Feminists lay groundwork for international women's 'think tank'

Feminists in all countries are planning to move into the 21st century ''connected'' to each other by a powerful network called the Sisterhood Is Powerful Institute.

The groundwork for this new institute was laid in New York this month by means of the first international feminist ''think tank'' ever to be assembled to formulate a strategy for improving the status of women worldwide.

The 25 participants from Western, socialist, communist, and third-world countries were all among the 70 contributors to ''Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology'' compiled and edited by Robin Morgan and just published by Anchor Press/Doubleday ($24.95 hardcover, $12.95 paper).

It took 13 years to forge the network of women that produced the book, Ms. Morgan pointed out, and it will take that many more years to forge the kind of bonds and organization that can more fully empower women, challenge governments, and influence global politics.

Robin Morgan has been for 20 years a feminist leader in the US and an activist in the international women's movement. Her now-classic book, ''Sisterhood Is Powerful,'' was published in 1970. She organized the strategy meeting, which preceded the formulation of the Sisterhood Is Global Institute, with foundation and other grants amounting to $200,000.

One woman attending termed the events ''the beginning of a new solidarity movement which will address the problems of women everywhere, including illiteracy; the care of the elderly; refugee populations and war victims; the crises in world population; the welfare, health, rights, and education of children; and the abuse and exploitation of the environment.''

Equality has not been achieved, the participants agreed. In most societies, it remains a long way off. Human rights are still not guaranteed and safeguarded for all. Violence in the society and social inequalities remain rampant. Women, participants in the meeting urged, must be allowed to help develop those tactics that will bring solutions.

The new permanent institute, though connected to no government, will bring together from many countries women with special expertise both at governmental policy-planning levels and in grass-roots organizing. It will rotate periodically, regionally, and in terms of personnel; Greece may be its base for the first period. It will likely seek nongovernmental agency status from the United Nations to give official legitimacy to meetings so that women from socialist and third-world countries may attend without restrictions.

Immediate plans include the establishment of an Urgent Action Network Alert System to organize international campaigns of support for women censored, jailed , tortured, exiled, or otherwise persecuted for activism on behalf of female human rights.

They also involve the establishment of independent women's commissions to visit and investigate the specific situation of women in crisis situations: Palestinian women, migrant women, women and children dying in the Sahelian famine, women suffering under apartheid, indigenous women caught in the cross fire in Central America, minority women in the United States struggling against government social cutbacks.

The institute will initiate the translation of books by women's rights activists; launch an investigation of and bring action against specific airlines , tourist agencies, and hotels that promote sex tourism; and expose religious fundamentalism in all its forms (from Christian fundamentalism in the US to Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East) as being particularly adverse to women.

The institute's founders include not only Ms. Morgan, but Margaret Papandreou , cofounder and current president of the Women's Union of Greece; Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo, former prime minister of Portugal; Marilyn Waring, former member of Parliament in New Zealand; and Fawzia Fawzia, a Palestinian social scientist. Other women came from Yugoslavia, Spain, Nepal, Belgium, Zambia, Mexico, Nigeria, Finland, Brazil, Colombia, and Thailand.

The women who attended the meeting represent many political and cultural differences. Each admitted to a different set of priorities for tackling the problems they were addressing. Yet, as women, they agreed that they speak a common language, have common problems and concerns, and are linked by a common bond that they plan to strengthen and enlarge.

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