Palestinian filmmaker, was among those who left the conference with mixed feelings.

"It was nice but there was something missing," she said. "There was something lost."

She said that she had paid her own way from Jordan hoping to share her own experiences and insights, but found that the forum allowed too little time for audience participation.

In a commentary in the Sunday Independent, Irish journalist Patricia Redlich lambasted the summit for its male-bashing.

"What I was witnessing was an unapologetic parade of women's power, women who had shoved, pushed, worked, grafted, beaten the system and won," she wrote. "My head applauded and was pleased. And my heart ached.

"The message from them all was clear. Man and his man-made world was the problem . . . We had to win, and man was the enemy."

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