They came in their thousands and from every corner of the world. Twenty thousand women or more. The people of Nairobi in Kenya will always remember the big meeting in July this year.
The women came from different places but they all came to Nairobi for the same reason. They came to tell the world about the problems and the struggles of their sisters back home. Their problems are sometimes different but their struggle is always the same.
They are fighting for a world where women will be equal to men. They are fighting for a world where women will be treated like people – and not like machines or toys. They are fighting for a world where there will be peace and friendship.
There were two meetings in Nairobi. Women who work for governments went to one meeting. The other meeting was for ordinary women – mothers, factory workers, teachers, artists and freedom fighters. They were all there.
Ten years ago, the women of the world met in Mexico. At that meeting they decided to spend the next ten years fighting for a better life for women everywhere. Now they were meeting ten years later in Nairobi. They were there to see how far they have got in their struggle.
At the opening of the meeting, a member of the government in Kenya stood up and said: “We, the women of the world, shall overcome.” These were the words of a man called Kenneth Matiba. There were more than a few laughs.
But the women were not there for the jokes. They were there on important business. And there was a lot to talk about.
Leticia Shahani from the Phillipines in south east Asia. She was the secretary general of the government meeting. At the opening of of the meeting she said: “We must look at the past to find a way forward for the future.”
She said that women in many countries have come a long way in the last ten years. These women are now equal to men in the law of their countries. And people now look at the work of women in the same way as they look at the work of men. No work is better than the other.
But Leticia Shahani said that the women’s struggle still has a long way to go. Many people still think that men are better than women. And in many countries women are still treated like slaves. She said there was much work still to be done.
Sally Mugabe and women from Zimbabwe at the government meeting. There were also many other famous people from 157 countries. The South African government did not send anybody. They are not welcome in many places these days.
Every day women from different governments spoke. They were only to speak for about 20 minutes. Time was short and each country had something to say.
Most countries said what they had done for women in the last ten years. Some countries have done much, other countries not so much.
Gertrude Shope of the African National Congress. She and other women from the ANC were there to talk for the women of South Africa.
“Nothing has changed for the women of South Africa,” said one woman from the ANC. “Things have got worse. There is not yet peace or equality for the women in South Africa. They have suffered greatly and this must change.”
But the next day the ANC did not take their seats at the meeting. “We want to show the world that there is no proper government in our country,” they said. “Until the people have power, the seats must stay empty.”
In many ways this poster says it all. Women are still carrying very heavy weights on their shoulders. Before the government meeting ended, the women decided to make a list of their demands – the rights they are fighting for.
The women spent a long time talking about their demands. They often didn’t agree. For example, some women believed that unmarried mothers must have the same rights as all other people. But women from countries like Iran and Syria did not agree. They said it was against their religion.
And then after talking late into the night the women agreed. Their demands filled over 100 pages. They were there for all the world to see.
A group of women singing ‘We are the Women’ at the opening of the other meeting – the meeting of ordinary women. They called their meeting the NGO Forum or just Forum 85. NGO means non-governmental organisations. And a forum is a place where people can share ideas and talk about different things.
As the chairperson of the Forum, Dame Nita Barrow from the island of Barbados, said: “Anyone, or any group or organisation can come to the meeting. It is for women of different backgrounds to meet each other and to share their stories and their ideas.”
Two Kenyan women at Forum 85. There was a lot to do. The meeting broke up into a lot of small little meetings. There were over 100 different meetings a day.
There were meetings on women’s organisations and meetings on women political prisoners. There were meetings on hunger in the world and meetings about women workers. Really, there were meetings about everything.
Women from Japan outside the Peace Tent. Everyday women went to the tent to speak ‘and sing for peace in the world.
The Japanese women want the world to remember how their people suffered in 1945 when America dropped the atom bomb on two of their cities Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The women said that this must never happen again. Not in Japan, not in Africa, not anywhere,
Women from Nicaragua in Central America at a special meeting about South Africa. Women from many countries went to this meeting. They wanted to show the people of South Africa that they were behind them in their struggle.
The women from Nicaragua told the meeting about their own struggle – and how they won their struggle in 1979. Then the women spoke about South Africa. They said that South Africa, like Nicaragua, will be free one day.
Women from Russia at the special meeting for South Africa. They spoke after the women from Cuba and Vietnam. Every speaker said they were fully behind the people in South Africa.
After the women spoke, they joined hands and sang freedom songs. Many of the women had tears in their eyes. They feel strongly for the people in South Africa.
Women from South Africa who now live far away from home. These people were feeling good – because so many friends from other countries came to the meeting on South Africa. At the meeting one of the South African women read a poem:
“Yes, there will be springs, Where little children of Soweto, Mamelodi, Kwa-Mashu, Langa, Athlone, Can drink, wash or just simply SPLASH, And like tadpoles, freely swim, On all June sixteens to come.
And then the meeting in Nairobi was finished. The women packed their things and said goodbye. There were hugs and tears and kisses. And then the women were gone. They had much to tell their sisters back home .