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Bella Abzug Addresses Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing

September 12, 1995

Bella Abzug's plenary address to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on September 12, 1995 set a tone of international cooperation and commitment that helped define the conference and its influential legacy.

After a historic career as a pioneering U.S. Congresswoman and activist, Abzug approached Beijing as a symbolic moment of feminist possibility. A long-time advocate for women's equality as well as human rights, she insisted on taking part in the Beijing conference despite illness and her confinement to a wheelchair.

The conference focused primarily on probing the living conditions for women including women's health, education, and economic status. Success in defusing the tensions over Zionism that had marked previous United Nations women's conferences facilitated constructive dialogue among the 7,000 delegates. The Beijing conference managed to synthesize numerous conflicting nationalistic feminist approaches into an international human rights feminist vision, offering resolutions that have continued to define national agendas for changing women's lives around the world.

In her address Abzug stated that, "Imperfect though it may be, the Beijing Platform for Action is the strongest statement of consensus on women's equality, empowerment and justice ever produced by governments. The Beijing Platform is a consolidation of the previous UN conference agreements in the unique context of seeing it through women's eyes.... We are bringing women into politics to change the nature of politics, to change the vision, to change the institutions. Women are not wedded to the policies of the past."

Sources: gos.sbc.edu/a/abzug.html; http://www.jofreeman.com/womenyear/beijingreport.htm; feminist.org/news; Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, jwa.org/feminism.

2 Comments

I'd like to add that we are "wheelchair users" NOT "confined to wheelchair". I had a letter published in the NYTimes, August 1986, pointing it out in re an article written about Andre Dubus (google it).

It was not until Bella Abzug's obituary(ies), that I learned, that the same speech quoted above, she strongly criticized the lack of wheelchair access at the conference. At the time, she was a wheelchair user. It's the only time I've seen mention of her comment. It was rarely mentioned that she was a wheelchair user in her last years. Also, Betty Friedan, "The Feminine Mystique", was a wheelchair user in her last years. I only know of that because the newsletter of the National Museum of Women in the Arts had a photo of Friedan sitting in her wheelchair in front of/below an Alice Neel self-portrait, as a visitor to the museum in Washington, DC, shortly before her death. As a wheelchair user, I am very aware of "erasing wheelchairs" from the media, just as a feminist, I am aware women being "erased" from history (artists*,too). I think it is a common myth that the wheelchair user would be "embarrassed", and it's is incorrect. (And no doubt, you have these archives of Jewish women in history to correct the record, and why I read it.) Problem: if women are omitted from source material, such as newspapers, magazines, few biographies written, it's hard to get enough data (such as Abzug, and the strong as-only-Bella Abzug could do criticism of inadequate wheelchair access at the Bejing International Women's Conference. *Germaine Greer's history of women omitted from art history, written about 3 decades ago, was "groundbreaking".

Bella Abzug Addressing the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, September 12, 1995
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Bella Abzug addressing the plenary meeting of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on September 12, 1995.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Bella Abzug Addresses Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing." (Viewed on May 30, 2017) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/sep/12/1995/bella-abzug-addresses-world-conference-on-women-in-beijing>.

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