Letter: Exhilaration of women's forum

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rom Dr Anne Marie Goetz

Sir: As the UN conference on women draws to a close, the Independent deserves congratulations for its balanced coverage of both the NGO Forum and the official part of the conference over the past few weeks.

Having just returned, exhilarated, from the NGO Forum, with a small team of UK academics from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, and the Overseas Development Group of the University of East Anglia, I have been astonished at the expressions of concern with which colleagues have greeted me. As far as they have been informed by the media, the event was a shambles. Yes, it was wet. Yes, the Chinese were paranoid. But it would be tragic to lose sight of the real gains made.

The NGO Forum was the biggest and most diverse meeting of women of the world this century, providing a platform for the most constructive dialogue the international women's movement has seen yet. And Friday's final document of the official evidence, for all its limitations, will be the most democratic and inclusive of statements of this type, having benefited from extensive consultation with women's interest groups the world over.

What was different this time? Two decades into efforts to place women's issues and interests on the international scene through UN conferences, women have become skilled at lobbying and negotiating, and more importantly, at devising challenging policy alternatives rather than reactive protests. For example, women of the South, in particular the "Development Alternatives for Women for a New Era" collective, are rejecting familiar critiques of structural adjustment programmes to devise new feminist approaches to economics and to explore new economic opportunities for women in processes of global economic restructuring.

Groups concerned with reproductive health and sexuality are developing new strategies grounded in claims on internationally recognised human rights. The extraordinary positive energy, dynamism and creativity of these processes never seem to make the news.

Fortunately, gaps in media coverage will hardly stop the extensive and bloodless revolution in human relations which feminism has triggered this century.

Yours faithfully,

Anne Marie Goetz

Institute of Development Studies

University of Sussex



13 September