If They Weren’t Fighting Us, They’d Be Fighting Each Other & Other Interviews During UN World Women’s Decade Meetings

August 4th, 2014

“If we weren’t there, they’d be fighting about something else, ” said the Israeli woman. She was a member of the opposition in the Knesset, Israel’s governing body.

I had just graduated from university and had a lot to learn about the real world, not what the media (mis)portrayed.

My mother had brought me to the United Nations World Women’s Mid Decade Meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark. She was there as head of an NGO, giving seminars re setting up alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment programs.

The Knesset member continued: “We’ve (Jews) been around a long time and will be around a long time.”

I marveled at her lack of concern for her personal longevity snd at her assessment of history and the militant Muslims.

She clued me in more: “Weve had Arabs in the Knesset; but they left due to pressure from other Arabs. We live side by side within Israel – Jews, Arabs, Christians.”

I attended all sorts of press conferences.

One was held by the Israeli delegation. In the audience were many Arabs, Jews, Christians from the Middle East. They were all yelling at each other at the same time every time someone asked a question.

With my naive upbringing, I leaned forward and said: Could you please let them talk and so you can listen and then you will have a turn, and maybe if we all listen to each other, we can solve the differences or at least find a way to peace.

That stumped them……

And there was quiet, thought, and peace….

For all of a minute.

The two factions turned on me and in unison started yelling at me.

It was impressive.

And a start – at least they were getting along and agreed on one thing.

Another one was held by the Iranian delegation led by a gal who had attended university in American and whose brother had been a college football star. It was really led by the male “interpreter”. Now remember this was during the Iranian Hostage crisis where the during the Iranian Revolution in 1979, they took Americans as hostages and held them for over a year.

One of the Iranian female delegation was alarming as her eyes became slits: We like our chadors – you never know what we have under them, a gun, a knife….

These were women who had been educated, had freedoms, including freedoms of dress – one of the more modern Arab countries with female equality while the Shah was in control. They were bamboozled – they thought they’d share in the power after the Shah was overthrown.

Not.

Very sad. Iran had one of the highest literacy rates, including amongst women before the Shah was thrown out  (with the betrayal of President Carter).

I also met a Chinese woman who was a member of China’s delegation. In 1949, during the Chinese revolution, she was in America to study and practice medicine for a while. She immediately returned to China to help with the revolution. I was running to meet my mother so couldn’t linger darn it.

I got her name and information but never found her again. I wondered what her hopes and dreams were that inspired her to return to China during a war and turmoil. And again after the revolutionary group took power, they suppressed women even more. Were her hopes and dreams shattered? Was she not able to return to the US? Did she consciously choose to stay and help her people, family, friends…Was she a fatalist so none of these thoughts even occurred to her.

I saw the similarity to the current (1980) situation with the Iranian women who returned from the US to join in the power grab and a new Iran. Yet that Iran was one that suppressed women.

I also met an American writer for Newsweek there. He described his story on one of the groups and was very enamored of his embellished words. I questioned him on some details re truth and he said, “Yes, I know but you have to attract readers.”

When we returned from going to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, a group of women were wailing outside the hotel. I went to investigate. They were the Bolivian delegation and Bolivia had just had a “ruthless military coup by General Luis Garcia Meza. Reportedly financed by cocaine traffickers and supported by European mercenaries recruited by Klaus Barbie, former Gestapo chief in Lyon, France, the coup began one of the darkest periods in Bolivian history.”

All I could think was these women now had no country. Whom were they representing? And how safe are their families? If they were at that level of society to be representatives of the former government, how safe were they?

In 1985, we attended the United Nations World Women’s Decade Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya:

The African National Congress held a press conference: After that female group insisted that all of Africa belonged to black people and whites had no place, they opened it up for questions.

I said, “In Capetown, of the tribes that are left, the white person has been in that area the longest.  No one was really inhabiting the Capetown area before the whites. The only group that inhabited even near Capetown were the Hottentots and they are extinct. The Zulus (a black tribe) and the whites either intermarried with the Hottentots and/or wiped them out in various wars.  So it is not true that the blacks today are the original inhabitants of Africa.” And I sat down.

I was a little worried someone might attack me. But heck, I had done the same in third grade. Ten girls in third grade, on Father’s Day, where all the fathers came to spend a “school day” with their daughters, had given the same oral report on George Washington. (Those poor fathers who had to listen to 20 oral reports of the same story, virtually the same words). George Washington could not tell a lie. When his father asked who had chopped down the cherry tree, George Washington said, “I cannot tell a lie. I did it, Father.”

It was my turn. What to do. Do I scrap my research and go along with the crowd? I told of George Washington’s childhood and when it came to the cherry tree story, I orated, “The story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and telling his father, when he was asked, they he cannot tell a lie, he did it, is probably a myth and not true. There is no historical document to verify this story.

And I sat down.

I wonder what my teacher thought. I wonder what my father thought. There were no repercussions but it was awkward. I also don’t know what the next girls said in their reports.  I wonder what the other fathers thought. Probably the gamut.

At the conference, after I sat down, one of the ANC members, decked out and looking magnificent  in her colorful African finery, responded, “The earliest English ship captain wrote in his diary that he saw a tall black man on the shore in Natal.”

I was not allowed to follow up at all, let alone with the truth: “Natal is over 1000 miles from Capetown. But your reasoning , the US should claim all its neighbors.”

No one stood up to back me up. It was a bit disheartening. The truth was not fashionable. The “oppressed” ANC was fashionable. Most people protesting South Africa did not know its history. At Columbia University from which I had just graduated with an MBA, the modern sit-in consisted of students sitting in tents for a while, then getting dressed in business suits and attending classes, interviews with companies doing business with South Africa. Ridiculous.

 

I asked a few of them about the history of South Africa. Here were students of an Ivy League school who had no clue as to the history or the actual make-up of the country they were protesting. That was even more disheartening.

South Africa transitioned without a devastating war. It was not due to protests at all.  The most important factors were time and wisdown. Time was changing. Society was changing. Don’t get me wrong – the ANC had some serious valid grievances. Very serious. But if we focus on the truthful grievances, we have a better chance at resolving them. Nelson Mandela understood that very well. But he wasn’t to lead all of South Africa for another decade.

As I walked out of the press conference a little disheartened, an elderly white woman with a cane, hobbled up to me and said, “You spoke very well in there.”

I replied, “Thank you. But the ANC had the last word and it was misleading.”

She was very kind and wisely said, “You never know who was listening. Or when your words will sink in. And what effect you did have.”

She could see the effect her profound words had on me. I thanked her and we parted.

I rather wish I had offered to buy her a cup of coffee or get her address for my return to South Africa.

Like an angel swooping down with a life message.

c. GCYI

 

 

 

 

 

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