New Thinking and The Changing Role of Women in Public Organizations

Tatiana Matveeva
Candidate of Historical Sciences
Secretary of the International Women’s Center
Russia

It is an honor and a privilege to be invited here to address this important meeting and to have once more an opportunity to visit your beautiful and sunny country. It is truly remarkable and symbolic that our young, Russian, non-governmental organization independent of any political and ideological influence, a real infant of the policy of New Thinking, is establishing its productive relations with the new Europe here in the land of Hellas. That is why I feel obliged to express my gratitude to Dr. Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis who really initiated a new stage in the activities of our organization, the International Women’s Center. We accept her bio-philosophy which encourages our hopes and provides the foundations of our vision. We consider bio-philosophy like our own because it helps us believe in a better future for our country. We look at bio-diplomacy as the main tool to develop democracy.

The concept of bios (life) unites all of us and pushes us in the direction of universal human values. That is exactly what we need for establishing new international relations between people and not only between governments.

After the removal of the ideological boundaries, thinking in all the parts of the world has grown beyond parochial concerns to a developed awareness of the bio-environment. I completely agree with Dr. Vlavianos-Arvanitis that “bios recognizes no ideological or geographical boundaries, East-West, North-South or developed-developing countries. Bios provides the unifying force for the harmonious co-existence of all the forms of life. Parallel to internal problems, nations will undertake an international task.”

Such an approach is completely changing our view on the role of international, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which really have to play an invaluable role in making our life better and safer. Let us hope that the end of the Cold War will give rise to a new style of NGO activities free from chronic suspicions and political ambitions.

An autonomous type of non-governmental organization is quite new for my country. Only a few years ago these groups were actually governmental organizations. The government backed them financially, decided who would perform which function, and regulated their activities. This also applied to women’s NGOs, which under the Soviet regime became part of the Communist Party propaganda machine.

The recent changes in our society and the development of democracy have provided new options for NGO activities. Currently, we have hundreds of new organizations truly independent of the government. Some of the newer women’s groups were established during the `perestroika’ years. These organizations were really growing, but today’s reality has caused a lot of new problems.

As a result, a new concept of women’s societies is needed. This concept should conform to the drastic changes taking place in our domestic affairs and in international relations. These changes in my country have enhanced the meaning of the term globalization. It is only now that we are provided a unique opportunity to work out a common strategy of resolving women’s problems. At present, we feel that women’s problems are not influenced solely by social systems and political boundaries. They are propelled by numerous economic, environmental and technological currents. The example of my country and other Eastern European countries demonstrates that some processes have left governmental control and entered the non-governmental level.

The trend towards integration is opposed by nationalist and ethnic forces which could prove destructive. As people are given more chances to express themselves, they tend to be preoccupied with what they see as their `roots’. Ethnic rivalry or cultural prejudice tend to fill the psychological void created by a perceived need for human rights and social justice. We have to recognize that unilateral measures taken by governments cannot resolve these problems. These efforts should be supplemented by the activities of the non-governmental organizations involving women’s activities and their particular vision.

At present, no single women’s group has been involved in international affairs. No Soviet group has participated in United Nations activities, despite the resolutions concerning such participation. Let us hope that in the near future, the situation will drastically change.

The International Women’s Center is making efforts to get involved in United Nations activities and those of the international community. It seems that we actually have a chance to attain these goals, now that a change in the activities and concerns of the United Nations touches upon human-life issues. The issues concerning women’s status have become global ones. Dealing with them necessitates collective action. Women’s groups are, by their very nature, important sources of information, experience, and expertise; therefore, they could play an essential part in solving numerous women’s issues.

These ideas were considered during a seminar on the Role of NGOs in the 20th Century United Nations, held in Moscow with the participation of top-level UN officials. Our organization consolidated its views on the problems discussed around the following:

  • creating a better world for humanity is a task that statesmen cannot accomplish by themselves. Only through non-governmental organizations do women receive international power to unite the peoples of the world with their rich and invaluable cultures, to share our common heritage and to foster universal human values;
  • resolving the problems regarding the status of women requires the involvement of women’s groups in the activities of the United Nations.
  • changing the United Nations Charter to provide more comprehensive consultation with women’s groups. Currently it does not provide any real opportunity for cooperation. Only one of the resolutions passed by ECOSOC (1296, 1968) deals with “Arrangements for consultation with non-governmental organizations.” The resolution only lays down the main guidelines and principles which direct this cooperation;
  • seeking consultative status with the Economic and Social Council ECOSOC) is currently the only option available for women to make a contribution to UN activities. Attaining this status entails a complicated procedure;
  • applying for association with the United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI) is another option, but this cooperation deals mostly with conveying information, not providing it; and
  • in reality, any non-governmental organization is endowed with only restricted rights in the United Nations. Only the `on the roster’ organizations “can make occasional and useful contributions to the work of the Council or its subsidiary bodies.”

Thus, despite the fact that 1,600 NGOs are formally affiliated with the United Nations, their influence on governments is insufficient. In addition, there is an improper flow of information between them, especially concerning women’s issues.

Women’s organizations must be more active within the United Nations Development Fund for Women. This fund was commended by the General Assembly for its efforts to increase the visibility of women and to ensure that issues relating to women were on the agenda of mainstream development efforts. We should seriously consider the possible creation of an International Association of Women’s NGOs. Cooperation or networking, in my view, would enable us to share our valuable resources. Today, I am ready to propose the first topic for discussion: `A Europe Safe for Women – Meeting the Challenge of the New International Order’. Based on my experience, I feel that women’s views on such topics are urgently needed.

In short, women’s groups are an essential force in modern civilization. They are invaluable in shaping public opinion, formulating government policy, and promoting progress in all dimensions of women’s lives. Women’s policy cannot be pursued by governments alone. It requires grass-roots support by individuals and groups aware of women’s status. Cooperation between organizations, incorporating women’s interests into their activities, will help ensure that we all have a hand in creating a better future not only for women, but for all humanity.

 

 


Tatiana D. Matveeva is Director of the Department of International Relations and Secretary of the International Women’s Center; professor of international relations and candidate of history.