Backlash in Beijing?

"Population qua population is finished; nobody's talking about that now," says Frances Kissling, president of the advocacy group Catholics for a Free Choice. But even so, activists attending the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing are worried about maintaining the gains for women won at last year's U.N. International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

They expect a backlash from the Vatican, which grabbed headlines at Cairo with its stance on abortion and family planning; from conservative countries, such as Malta and Ecuador; and from right-wing women's groups. Already, conservatives have formally challenged the language agreed upon in Cairo.

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Moreover, the new Republican-dominated Congress threatens to cut development assistance, thus jeopardizing the Clinton administration's commitment to double population funding to $1.2 billion by the year 2000. That's a big chunk of the $17 billion the U.N. estimates is needed to meet the Cairo goals.

SOME KEY PLAYERS IN THE POPULATION DEBATE

  • A Catholics for a Free Choice. 1436 U St., N.W., Suite 301, Washington, DC, 20009; 202-986-6093. A vocal leader in challenging the Vatican on abortion and family planning for more than 20 years.
  • A Development Alternatives With Women for a New Era. University of the West Indies, School of Continuing Studies, Pinelands, St. Michaels, Barbados; 809-426-9288. This network's economists, lawyers, and academics are noted for their creative thinking about Third World women's issues.
  • A Human Life International. 7845 Airpark Rd., Suite E, Gaithersburg, MD 20879; 301-670-7884. These pro-lifers will fight access to contraception and abortion by co-opting the progressive argument that overpopulation is less problematic than the inequitable distribution of wealth.
  • A International Planned Parenthood Federation. Western Region Office. 902 Broadway, 10th floor, New York, NY 10010; 212-995-8887. With offices in 140 countries, this global octopus spends more than $110 million per year on family planning.
  • A The International Women's Health Coalition. 24 East 21st St., New York, NY, 10010; 212-979-8500. By amplifying the voices of Asian, African, and Latin American partners, IWHC helps steer the debate toward women's reproductive rights.
  • A Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network. Casilla Postal 50610 Santiago 1, Chile; 56-2-633-4582. In a region clinging to traditional gender roles, these women turn organizing and research into political clout.
  • A Population Action International. 1120 19th St., N.W., Suite 550, Washington, DC 20036; 202-659-1833. One of the strongest voices in the traditional population lobby, PAI has been criticized for supporting aggressive family planning.
  • A United Nations Population Fund. 220 East 42nd St., New York, NY 10017; 212-297-5000. A funder (roughly $200 million per year) of population programs, this U.N. agency led the Cairo consensus and--thanks to director Nafis Sadik--responds to the concerns of Third World women.
  • A U.S. Agency for International Development. 320 21st St., N.W., Room 4889, Washington, DC 20523; 202-647-1850. With the U.S. contributing almost half the world total to population aid, USAID's shift to "women's empowerment" could equal big changes. Does USAID mean it?
  • A The Vatican. Holy See Mission to the United Nations, 25 E. 39th St., New York, NY 10016; 212-370-9614. Expect delegates to lead the fight against abortion, family planning, and Western consumption.
  • A Women's Environment and Development Organization. 845 Third Ave., 15th floor, New York, NY 10022; 212-759-7982. Co-founded by former Congresswoman Bella Abzug, WEDO ran an effective women's lobby in Cairo and plans a similar caucus in Beijing.

Consulting editor Annie Stine and consulting designer Dian-Aziza Ooka provided considerable help on "In Her Hands." Research assistance by Mother Jones fellow Liz Enochs and Lexis-Nexis.