Feminists Unite!

Who says feminism is a dirty word?Not the thousands of women -- and a handful of men -- who gathered in Baltimore over the weekend for Feminist Expo 2000.In the large exhibition hall of the Baltimore Convention Center, young women from high schools and colleges around the country had a chance to meet veterans of the women's rights movements of the '60s and '70s and delegates from women's groups around the world. Feminist comediennes and performers entertained the crowd, and non-profit organizations spread the word about upcoming events -- such as the Million Mom March on D.C., a Mother's Day protest against gun violence.Discussing everything from reproductive rights to globalization, the convention, which was sponsored by The Feminist Majority Foundation, drew hundreds of young volunteers and big name speakers such as Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers with the late Cesar Chavez, Marcia Ann Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Ms. Magazine, and feminist thinker Gloria Steinem.MifepristoneOne key event, the Mifepristone Global Summit, brought together women from international reproductive rights groups to call for broad access to mifepristone, formerly known as RU-486, an early abortion option. Not to be confused with the morning-after pill, which is a means of emergency contraception, mifepristone is a compound that chemically induces abortion.At a press conference on the subject, Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had found mifepristone to be a safe and effective drug and that many other countries used the drug, but abortion politics had prevented general distribution of mifepristone in the United States.Smeal also emphasized that mifepristone used as a hormone repressant has also been found to be approximately 20 percent effective in treating some ovarian and breast cancers and fibroid and brain tumors. And Dr. Eric Schaff of Abortion Rights Mobilization, reported that 20 to 30 percent of all women develop a fibroid tumor at some point in their lives.However, because of political pressure, the drug is available for only a very limited number of patients suffering from these diseases, and The Feminist Majority, which funds and administers a small supply of the drug, must apply to the FDA for each individual case, said Feminist Majority Foundation Medical Director Deborah Smith."We think it's an outrage that medical research has been held up, delayed, for the U.S. and the rest of the world, because of abortion politics. There is still a know-nothingism -- a possible medical McCarthiasm," Smeal said.Still Wanted: Female CopsAnother focus of the weekend was the ongoing efforts to increase female representation in law enforcement. The National Center for Women and Policing held its Fifth Annual Leadership Conference to coincide with the Expo, and more than 25 law enforcement agencies sent representatives in the hopes of finding new recruits.Sargeant Charmaine Gittens-Jacques of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., police department, said she personally would love to see more women on the force. In her 501-person departments, she estimates there are only about 50 women. She emphasized that women often bring valuable skills to policing: "Conflict resolution -- women are very strong in that. It is really more of a people-contact job."Officer Carrie Evrett of the Baltimore Police agreed that policing is often not what women expect it to be. "Policing has changed," she said. "Police now are there to refer people to help. We work closely with juveniles or domestic violence situations. Women often shy away from the physical side of things, but you can be more nurturing. Women tend to use communication skills more.""Globalization is something people do to other people."Many of the conference attendees had traveled from abroad, and much talk focused on the ways the global economy effects women's lives. "Globalization is something people do to other people," said Ritu Sharma, executive director of Women's Edge. "Women have absolutely no voice in the [World Trade Organization], so the facts about the effects of globalization on women's lives are simply ignored."Noeleen Hayzer, the executive director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women, argued that "globalization has created a champagne glass civilization -- increasing the gap between the very rich and the very poor. And guess who happens to be at he very bottom of the very poor? Women."Ms. Magazine Editor-in-Chief Marcia Ann Gillespie said, "We are often seduced into believing that people who live and work in poverty have brought in on themselves É but if you're a woman of color in this society, it's not a glass ceiling, it's a concrete ceiling."A speaker from Uganda said she had just thing to add to the discussion on globalization. "We would like you to care more," she said. "Our sisters who are suffering from the global economy need you to care."Feminist AgendasOther highly visible campaigns at the Feminist Expo included movements to curb domestic violence, to protect affirmative action, to mobilize voters for the November elections, to promote women's health research, and to support the women of Afghanistan.Many Expo attendees wore small squares of turquoise cloth pinned to their clothes to show solidarity with women in Afghanistan, where the conservative Taliban regime has curtailed most women's rights.Attendees also donned bright pink stickers that read, "We Demand: End Violence Against Women." The National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund, which provided the stickers, urged women to push for the immediate reauthorization and funding the of the Violence Against Women Act.The act, initiated in 1994, provides support for services for victims of domestic abuse, rape, and other violence -- but that funding will expire in October. Advocates are urging congressmen to act on reauthorization now so that funding can be distributed to services on time, and they argued that some politicians may want to delay reauthorization in order to highlight the issue as an election touchstone.In many of the panel discussions and small symposia, speakers stressed the importance of the upcoming election. The next president will likely appoint at least one Supreme Court justice, who could affect the outcome of cases on issues such as gun control, affirmative action, and abortion."The Supreme Court is just one vote away from overturning Roe vs. Wade," said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood, "and if Roe goes, there goes the legal basis for access to reproductive choices."This article originally appeared on Chickclick's news channel, Shewire. Elizabeth Hollander is a Shewire editor.

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