In September world governments gathered in Beijing, China, for the UN Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace. The Conference was to agree the Platform for Action which sets out priorities and policies which will affect the lives of women and our communities well into the 21st century. At the same time around 25,000 women (and some men) attended the NGO Forum, the non-government event which paralleled the government conference.
Women from the International Women Count Network (IWCN) in Belgium, Brazil, France, Greece, Guyana, India, Ireland, Spain, Tanzania, Trinidad &Tobago, the UK and the USA took part in the Forum and lobbying the government conference. We also had support from the Payday men's network who attended both events.
We went to Beijing to bring home the fruits of campaigning since 1972 and especially since the 1985 UN Conference in Nairobi when the International Wages for Housework Campaign (IWFHC) won the decision that governments should count women's unwaged work, and formed the IWCN to press for implementation of this decision. Our aim was to get governments to measure and value the unwaged work of women in national accounts. This means measuring how much time women spend daily doing what work, and putting a monetary value on the product of their work. Our case was strongly endorsed by the 1995 UN Human Development Report which estimates that unwaged work is worth $ 16 trillion globally, and that $ 11 trillion is done by women.
Siting the Forum 30 miles from Beijing was designed to keep most women away from the government conference. In addition, access for women with disabilities was non-existent, with long muddy or gravel walks between venues, no lifts and or on-site transport. Despite these and other obstacles , there were daily plenaries and caucuses, and thousands of workshops on a huge range of issues. We held three major workshops and a daily Caucus meeting, and ran an incredibly busy Information Stall, where we met and talked to hundreds of women. Our T- shirts, badges, and postcards which said Women Count - Count Women's Work in Chinese and English were very popular -an essential part of our fund-raising efforts in Beijing! At the Forum, counting unwaged work proved to be a unifying issue among women in the South and in the North, whether all our work is unwaged, or we do waged work as well, and whatever our race, age, nationality, disability, sexual preference, etc.
Many pointed out that not valuing women's work leads to devaluing women's and girl's lives.
By the time we got to the government conference, over 1,200 NGOs representing millions of women worldwide had endorsed our demands. Government opposition was to valuing unwaged work and was lead by Sweden and other Nordic countries, quietly supported by the USA. Some EU members (including the UK) said they would support stronger language, but hid behind the need for EU consensus, refusing to say which countries opposed.
This issue was so crucial and so controversial that all language on unwaged work was referred for intense negotiation to a small "contact group". IWCN women and some men supporters wearing our T-shirts, held a silent vigil outside the three- day closed meeting to let governments know we were watching. International press coverage added to the pressure.
In the contact group, Andaiye, of the IWCN in the West Indies, representing Guyana and CARICOM (the English-speaking Caribbean), fought for our language with support from Pakistan, as well as Brazil and Canada, and backed by the G77 -Third World countries at the UN. In standing up for women of the South where women work the hardest for least, they stood up for all women. This historic unity, generated by grassroots women's consistent organising since 1972, resulted in language committing governments to measure and value unwaged work in satellite accounts, to conduct time-use studies of unwaged work, including recording activities performed simultaneously with waged or other unwaged work, and for resources and financial assistance to go to countries of the South so they can also measure and value. This victory was described by many, including Eugenia Pisa-Lopez of Oxfam who was part of the UK government delegation, as the "single most important achievement on macro-economic issues".
Other member groups of the IWFHC lobbied on different issues in the PFA, including compensation and other resources to prevent violence against women and children, disability rights, civil rights for sex workers and recognition of discrimination against lesbian women.
IBWWFH also co-ordinates the International Network of Women of colour (INWOC), grassroots activists from Africa, the caribbean, India, the Philippines, the UK and the USA, who came together to prepare to prepare for the Beijing conference and are now working for implementation. INWOC protested against racism at the Forum where women of colour were denied autonomous meeting space, and together with Black women's groups from Canada, formed the Women of Colour North/South Caucus, to work for mutual accountability and to make clear to governments that women in the South and North will not be used against each other. The Caucus met daily, circulated a state- ment highlighting the lack of strong language on race in the PFA and organise a press conference to highlight among other issues the impact of structural adjustment policies and so- called Third World Debt in the South and economic restructuring in the North, environmental racism, land and inheritance rights, and discrimination against immigrant women.
The question now is implementation. Our immediate plans include public meetings to report back on Beijing; working for implementation of Agenda 21 (the !992 Earth Summit's commit- ment to a global action plan) in which local authorities commit themselves to "actively assess the nature and value of women's unwaged work", and pressing European governments to implement their 1993 Report which calls for unwaged work to be measured and valued.
The IWCN is co-ordinated by the International Black Women for Wages for Housework and the International Wages for Housework Campaign, PO Box 287, London NW6 5QU. For more information, and how you can help, Tel: 44 171 8334817.