17 March 2000


17 March 2000

Press Briefing



At a Headquarters press conference Wednesday, several organizations provided correspondents with details on the plans to welcome and accommodate the thousands of citizens groups from around the world who would be attending the five-year review of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), which will take place at Headquarters in June.

The Beijing +5 Host Committee was an ad hoc group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in support of the Beijing platform who had come together to facilitate the five-year review, its co-Chair, Ellen Chesler, explained. The Committee was planning celebrations and forums to mark the progress and hold governments accountable for their Beijing commitments. Also, representatives from the federal, state and city governments were participating to ensure that parliamentarians and non-governmental organizations, as well as the many women from around the world who would attend, would be able to partake in the celebration.

She added that the United States Custom House in Battery Park City had been made available to provide a home for NGO activities, including a cyber-café for reaching out to women in the rest of the world, and facilities for group meetings. In about a week, a Web site would be available, updated weekly, at: . The Committee's three other co-Chairs are: Barbara Arnwine, Kavita Ramdas and Sister Dorothy Ann Kelly.

The Executive Director of the Conference on Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO) in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations, Rebecca Nichols, explained that her group, an international association of NGOs from around the world, existed to facilitate NGO interaction with the United Nations and represent NGO interests at the United Nations at large. It sought to ensure that groups around the world who wished to participate in United Nations special events were kept informed. Activities included: providing information to NGOs around the world, daily briefings to such organizations in New York, providing official and unofficial supporting documents, and enabling NGOs to have parallel working sessions or caucuses alongside official negotiations. For the upcoming special session, CONGO's outreach and communications functions were going to be particularly important, given the limited number of NGOs that would be able to attend. CONGO was based in New York at 777 United Nations Plaza on the 8th floor.

Sudha Acharaya, of the Non-Governmental Organization Coordinating Committee organized by CONGO, said last year at the forty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women, NGOs had discussed preparations for the upcoming special session. Three major decisions had been taken. First, it was decided that a NGO forum would not be held, and instead NGOs would hold a working session prior to the special session. Second, they had decided that a global communication network would be established, so that NGOs around the world had access to information about the special session. Third, it was decided that NGOs at the national level would prepare alternative national reports. Those would then be put together at the regional level, and later become a global alternative report.

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The Coordinating Committee had been meeting electronically, and on a daily basis since 26 February, to discuss preparations for the special session, she continued. The two-day working session was extremely important; it was a time to take stock and determine future steps. The communications network was called “Women Action”. Its Web site was: . As for the alternative reports, 53 had been received so far. They would be made available during the working session.

Linda Tarr-Whelan, United States representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, said the number of people who would come to New York was one of the best kept secrets of all times. The estimate was between 5,000 and 20,000, including delegations and NGOs. The United States would be arranging for the General Assembly plenary sessions to be piped into the Customs House.

A correspondent asked what impact the NGOs expected to have on the conference, since it seemed to be structured in a way that did not allow for direct input from such groups.

Ms. Acharaya said that the organizations would be able to address the Committee of the Whole, and some would address the plenaries as well. Also, government delegations would be invited to meetings and caucuses.

Ms. Chesler said 2,000 NGO representatives would be accredited to the United Nations and there was no shortage of opportunities to access the formal part of the negotiations. Because of the visibility of Beijing, however, and the vibrant regional meetings held since, it was likely that there would be considerable interest beyond accredited delegates. The host committee wanted to accommodate those who did not have access, but that did not mean there was no access.

Ms. Tarr-Whelan said that since the United States delegation had arrived three weeks ago, it had been constantly interacting with NGOs, holding daily briefings with them at 2 p.m. at the Church Center. Certainly for the United States delegation, these groups were having an increasing influence.

Ms. Nichols said that while the Host Committee was celebratory and informational in its orientation, CONGO -- the operational arm of the NGO Coordinating Committee -- was committed to helping NGOs participate in the official process. CONGO was committed to helping those organizations, whether here or in their home countries, be effective in the process. That meant also providing them with information to be effective with their governments before the special session. The NGO exercise had a longer life span than just one week in New York. The CONGO was committed to making sure that governments knew that NGOs were prepared and understood what was going on, and that when governments went home, they would be accountable.

Asked what “headliners” would be coming to the special session, Ms. Tarr-Whelan said the United States President and First Lady were considering attending, in addition to other high-level members of the Administration, including Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. In talking with

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other delegations, she had the feeling that many heads of State and ministers would be making their decisions on whether or not to attend, based on whether there was a clear decision as to what was being reaffirmed at the special session.

Ms. Chesler said that the United Nations was according this the highest attention. The Secretary-General had asked his cabinet to attend with him. Ms. Acharya said that the NGO Coordinating Committee was currently involved in efforts to get women leaders involved. She also drew attention to plans for an inter-generational, inter-cultural and inter-regional roundtable on the women's movement.

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For information media. Not an official record.