Women delegates protesting at the Beijing conferenceWomen delegates gagged to symolize China's silencing of Tibetan women's voices at the Beijing conferenceWomen delegates gagged to symolize China's silencing of Tibetan women's voices at the Beijing conferenceWomen delegates gagged to symolize China's silencing of Tibetan women's voices at the Beijing conferenceWomen delegates gagged to symolize China's silencing of Tibetan women's voices at the Beijing conference


The FWCW NGO Forum took place August 30 through September 8, 
and the official UN Conference took place September 4 through 15.
The NGO Forum provides the opportunity for NGO organisations to 
interact, to lobby and to have input into the official UN Conference.
NGOs play a critical role in influencing the final document to be 
issued at the official UN Conference.

The TWD focused its efforts at the NGO Forum on raising public
awareness of Tibetan women's issues, seizing the opportunity 
presented to the TWD by the attention of the international press 
and forging alliances with other NGOs.The TWD hosted several 
presentations, participated as panellists in many workshops, 
initiated and joined vigils and marches, met with representatives of
both grassroots organisations and governments and gave hundreds of 
interviews to the press.

The TWD's concern about how to achieve visibility in a sea of tens 
of thousands of women, a matter discussed at TWD internal strategy
meetings, was unwarranted. Having closely followed the accreditation
and visa struggles, the world-wide media were eager and prepared for
the news that the TWD had in fact arrived at the NGO site.Unfortunately,
the Chinese authorities and security were equally prepared and did
not hold back on heavy handed surveillance, harassment, intimidation
and even physical and verbal assaults on the TWD.

A. The Forum Site

With over 5000 workshops and presentations planned and women
representing close to two hundred countries, occupied nations 
and numerous indigenous peoples, the Forum was, despite serious 
difficulties, an impressive gathering.The COC clearly attempted 
to provide a celebratory atmosphere with flowers, plants and 
banners adorning the entrance to the street leading to the onference.
However, the complicated layout of the vast 42-hectare site, 
inaccurate maps, three separate official checkpoints equipped with 
X-rays, and the unnecessary barriers between sections of the site 
rendered timely movement between workshops and activities difficult.  
Designated a UN "safe zone", the site in some ways resembled a
military encampment. A most central building stood in its raw concrete
form, bars protruding, no roof, doors, windows or inside walls.
Tents provided to groups for workshops and caucuses leaked and 
collapsed in the rain, including China's propaganda "Tibet Tent", 
the most colourful and visible tent on the Forum grounds.Many 
workshops had to be cancelled. Crumbling walkways and mud 
rendered movement around the Forum site particularly difficult 
for disabled participants.

The distance between the NGO Forum in Huairou and the official 
UN Conference in Beijing, as well as the lack of plenary facilities
at the Forum, directly affected the TWD's ability to influence the
official UN Conference. The hall provided could accommodate only
1500 people while there were over 30,000 women in Huairou, including 
the Chinese delegates.  Thus, there was no means to address the Forum
as a whole.  The FWCW NGO Forum, lacking appropriate facilities for
large gatherings, did not produce any consensus document, even though
NGOs had successfully done so in Jakarta, Vienna, Dhaka, Amman and 
New York.The distance and lack of transportation options between 
Huairou and Beijing made it extremely difficult to move between the sites
and thus nearly impossible for Forum participants to both lobby 
government delegates in Beijing and participate in the Forum.  

The communication and computer facilities at the NGO Forum were, 
however, quite good. Using these facilities, the TWD maintained
communication with Tibet NGOs via email and prepared 
press releases and statements.

B. Security, Surveillance and Harassment

All participants, including press and COC volunteers, who wore
easily identifiable  pink shirts, were required to wear 
identification badges. The Forum site was heavily populated 
with plain-clothes Chinese security staff who routinely attended 
selected meetings and photographed and filmed the delegates. Upon 
the arrival of TWD members at a workshop the number of Chinese 
security at that workshop increased. TWD members were closely 
followed, usually by three to five Chinese who filmed and 
photographed the delegates from morning to night. When politely
asked to give the delegates some room, to retreat or to leave,
they usually did not respond, and often moved in closer, focusing
their video cameras on the delegates' mandatory identification 
badges. These security personnel were generally wearing plain clothes,
were mostly men and wore NGO badges which they often tucked into 
shirt pockets.Some claimed to be press people though they often
refused to show their press passes.

Because of the heavy surveillance of the TWD, full participation
in the Forum was difficult. As a safety precaution, TWD members
agreed it was necessary to travel in groups with "buddies",
sympathetic women who volunteered to serve as bodyguards and
accompanied TWD delegates everywhere. Initially the TWD held its
daily strategy meetings in the Peace Tent, and TWD members often 
found themselves moving from one end of the tent to the other, in 
order to carry on private discussions. Other venues for meetings 
were attempted with similar results. Chinese volunteers and delegates
joined TWD meetings uninvited, while other Chinese security and
personnel would videotape or watch the meetings and take notes. 

NGO Forum participants, including TWD representatives, formalised
efforts to stop the harassment. In response to repeated organised 
complaints, a subject amply covered in the media, the COC finally 
took measures to reduce the intrusive surveillance and harassment.  

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© Copyright Tibetan Women's Delegation, April 1996.