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Nairobi conference: women's progress

MORE than 11,000 women from all over the globe are in Nairobi, Kenya, for a conference marking the end of the ``Decade for Women,'' launched at a similar meeting 10 years ago in Mexico City. Today the 3,000 official delegates from more than 130 countries convene the ``World Conference to Review and Appraise Progress Achieved and Obstacles Encountered in Attaining the Goals and Objectives of the United Nations Decade for Women.''

There is considerable progress for the conferees to celebrate, but much, much more to be done.

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The Nairobi conference naturally includes women from diverse backgrounds, including:

So-called ``third world'' nations where illiteracy and poverty need to be dealt with at the most basic levels.

Industrial democracies where women have achieved both affluence and influence but still live in male-dominated societies.

Totalitarian nations where sexual equality is professed but not reflected by either national custom or access to the levers of power.

In a related, 10-day program, ``Forum '85,'' which began July 10, the women in Nairobi are participating in some 1,000 informal workshops. Those 10 days may be the most productive of the gathering, for two reasons:

First and foremost, ideas are the weapons of the struggle for the liberation of women, men, and children from conditions that deprive them of basic human needs and rights. It is in these practical workshops, and in their personal discussions, that those in Nairobi can share experiences and information most directly applicable to their situations at home. These include both practical ideas, such as how to set up a rural cooperative or procure clean water, and abstract concepts, including the beliefs that human beings have a right to equality under the law and in social systems, and that innate dignity and worth are shared by all women and men.

Second, much concern has been expressed over the injection of ``global politics'' into previous conferences. There will be efforts, particularly by the United States and other Western delegations, to avoid the intrusion of such issues this time. But the problems of women in many countries are so involved with ideology and with economic and social policies that exclusion of those elements from discussion is virtually impossible.

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Nevertheless, we hope the Nairobi delegates will be able to keep politics and ideology in perspective and thus produce a realistic agenda for progress in women's rights into the next century. If the conferees concentrate on humanitarian values, they will be able to transcend political barriers -- global or local.

Several trends give promise that unprecedented progress is not only possible, but probable.

One is the growing worldwide communications network that is beginning to reach even into remote villages. From geosynchronous satellites to simple mimeograph machines, the means to spread knowledge and alert people to opportunities continue to grow.

Another is progress, albeit laborious, toward devising means to get the right kind of aid to those who can best use it, especially in self-help programs (see the article on Page 14).

Finally, fuller communication and more-enlightened aid policies help women -- and men -- to see themselves in a truer light: not condemned to endure poverty, oppression, or discrimination.

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