From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 08:38:15


                         By Julian Shipp 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Sponsored by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and 
Women's Ministries Program Area, 36 participants in the Presbyterian Church 
(U.S.A.) travel study seminar to China will depart the United States Aug. 
28 and attend the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum, an event being 
held parallel to the United Nations' conference on women in Beijing. 
     According to Debra Jones of the Presbyterian United Nations Office in 
New York, the group will also travel to the cities of Zian, Nanjing, and 
Hangzhou to explore the life of the church in China and the accomplishments 
and challenges particularly of women as they work in the Chinese Christian 
     The NGO Forum itself is not a policy-making body.  NGOs provide 
technical expertise and grassroots perspectives to the U.N. and 
governments. At the United Nations-sponsored Fourth World Conference on 
Women Sept. 4-15, governmental representatives will examine the continuing 
obstacles facing women globally. Part of the NGO's work will be to help 
shape the conference's Platform for Action for the advancement of women. 
This document will contain strategies to be carried out nationally, 
internationally, and regionally to the year 2000 and beyond. 
     Issues to be considered at the conference include ways women can 
obtain sufficient resources for personal and family survival; how women can 
raise healthy, educated children; and how women can be safe from violence, 
war and environmental degeneration. 
     From the onset, the women's conference has been marked with 
controversy.  Several conservative religious groups, concerned over what 
they see as a liberal agenda at the U.N. conference, have criticized the 
conference's Platform for Action draft documents.  
     For example, talk radio personality James Dobson, president of "Focus 
on the Family," called the conference "the most radical, atheist and 
anti-family crusade in the history of the world." 
     In June, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls publicly criticized 
the draft document for its "ideological unbalance," complaining that it 
gives short shrift to family and motherhood. 
     Contrary to these claims, the Beijing Platform for Action identifies 
economic and political factors, not the institution of marriage, as the key 
cause of women's problems. Moreover, while the draft does not criticize the 
family, it does criticize authoritarian family structures, which prevent 
women from making decisions about issues that effect them and their 
     The Rev. Susan H. Craig, associate director for Women's Ministries in 
the National Ministries Division, said the majority of criticism of the 
conference has come from U.S. Christian groups that she believes are 
assuming the event is a Christian conference, which it is not. 
     "I also think that the most important thing for us to remember is that 
this is not a conference about China, it's a conference about women, and 
that it's a U.N. conference, not a U.N./China conference," Craig said. She 
emphasized the fact that the Presbyterian group will attend the NGO Forum 
and not the women's conference. 
     "We don't try to critique the conference or the NGO Forum from the 
standpoint of Reformed faith," Craig said. "We'll be meeting Jewish people 
and Muslim people and Hindu people and followers of Confucius." 
     Even so, Jones said, nearly 10,000 people have been denied visas and 
hotel accommodations to the Beijing conference by the Chinese government 
for unknown or unclear reasons. 
     The Presbyterian Church, through its programs, General Assembly 
actions and ongoing involvement in the "Ecumenical Decade: Churches in 
Solidarity with Women," has been actively involved in overcoming 
discrimination and seeking justice and equality for women worldwide. This 
concern for global women's issues is in part exhibited in the church's 
ongoing involvement at the U.N.  as a NGO. 
     The General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church have commended the 
U.N. for its past women's conferences and affirmed the goals of those 
consultations. Additionally, the church, through General Assembly 
statements and in other ways, has addressed nearly all areas of concern to 
be discussed at the Fourth World Conference on Women. 
     Upon returning home, participants will share their experiences in 
China within their congregations, presbyteries and synods. The travel study 
seminar is part of the denomination's ongoing Peacemaking Program travel 
seminar series established in 1983. 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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