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Women's Conference Update

Many thanks to all the women who worked on preparations for the WRI Women’s Conference at the Triennial. Much progressive was made: we now have a date—November 25 (International Day Against Sexual Exploitation of Women) to December 1 (WRI Prisoners for Peace Day) 1992. The proposal by Laddawan and Niramon to hold the conference within the framework of PP21 was accepted. PP21 stands for Peoples Power in the 21st Century, and it is a broad-based Asian coalition of groups and movements dealing with trade unions, the environment and womens rights, to name a few of its many issues. This means that more groups will be involved in the work (the co-organizers for the women’s conference now include the following Bangkok-based groups: Friends of Women, the Coalition for Peace and Development, EMPOWER, the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women, and Foundation for Women) as PP21 has good contacts throughout the region, that there will be more help with publicity and fundraising and that there will be a strong emphasis on Asian issues.

A brochure is now available in English from Caroline at the WRI office in London—German, French, Thai, Chinese and Spanish versions will soon be ready.

The venue will be the WE-TRANS Guest House (the Sasakawa Women’s Education and Training Center, run by the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women), near Bangkok. The guest house is a ten-minute car ride from Bangkok’s international airport.

The maximum number of participants will be 150. This does not include interpreters, who will not be counted as participants. The conference will provide interpretation from and into English, French, Spanish, Thai and at least one other Asian language. We need your help in raising money for women who will need to bring their own interpreters!

Many women at the Triennial spoke about the importance of the Women’s Conference. Trini Leung of Hong Kong, a new WRI Council member, “We are very concerned about aftermath of the Gulf War and this New World Order, imposed by the US-led West on the South. We must face the fact that in 1992, violence is moving to the South. Will WRI be willing to open up to this shift in the areas of conflict? Will WRI stay cosy here while the South is torn apart? I see the Women’s Conference, jointly organized with local groups in Asia, as a significant milestone, a test case on how committed WRI is to facing this new center of conflict. It will open up new horizons, both for WRI and for anti-militarist movements in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Ulla Eberhard of Germany said, “Structural violence against women can be abolished. Women are often seen as the sole bringers of solutions, as bringers of love. WRI cannot allow men to abdicate their responsibilities. It is not acceptable to leave everything up to women…In order to learn new roles, to recognise our own needs, experiences, development new behaviours and concepts, women must have separate space. This is a first step.

“Sex tourism is booming. Men from the North travel to the Third World and use and abuse children. This is a new form of colonialism. Men feel entitled to go to exotic climes and have exotic women. The fact that men can even think of doing these things have to do with structures in our society. In Germany trafficking in women is not illegal. In fact, if the woman is separated from the pimp, she can be expatriated immediately. There is no military base without brothels. It is very clear that it is not rich women forced into this. Some part of WRI has to aim to take these issues seriously. One important step is the women’s conference. I hope it is not the only step. Women should not be alone in this.”

Niramon Prudtatorn of Thailand said, “The Conference will be very helpful to broaden Thai women’s perspectives; we should have more links and more understanding with women outside Thailand.”

Margaret Prestorius of Australia said, “In Australia the Women’s Action group began at an arms exhibit in Canberra. We do actions around arms exhibitors and the effects of arms trade on women in the Third World. We want to plan mini-conferences before and after the Conference. We are looking for existing structures to get into, to connect in a women’s nonviolent networking group, and are checking out foundations in the development field. We want to publish a booklet at the end with addresses of all the women we’ve connected with, to help with networking.”

How can you get involved with this exciting event? Just call Caroline at the WRI office in London! March 8—International Women’s Day—will be a particularly good time to plan fundraising events for the Conference. We need all of us working on the Conference to make it a success!

The WRI Women’s Conference will be organised in cooperation with PP21 (People Power in the 21st Century), a broad-based coalition of Asian grassroots movements that will be holding a month-long series of meetings and forums in Bangkok during the latter part of 1992. The Conference will be co-organised with several Thai groups. These are:

Friends of Women (FOW), founded in 1980, works to broaden Thai public understanding of women’s status and the unfair treatment they face, and for women’s equal place in society. FOW does education around sexual crimes and harassment, and coordinates and assists other women’s organizations. There is an active media section, a legal advice section called the Women’s Rights Protection Centre which helps victims of rape, sexual harassment, forced prostitution, domestic violence and unfair employment practices; the Women’s Shelter, a convalescence home for rape survivors; and a documentation centre.

The Coalition for Peace and Development (CPD) is a Bangkok-based organization and resource center which works for people-oriented development throughout Asia. The Coalition is involved in both research and social action and has led demonstrations against arms trading exhibitions in Bangkok, supported the rights of Burmese refugees and other oppressed groups inside Thailand and sponsored work on the promotion of responsible and alternative tourism in Asia.

EMPOWER (Education Means Protection of Women Engaged in Recreation) is an independent grassroots organization which offers assistance to women workers in Bangkok’s entertainment district. EMPOWER offers women classes in English so they can deal better with customers; provides continuing education classes and produces written materials such” as an illustrated booklet on AIDS prevention for bar workers and a free newspaper by and for women in the entertainment district.

The Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women (APSW) operates two emergency homes which provide food, shelter and medical care to destitute women and their children. Vocational training s well as job placement is also provided. APSW also operates a women’s clinic and children’s home, and established the Gender and Development Research Institute to carry out policy research on national develapment.

Foundation for Women (FFW) was founded in 1987 in Bangkok to work with grassroots women from all over Thailand, with a special emphasis on rural women, women workers, youth and potential victims of forced prostitution and victims of domestic violence. FFW operates the Women’s Information Centre and the Home for Battered Women, is involved in public education about the rights of women and provides counseling for women in need.

New WRI women Executive and Council members

Executive Committee (new chairperson is Jorgen Johansen):
Treasurer: Dorie Wilsnack, 40 Rivington St. #5, New York, NY 10002, USA Tel. (day) +1 212 228 0405. Fax +1 212 228 6193.
Christine Schweitzer, Lützowstr. 22, W5000 Koln, Germany. Tel. (day) +49 221 765842. Fax (via “Graswurze1werkstatt”) +49 221 765889.

WRI Council:

Cecilia Moretti (vice-chair), Antartida 3350, Barrio Matienzo, 5000 Cordoba, Argentina.
Veronica Kelly, 92 rue Sans Souci, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Tel. +32 2 646 6277.
Trini Leung, P.O. Box 22, Yung Shu Wan, Lemma Island, Hong Kong. Fax +852 770 7388. Email geo2:tuec.
Elzbieta Rawicz-Oledzka, 60-366 Poznan, Szamotulska 6/1, Poland. Tel. +48 61 672563.
Joanne Sheehan (also contact for WRI Working Group on Nonviolence Training), P.O. Box 1093, Norwich, CT 06360, USA. Tel. (day) +1 203 889 5337.