It’s Girls Rule week at the U.N. Ten years after the infamous Beijing conference, 6,000 delegates have descended on the U.N. headquarters to assess the progress of women since the Fourth World Conference on Women in the Chinese capital in 1995. I was on the official American delegation to that conference. The delegation was supposed to be bipartisan. It wasn’t. I was one of the very, very few Republicans. I remember my old friend Arianna Huffington at that time, a more-than-committed conservative, wrote a stinging column criticizing women for attending. Some people’s politics evolve over the years, Arianna, I’m afraid has whiplashed.
Actually the conference was a fascinating experience. Within a few hours of being in Beijing, we got an unvarnished look at the Chinese Communist regime. Security guards, we discovered, were everywhere, not to help, but to hinder. It didn’t matter who you were. I watched as Donna Shalala, a Cabinet secretary then, was shoved aside by the guards. And Jane Fonda, who wasn’t part of the delegation but was there anyway, got shoved aside, too, in a downpour. It was always raining. Jane wore waterproof Ultrasuede, head to boot, and looked okay. Donna and I and everyone else wore tattered dripping rain ponchos and looked like drowned rats.
The highlight of the conference was Hillary’s “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” speech and I have to say it was a good one. But I know one other little story about the Beijing conference and Hillary. A couple of days before going to Beijing I met an odd little woman named Nina Wang. Although she was in her late fifties, she wore miniskirts and her hair in two stiff pigtails like the last dowager empress of China. Her p.r. man told me that she lived in Hong Kong and was the richest woman in Asia. She’s still on the Forbes billionaire list.
When she found out I was going to be at the conference she was very excited. She told me she would be in Beijing too and wanted to give a dinner for the American delegation. Her p.r. man told me she had one goal: to meet Hillary. I told him I absolutely could not arrange that.
Nina Wang did give a dinner for the delegation and I managed to get a few women who worked at the State and Commerce departments to go with me. They thought Nina with her pigtails and her short skirts was kind of a joke. When I told them of her desire to meet Hillary, they laughed. It would never happen they said.
Wrong. I found out later that Nina met both Bill and Hillary in the White House just a few months after Beijing. Soon after that Nina flew 8,000 miles from Hong Kong to Hope, Arkansas, to donate $50,000 to refurbish the two-story house that was Clinton’s home for the first seven years of his life, boosting efforts to turn it into a museum.
At the conference we each took turns during the sessions to sit in as the official representative of the United States during the speeches. The greatest moment for me was when I was sitting there behind the sign that read United States. To the left of me was a woman representing the United Kingdom, a titled aristocrat. To the right of me was a woman representing Uruguay, the wife of a government official. While I sat, half listening to the speeches, I thought about my own family, my immigrant grandparents, my dad who had to go to work when he was fifteen. I felt sure that only in our country would a woman have so many opportunities that could lead to being the representative of her country at an international conference. It made me very proud to be an American.
A few nights ago I attended a reception for some delegates to this year’s U.N. women’s conference. They were the delegations from Afghanistan and Iraq. The Afghanistan delegation was headed by Dr. Maooda Jalal, a pediatrician, who had run for president last summer. She is now minister for women’s affairs. Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, introducing her, noted that she had said she had run partly, to show that it could be done and encourage other women. She also noted that in the Iraqi elections,
women had expected 25 percent of the seats in the parliament that will write the constitution and had won 31 percent. One of the Iraqi delegates was a young Sunni woman who had come to the U.N. despite the fact her own mother was ill. She is just so committed to showing that the women of Iraq wanted to work together that she felt she had to come.
All of the delegates were excited to be here and so very, very grateful to the United States for improving the lives of women in their countries. Ten years later, another U.N. gathering of women–and even more reason to be proud to be an American.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.