185. Letter From the Director of the United States Center for the International Women’s Year (Bacon) to Secretary of State Kissinger, Washington, July 24, 1975.1 2

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July 24, 1975

Dear Mr. Secretary:

As a public member of the U.S. Delegation to the World Conference of the IWY, I enclose a report covering my work and impressions during the historic meetings in Mexico City, June 19-July 2, 1975.

My principal assignment was as liaison between the U.S. Delegation to the governmental World Conference and the American women attending the non-governmental Tribune. The Tribune, open to any person who registered, ran concurrently with the World Conference but was basically separate from it by a near-hour’s run through traffic.

At the Tribune there were 1,500 American women, and 4,500 women from more than 80 foreign countries, and from a variety of economic and educational backgrounds. Most of the women came with high hopes and commitments to help other women; some brought special causes or grievances in addition. The daily fare consisted of panels and lightly structured discussions, usually constructive, sometimes rowdy, usually freewheeling, sometimes manipulated, but always lively. A measure of frustration set in when the women found that they were supposed to discuss while the governmental conference, to which for the most part they were denied access, was to make the decisions.

In reaching out to establish channels of communication with the Americans at the Tribune we had to improvise and grasp opportunities as they came along. Ours was the only Delegation to maintain a liaison contact with the Tribune. The Delegation and Embassy arranged an early “get acquainted” meeting between the Delegation and the Tribune participants which began in stormy fashion but ended up as a net plus. There followed on subsequent days panels and briefings by members of the Delegation, including Congressional Advisers on the Delegation (Senator Percy and Representative Abzug); formally scheduled meetings with non-governmental representatives; and informal meetings in the corridors of the Tribune by members of the Delegation, including Representatives Heckler and Mink. Details of the various appearances and “happenings” are given in my report.

Despite frustrations and some disappointments, and an often unfriendly tone toward the United States in the discussions, the Tribune made positive contributions on the status of women which I mention in the report. The Tribune provided an enormous learning experience for Americans and non-Americans from which an awareness emerged that the problem of the status of women was universal, tho varying in priorities and intensities. I also contributed to the work of world consciousness-raising. One notable feature at the Tribune was the emergence of two constructive groups--a large, “speak-out” group and a smaller Latin American group-- each of which achieved accord on areas of agreement among its members despite disruptive tactics from outside the groups. I add the thought that world Tribunes and world Conferences as they are now practiced and may be expected to recur in future, present some very special problems for U.S. foreign policy, demanding detailed and urgent study if adequate answers are to be found. I naturally make some suggestions.

The U.S. Delegation to the governmental Conference, under the direction of Pat Hutar (for the long haul) and Daniel Parker (briefly but significantly), with Jill Ruckelshaus and Jewel Lafontant as their two right hands, did an exceptional job under more than usually difficult circumstances, including a high incidence of illness within the Delegation, inadequate facilities at the meeting sites, and formidable transportation problems. Pat Hutar’s sturdiness during the lively “encounter” at the Chancery, with the telling support of all other members of the Delegation, was a memorable part of the Mexico City experience.

The cooperation from Ambassador Jova and the Embassy staff was superlative. So far as I was aware, the Ambassador Jova never said “no” to any request, large or small. Specially valuable also was the contribution made by the Embassy Women’s Association which maintained a Visitors’ Center in the patio of the Chancery throughout the period of the meetings and whose work was of great help to the U.S. Center for IWY as well as to the Delegation.

My assignment would have been impossible without the generous and talented help, usually spontaneously given as needs arose, from members of the Delegation, including the Congressional Advisors on the Delegation, and from many other persons who are named in Section VI of the report.

My assignment was difficult, demanding educational--and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. My thanks for the chance of participating in the Mexico City meetings for they mark a true beginning of “world-wide awareness of women’s worth.”

Ruth Bacon

The Honorable Secretary of State
Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

P.S. I realize that my report is on the long side. It covers developments at the mechanism of the Tribune which should, in my view, be made a matter of record. I hope that readers will at least scan the earlier sections and look more carefully at the recommendations and suggestions in Section V (pages 10-14).


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There were in effect two worlds in operation concurrently in Mexico City. There was the World Conference of the International Women’s Year, open to accredited representatives of governments, representatives of accredited non-governmental organizations, and accredited representatives of the press. There was the non-governmental Tribune, open to virtually any person who registered.

My major assignment from Pat Hutar, co-chairperson of the U.S. Delegation to the governmental Conference, was to serve as liaison between the U.S. Delegation and the Americans attending the non-governmental Tribune, to coordinate “happenings” so as maintain a two-way channel of communication, and to make clear that the Delegation open and receptive at all times to Americans attending the Tribune.

This was not the first Tribune in history. There had been a Tribune at the Population Conference in Bucharest, and one in somewhat modified form at the Environmental Conference in Stockholm. The Mexico City Tribune made its own place in history.


The Tribune met at the Medical Center, a large, handsome building with excellent facilities, including an auditorium seating 2,500 and several smaller conference rooms. In the basement the Soviet Union and Cuba had elaborate exhibits and a number of non-governmental organizations and other groups had less ambitious displays. The atmosphere of the basement was reminiscent of a subway station without the trains.

At the first statistical stocktaking the Tribune reported that 5,000 persons had registered, of whom 2,000 were Mexicans; 1,350 were Americans; and the remainder came from more than 80 countries. The proportion of women to men was about 10 to 1. The figures were later to swell to a total attendance of 6,000.

These women came from many economic and educational levels. There were women from non-governmental organizations; faculty and students from colleges and high schools; women from the press; from businesses large and small; homemakers; women from churches and other religious groups; careerists; farmers. There were women from minority groups--Chicanas, American Indians, Blacks, Puerto Ricans. There were women with special causes--pro- or anti-abortion, anti-plutonium bombs, pro-world peace day, pro-legalized prostitution, anti-multinational corporations, etc. Absent, ironically, were women from the groups in Third World countries most in need of help--the women at the endurance and subsistence level, illiterate, ill, the mainstays of their families, old at 30. They were often talked about but always through the voices of others.

It was the contact with diversity, followed by the realization that beneath the diversity there was a large area of universally shared concern among the women present, that was the initial and most lasting impact of the Tribune on the American women with whom I talked. They spoke of the experience of exchanging ideas, many times congenial but sometimes shocking, with women from everywhere. One woman commented: “It wasn’t only in the Tribune meetings. I had such interesting conversations with women in buses, in restaurants, in the hotel lobby, everywhere. I had never really talked to Third World women before about how they felt about things. Here I talked with women from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and learned that there are differences in language to watch out for, such as, never to use the word ‘abortion,’ but to find some other phrase. And a woman from Thailand told me that people in her country liked Americans and the Thais that threw stones at our buildings were only from small radical groups. How else could I ever have known that?” These sentiments plus the discovery that the problem of women’s status is universal were echoed by American after American.

A second strong impression was soon to emerge. There women had come to Mexico City, most of them full of high hopes of helping in at least some small way to advance the status of women. They soon realized that there was no formal role for them at the Tribune. They were to discuss but not to resolve or decide. Decisions were for the governmental Conference on the other side of Mexico City. They had been informed in advance of what to expect in a booklet issued by the committee which organized the Tribune. This committee was based in New York, headed by an American, Mildred Persinger, of the YWCA, and named “Committee of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.”

The committee’s booklet state: “There shall by no formal statement of a Tribune position on any or all of the issues. Individuals and groups may make whatever statements they want, but not in the name of the Tribune.” Some had read this statement and acquiesced; others had not read it, or had read it and rejected it. Most had assumed that they could at least look in at the governmental Conference but they were soon to learn the hard facts about protocol and space limitations. Few possessed the necessary accreditation even to enter the Foreign Affairs Building where the governmental Conference was meeting, and these few were likely to find no space for visitors even to look in on the meeting s. The governmental Conference was physically separated from the Tribune by half a city and its famous traffic. As a practical matter the Conference meetings were off limits to most persons attending the Tribune.

Other frustrations accumulated. Transportation was always difficult, at times impossible. Services for reproducing documents at the Tribune were always limited, at times non-existence. The Tribune’s daily newspaper, Xilonen (named for the Aztec goddess of the early corn and pronounced, Shilonen) reported that the governmental Conference had chosen a man as president and a man as chairperson of one of the two main committees of the Conference; and that political issues were being permitted to intrude into the Conference discussions. What were the government Delegates thinking? Obviously they needed help.


In planning the opening of channels between the Delegation and the Tribune, we had in large part to feel our way, as moods surfaced and subsided or changed direction with surprising speed. We had constantly in mind the need to be open and helpful, and the need to avoid any intimation of trying to control or direct. Our initial target groups were: the women from non-governmental organizations; minority groups; labor union women; and friendly foreign groups with constructive ideas. We wanted a quick, let’s-get-acquainted session; some substantial “happenings” to establish a two-way relationship of understanding; and then a final event that would leave a warm feeling. Although there were rough spots along the way, this general outline actually did take shape.

The principal appearances and “happenings” were:

A. Delegation’s Open House at the Embassy Chancery, June 21

This event was intended to provide a quick get-acquainted session with members of the Delegation for Americas, chiefly those from non-governmental organizations, at the Tribune. Some 200-300 attended in an informal setting in the patio area of the first floor of the Chancery. At the outset, a radical-type confrontation was staged by a small group of women, U.S. and foreigners and mostly from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), directed by a man. By chanting, shouting and grabbing the microphone they tried to prevent Daniel Parker and Pat Hutar and then, after his brief speech and departures for the airport, thru patience and stamina on the part of Pat Hutar, and with telling support from each member of the Delegation speaking in turn, the storm was ridden out and the atmosphere at the meeting largely turned around.

The meeting lasted three hours during which many persons had a chance to voice views. Complaints covered: the election of a man as President of the governmental Conference; the composition of the U.S. Delegation, allegedly not adequately representative of minority groups and with a man as co-chairperson; the composition of Third World Delegations (too elitist); the intrusion of political issues at the governmental Conference at the expense of women’s interests etc. One American woman lawyer suggested that it would be better to make constructive suggestions instead of merely voicing complaints about matters outside the control of the Delegation, and she gave as one suggestion the working out of revisions to the draft Plan of Action.

The exchange, while difficult, was beneficial in total effect. It demonstrated the Delegation’s willingness to meet and discuss issues with all comers. It gave groups which felt grievances a chance to express their feelings. It alerted many of the Americans present to some of the views and tactics they would later meet at the Tribune. As each Delegation member spoke in turn, it became abundantly clear that minorities were in fact adequately represented and also that each member of the Delegation felt a deep personal commitment to the progress of women. From these brief reports members of the Delegation also learned a great deal about each other of which they had previously been unaware. The encounter also created a feeling of personal acquaintanceship between members of the Delegation and much of the audience not participating in the demonstration which difficult to achieve otherwise.

Pat Hutar described the exchange as an example of democracy in action. Referring to the women participants, she said: “We need their input and there is no tine for a leisurely debate.”

(Arrangements for the meeting, including the difficult task of getting out invitations before the Tribune had any list of registrants or addresses, were largely the work of Virginia Allan, Mildred Marty and Embassy officers.)

B. Embassy Residence Reception, Sunday, June 22

Ambassador and Mrs. Jove gave a reception at the Residence for representatives from non-governmental organizations, members of the U.S. and foreign Delegations, Embassy officials and many others. Beautifully arranged, this occasion provided the opportunity for exchanging views and getting acquainted at the outset of the meetings.

C. Panel Chaired by Senator Percy on Foreign Aid and Women, June 24

This panel, held before a standing room only audience and chaired by Senator Percy, a congressional advisor on the Delegation, was a great success. Senator Percy arrived early and shook hands in advance with most of the audience. On the panel with him were women from Ghana, Kenya, Korea and Trinidad-Tobago. Each of the Third-World women explained how foreign aid could be made more effective in her country, and the Senator discussed American AID programs in the light of the Percy amendment. During the question period, the Senator deftly shared questions with his colleagues on the panel. The impact of the panel as a whole and of Senator Percy personally was highly favorable.

(Arrangements for this panel were worked out chiefly by members of Senator Percy’s staff who arrived early in Mexico City: Julia Bloch, Marilyn Harris and Fianna McCornack.)

D. Meetings with Representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations, June 25, 27, and 30

These meetings held in a Chancery conference room in the early morning (7:15 AM) brought together members of the U.S. Delegation and presidents of national non-governmental organizations having country-wide networks in the U.S. Thru this channel, leaders were informed of developments at the Conference and their views in turn obtained on developments at the Conference and at the Tribune. Their future cooperation was also sought in dealing with the problem of implementing the World Plan of Action. The meetings met a very real, need on the part of both the non-governmental organizations and the Delegation and may prove to have been effective in forging a continuing link for the future.

(Arrangements for the meetings were largely worked out by Virginia Allan and Mildred Marcy, with help from the Embassy and from Delegation members.)

E. Briefing at the Tribune by U.S. Delegation Members, Friday, June 27

The Tribune asked certain key delegations in turn to provide a morning briefing at the Tribune on the matters they considered most important at the governmental Conference. The U.S. turn came on June 27, and the Delegation was represented by Pat Hutar, Jewel Lafontant, Joan Goodin, and Arvonne Fraser. Each spoke briefly on different aspects of the U.S. position at the Conference and then answered questions. All were able to relate warmly to the audience which responded in friendly fashion. Jill Ruckelshaus remained after the briefing to meet women informally and exchange views.

(Arrangements for the meeting were largely in the hands of Kay Ray and Dorothy Robbins-Mowry, with help from many members of the Delegation.)

F. Ceremony Marking the U.S. IWY Stamp, June 27

After several delays, a brief ceremony to mark the unveiling of the U.S. postage stamp honoring International Women’s Year was held at the Chancery on the morning of June 27. The ceremony was attended by Ambassador Jova, Pat Hutar and several other Delegation members, and by members of the U.S. Center for IWY including Yvonne Lewis, who had worked with the U.S. postal authorities on the stamp over the past months. Invited guests were Americans from non-governmental organizations at the Tribune.

(Arrangements for the meting were shared by Virginia Allan, Yvonne Lewis, Kay Ray, and Embassy officers.)

G. Other Contacts with the Tribune

Individual members of the Delegation made a point of establishing contacts with individuals and groupings at the Tribune. Jewel Lafontant, Gilda Gjurich, Carmen Maymi, Dorothy Robbins-Mowry and Joan Goodin all gave exceptional service in working with minority, labor, and other groupings. All members of the Delegation, including Congressional Advisors Heckler and Nink, on a time available basis, came to the Tribune and talked informally in the corridors with any women who wished to exchange views.

H. Visitors Center of the Embassy Women’s Association

Throughout the period of the Tribune and Conference, the Embassy Women’s Association maintained a visitors’ center in the patio of the Chancery where visitors in Mexico City for the Tribune or the Conference could stop by for information, a chance to visit with Embassy women and Delegation members, a cup of coffee, some IWY jewelry, a place to talk. It was an original and appreciated program which supplemented the Delegation’s efforts to make American women feel welcome. The U.S. Center for IWY had reason to feel especially grateful also to the Embassy Women’s Association for their work.

I. Bella Abzug’s Meeting with the Tribune, Tuesday, July 1

Bella Abzug, a Congressional Adviser on the U.S. Delegation, spoke to a large and cheering audience at a meeting sponsored and chaired by the National Women’s Political Caucus. The Tribune’s newspaper, Xilonen, reported: “Abzug kept an enthusiastic audience laughing and clapping through much of her address to the Tribune on women’s role in politics and the power structure.” She received a standing ovation before and after the talk. She later held a press conference at the Tribune. Her talk provided an enthusiastic and warm conclusion to American “happenings” at the Tribune.

(Arrangements for the meeting were worked out by members of the Delegation and by Kay Ray and Maxine Hitchcock.)


A. The Panels and Briefings

The organizing committee for the Tribune under Mildred Persinger, an American, consisted of nearly a dozen persons, many of them American, but with foreign representation as well, assisted by an international staff.

The Tribune’s daily schedule called for early morning briefings developments at the governmental Conference, followed by panels on a variety of topics of general concern (”Building the Human Community”, “Women Across Cultures”, “Law and the Status of Women”, “Agriculture and Rural Development”, “Health and Nutrition.”) The panels were followed by question periods. There were also spontaneously arranged group meetings. The last three days were left entirely unstructured and available for later programming. The panels understandably were uneven in quality, some highly constructive, others superficial.

The panels included some Americans such as Betty Friedan of the National Women’s Political Caucus; Ruth Clusen of the League of Women Voters and a member of the U.S. Delegation; Luke Lee from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; Madonna Gilbert of the Rapid City American Indian Movement; Florence Jackson of the Bureau of Social Studies, New York Board of Education; Mary Ann Krupsak, Lieutenant Governor of New York. Nira Long of AID was to have been on a panels but when assignments at the governmental Conference conflicted, her place was very ably taken by Nan Frederick of AID.

Among women who were given a notably enthusiastic reception at the Tribune were Mrs. Echeverria, wife of the President of Mexico, who spoke at the inaugural session of the Tribune; Hortensia Allende, who was received tumultuously and showered with flowers; the Soviet astronaut who gave a low key presentation, stressing the future Communist World Congress scheduled for next October in Berlin; Elizabeth Reid of Australia, a forthright critic of many issues popular with the Third World, who nonetheless was highly popular; and Helvi Sipila, one of the UN’s Assistant Secretary Generals and coordinator of the governmental Conference. Betty Friedan of the United States, while an object of criticism as well as praise, was an outstanding figure at the Tribune.

Many Americans with whom I talked were disturbed by the anti-American tone of many of the discussions at the Tribune. The United States was blamed for most of the world’s ills. It was accused of imperialism; of forceful sterilization of Puerto Ricans; of oppressing minorities; of pushing drugs and prostitution in Vietnam; of using aid to advance American interests and downgrade the status of women; etc. Comparatively little argument was put up on the other side. In many cases the Americans present did not know the facts. In some cases they hesitated to speak up for fear of bragging; in other cases in the smaller group sessions Americans were openly discouraged from trying to use the microphone.

There were, of course, bright moments as well. When Bella Abzug for example, in response to a questioner, agreed that the United States had made many mistakes in foreign policy and then added, in effect, “but you must remember every other country on earth has made mistakes and more of them,” she received a warm round of applause from a predominantly American audience.

B. The “Speak-Out”, Latin American, and Labor Union Groups

Although the Tribune sessions had been designed for discussion, not decision, several groupings emerged than effort to make a constructive input.

The largest were the so-called “speak-out” sessions, organized by women from the United States and several foreign countries. Leadership came from Betty Friedan and from women from Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Others were added as the sessions progressed. The draft Plan of Action which was before the governmental Conference for discussion was taken as a point of departure, and specific revisions were developed.

The proposed revisions were of a practical, constructive nature, reflecting in part the view that the draft Plan distributed by the UN Secretariat treated women too much as an economic unit without adequate regard to hearing other needs and aspirations. It also placed great emphasis on the need for adequate implementation. Many of the suggestions were in fact in line with the positions of many Delegations. One significant new proposal was the establishment by the UN of a post of Under Secretary General for Women’s Concerns, who would be assisted by an ad hoc committee of consultants and adequately staffed and funded.

The proposed revisions were accepted with enthusiasm at an extraordinary session of some 2,000 at the Tribune. As the revisions took the form of item and line references to the draft Plan of Action and as copies of the proposed revisions were in short supply it is probable that the audience was endorsing positive and constructive action rather than the substance of the specific revisions. It was decided also to send a committee with the document to Helvi Sipila, Coordinator of the government Conference, with a request that the views might be presented to the Conference.

In the meantime a group speaking for Latin American women numbering some 900 members had also emerged and was at work on a declaration of views in an effort to create a Latin American feminist consciousness. I talked with the leader of the Latin American group who said that her group had attempted to work with the “speak-out” group by had in fact been rebuffed by it. However that may be, the Latin American group was in turn subjected to pressures from various sources for not being sufficiently politically oriented, in particular for their failure to condemn imperialism, colonialism, etc. The Latin American declaration was presented to Assistant Secretary General Sipila along with the proposed revisions of the draft Plan prepared by the “speak-out” group. Mrs. Sipila received the group cordially, agreed to consider the request of the committee to present its views to the Conference, and said she would come in person to the Tribune on the following day to give the answer.

When Mrs. Sipila appeared at the Tribune, she entered a room of 2,000 persons which was in disorder as a result of disruptive efforts by a small group who evidently was opposed to constructive efforts within the Tribune. In a dramatic incident Mrs. Sipila addressed the audience, gave them an answer they did not wish to hear--that the governmental Conference could not receive the committee--and received a standing ovation. The incident was in part a tribute to the respect in which Mrs. Sipila was held and to her ability to move an audience. As soon as Mrs. Sipila departed, the meeting dissolved into disorder again.

The American Embassy was later, in a remarkable effort, to provide copies of the “speak-out’s” proposed revisions and the Latin American group’s declaration for all participants at the Tribune.

On June 30, when a panel from the main geographic regions was to present views to the press on the revisions of the draft Plan of Action proposed by the “speak-out” group, the meeting was broken up by hecklers who chanted and shouted and grabbed the microphones in a manner which one American equated with Nazi storm trooper methods. Despite pleas for unity and order, the disruption continued. I was told by a Latin American that the disrupters were “exiles” from Latin American countries and Puerto Rico living in Mexico City and it was widely rumored that the disruption had Mexican support.

Despite the disruptive incidents the “speak-out” and Latin American groups represented a significant constructive effort. One American commented of the “speak-out” group, “We have done something the world has never seen before--we have come together as a grassroots movement as women.”

U.S. and other labor union women also met together and prepared a “call for action” directed toward removing discriminations against women in their economic, political, and social lives.

C. Other Meetings in Connection with the Tribune

Several groups arranged to hold meetings in advance of the Tribune or after its completion. Among these meetings were:

1. Women in Development seminar (June 14-18), sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, brought together a small group of regional experts and a large froup of country experts to examine certain issue areas.

2. The Journalism Encounter (June 16-18), organized by the Center for Economic and Social Information of the United Nations Office of Public Information, was open to all media accredited to the World Conference and also to some 50 specifically invited Fellows selected from developing countries.

3. Media Workshop (July 3-4), sponsored by UNESCO, brought together professionals, including selected United Nations Fellows, to discuss the implementation of the conclusions of the World Conference.

4. International Seminar (June 18-July 14), sponsored by the National Council of Negro Women, held meetings first in Mexico City, and after the conclusion of the Tribune it met in four cities of Mississippi and at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida. The seminar brought together 25 delegates from developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and U.S. counterparts. The focus was on rural community development in developing and developed countries.


Despite its frustrations and some disappointments, the Tribune made a positive contribution to the progress of the status of women in many directions.

1. It provided a valuable educational experience for American women and for non-Americans alike. Many had never had a chance to discuss their basic concerns on a personal footing across national barriers on any scale even remotely approaching the Tribune.

2. Many women discovered at the Tribune a vast area of shared concerns on the part of women, world-wide. The problem of the status of women emerged as universal, tho varying in priorities sad intensities.

3. Unlike the Delegates at the governmental Conference, the Americans at the Tribune represented in substantial degree the grassroots, and the Impact of their experience would be widely diffused nationally.

4. Regularly scheduled meetings between American women at the Tribune representing non-governmental organizations and members of the Delegation served to widen the area of mutual understanding between the Delegation and these organizations, with the results which should carry over into the future.

5. While it had been planned that the Tribune would discuss but not resolve, two groupings were able, despite disruptive tactics practiced against them, to achieve documents of importance. The “speak-out” grouping proposed revisions of the draft Plan of Action which were approved by a meeting of 2,000. The Latin American grouping, numbering some 900, prepared a declaration of principles for Latin American women. Many of the ideas in these documents found their way informally into the work of the Conference thru the speeches or positions of national Delegations.

6. American women say, some for the first time, how mechanisms such as the Tribune and the governmental Conference operate, and the need to know basic facts such as how to get on panels, how to learn what is going on, how to obtain access to a microphone. They needed also to learn how governmental conferences choose officials, how and when resolutions may be introduced into such conferences, how amendments are handled, etc. They saw also how small minorities could dominate large groups and how political and economic issues like anti-Zionism or the new economic order or anti-imperialism could be used to divert and divide. They were shown the uses of preparation, cooperation, and fore-knowledge, and in consequence should be better prepared at future international meetings.

7. American women also were made aware of the need to follow up on the good intentions expressed at the governmental Conference. As the Tribune ended, American women in groups and individually were asking: “What can we do to help implement the Plan of Action?” The answer to this question offers a means for insuring that the Mexico City experience continues as a moving force for the improvement of the status of women.


Developments at the Tribune were to some extent helpful in terms of U.S. foreign policy, to a larger extent unhelpful, and in total they raised the question of how the U.S. Government should approach future tribunes. My guess is that we should accept the probability that world tribunes will recur and should plan accordingly. I do not know to what extent the IWY Tribune was a special case because of the impact of women’s issues, the proximity of the meeting site to the United States, and the fact that they host country regards itself as the sponsor of the new economic order. However that may be, there is need for a prompt study in depth of what happened at the IWY Tribune, why it happened, and how the United States might plan in connection with future tribunes.

A. Helpful Aspects

1. U.S. initiatives, or support for initiatives, in areas of real concern to women were known to many at the Tribune thru appearances by members of the U.S. Delegation on briefing or discussion panels and thru reports from the governmental Conference. There could be little doubt on the part of open-minded persons of the sincerity of the U.S. commitment toward improving the status of women. On the other hand, the U.S. attitude toward the new economic order and against the intrusion of political issues such as apartheid, Zionism, etc., appeared to be understood and approved by some, misunderstood by others, and deliberately misinterpreted by still others.

2. The U.S. Delegation and Embassy were credited with being the only ones that genuinely tried to work with the Tribune, to provide information and documents, to listen to suggestions, and bring them in one way or another to the attention of the governmental Conference. Comments to this effect were made by individuals and by the local press in Mexico City, and were echoed at the Delegation’s debriefing on its return by a British Indian in the audience.

3. The volume and tone of some of the invective against the United States may have caused some hitherto unconcerned Americans to become more alert to the problems with which this country must cope. One newspaper reporter told me, “I was trained in the liberal school of journalism and I never gave much thought to patriotism. After my experience here I am going home and do a lot of hard thinking.” The less aware, however, of course, may have been taken in by the charges.

B. Unhelpful Aspects

1. There were elements at the Tribune intent on creating disunity and insuring that no consensus should be permitted to develop which did not condemn imperialism, Zionism, apartheid, etc., and which did not support the new economic order. It is significant to note that the disruptions at the Tribune were directed against the “speak-out” and Latin American groupings as they separately reached for a consensus, and that neither of these groupings was willing to follow the party line. Eastern Europeans were intent also on playing down the Tribune and Conference and playing up the forthcoming Communist World Congress of International Women’s Year which is scheduled for East Berlin in October. The themes of “play up the new economic order”, “play up the Communist World Congress”, “play down the Mexico City Tribune and Conference”, “disparage the U.S.”, were mutually helpful to the East Europeans and to the proponents of the new economic order, and this attracted adherents from various political quarters. By contrast with these clearly organized pressure groups, in which small but noisy contingents of Americans sometimes participated, the great majority of Americans were unorganized. While deploring, albeit largely silently, the political intrusions, they wanted to concentrate on constructive discussion of issues of major concern to women.

2. Many Americans were concerned, some were shocked, by the disruptive tactics of small groups and by the biased criticism of the United States at the Tribune. In some cases foreign nationals offered effective verbal resistance to the would-be disrupters. In some cases foreigners and Americans responded to the more biased criticism of the United States. It would be simplistic, however, to assume that the disruptions and the constant disparagement of the United States thru allegations clearly targeted at the Third World, had not had its effect.

I do not wish to overplay the prominence of the disruptive tactics because they actually occurred on only a few occasions. The criticism was almost constant. In inquiring within my own mind why more effective tactics were not employed when the disrupters numbered only 30 or 40 out of an audience of 2,000, I came up with a number of reasons. So far as Americans are concerned, most of the women from non-governmental organizations are not used to strong-arm tactics and recoil from the type of physical conflict which standing up to them would in some cases have involved. So far as criticism of the United States is concerned, many women hesitate to brag. Many were unsure of the details of our negotiations with the Micronesians or over the Panama Canal Zone or other such topics. In some cases getting access to a microphone would have been practically impossible.

The net result, however, was that the, strong and constructive aspects of American foreign policy were not adequately put forward while the views of hostile critics were. This situation cannot be of serious concern from the point of view of U.S. foreign policy.

The solution is not an easy one, in part because of the very commendably independent nature of the average American attending a tribune or world conference. Many of those present in Mexico City were, however, concerned and as they return home and communicate their concern to others, there may be a greater understanding of the problem. In this belief I give below certain suggestions.

1. The first and most urgent need is for thorough-going study of the tribune as a mechanism, its problems, its opportunities, and possible future steps.

2. If disruptive tactics are to be minimized, and if a more balanced image of the United States is to be presented at future tribunes, major reliance will have to be placed on the understanding and cooperation of non-governmental organizations. What is essential on their part is an awareness of the problem, the need for advance preparation for learning the rules, and for cooperative arrangements in advance of future tribunes or world conferences.

The U.S. Center for IWY and the National Commission for the Observance of IWY can call attention to this problem as occasion offers. The main impetus, however, has got to come from the organizations themselves. Perhaps the grouping with which Virginia Allan worked at Mexico City might be helpful. During future conferences or tribunes, our delegation and our Embassy should stand ready to be helpful while avoiding any impression of directing or controlling American non-governmental participants.

3. Private Americans, long conditioned to self-criticism and to accepting criticism from others, need an example if they are to discard the “turn the other cheek” approach. The U.S. Government should provide this example by discarding humility and calling attention to our achievements and to our strong points, among which predominantly is our belief in human freedom. Here is something for which is unattainable in many countries, yet so far as I am aware, we seldom mention it at international conferences. Or, again, why not mention our MIAs?

4. Private Americans also need hard facts. In Mexico City, for example, when Pat Hutar made a brief but effective response on the Panama Canal issue, her statement gave private Americans in the corridors at the Conference and the Tribune basic facts on which they could rely with confidence.

5. Attractive pamphlets giving in brief and unbureaucratic language some outstanding American achievements in the area of concern to the tribune or conference should be prepared and distributed widely. The Department of Labor, for example, has an excellent pamphlet on federal laws affecting women. 5,000 copies of this at the Mexico City Tribune would have met a real need.

6. At the Mexico City Tribune both the Soviet Union and Cuba had impressive national exhibits in the form of pictures, posters, etc. The United States should decide whether to mount an exhibit at a future tribune. If it does, the exhibit should be of top quality.

7. Appearances by popular and well-known Americans who are knowledgeable about topics under discussion and can draw and hold large and potentially difficult audiences are essential.

8. Finally, there is the question of the structure of the tribune. If the UN so desired, means could certainly be found for some input from the tribune into the conference. If my memory holds there is a precedent of sorts when, in 1918, the Pan American Union, at its Havana conference handled a request to be heard by a group of women by arranging for an unofficial meeting. This meeting ultimately led, as I recall, to the creation of the Inter-American Commission of Women.

There is the question, however: Is it desirable to have groups at the tribune have access in some direct form to the conference other than thru national delegations, or representatives of accredited organizations?

Any kind of an informed consensus among the 6,000 persons in the Tribune at Mexico City would have been unachievable. With the conditions existing there, the Tribune was subject to emotional appeals, on occasion to strong-arm disruptions by orchestrated groups, and its mood swung rapidly from one to another. Positions could emerge ostensibly in the name of a group which in fact represented the views of only a few determined persons. As the problem may well recur in the future, here is a situation which should be analyzed.

9. One more final thought--this time about the appointment of the U.S. Delegation. From time immemorial it has been the tradition to appoint U.S. delegations to international conferences at the last moment so that they might arrive, breathless and with open minds, to begin their work at the conference. This tradition was honored in full with the U.S. Delegation to the IWY World Conference. Generations of Americans before me have expressed the hope that the human mind might in time and with the advantages of modern technology prove capable of devising some more rational system. I fervently echo this hope. At a UN Conference under conditions existing in 1975, other delegations provide an American delegation with more than ample opportunities to prove its [omission is in the original]. The delegation does not need to be given additional handicaps by its own government.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D750189–0425. No classification marking. For an account of the initial encounter between the Tribune and the official U.S. delegation, see Document 184.
  2. Bacon submitted to Kissinger a report on the Tribune, its impact, and its implications for U.S. foreign policy.