Refusing to Release a Big Idea

December 14th, 2014 | Posted by Barbara Belknap in Activation | Empowerment | Gatherings | Inspiration

by Barbara Belknap

Hillary in China (326x155)

Hillary Clinton, First Lady of the USA, said in Beijing, “Women’s rights are human rights.”

How many women in the world got an email from Jean Shinoda Bolen today? I’m on her mailing list, and when I see her newsletter I stop whatever else I’m doing and read it. Today, her newsletter features an essay she named “Still Here”. Jean is one of many women on this earth who won’t give up the fight for a United Nations 5th World Conference on Women (5WCW).

I think Jean is describing her tireless quest for a 5WCW when she writes, “The magnus opus each of us has is the life we have. Like a canvas, a manuscript, or music being improvised, while we are still here, the work is not yet finished. To be human is to intuitively know or to live with the possibility that we have some significance in a vast visible and invisible universe. Living from this premise, I believe that what we do here does matter and that someday, we will know.” (Jean Shinoda Bolen, from: “The Art of Living: A Practical Guide to Being Alive”)


Courageous Tibetan women hold silent protest at 4th World Women’s Conference in China.

Sadly, there are millions of women around the world who don’t even know that there were four World Conferences on Women sponsored by the United Nations and attended by thousands of women. There was Mexico City in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980, Nairobi in 1985, and Beijing in 1995. Millions of women have never read the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was adopted by 189 countries. ( I think they’d be indignant (to put it politely) if they saw what their countries agreed to do and have failed miserably to achieve. (

A few years ago, my husband and I were on a tour of China. As our bus passed a large coliseum in Beijing, the guide said, “This is where thousands of women came in 1995. The government had them meet so far out of the city because there were so many prostitutes.” Doug gently put his hand on my arm. He knew I was ready jump up out of my seat and set the record straight!

Alaska Women's Network logo by Rie Munoz

The logo of the Alaska Women’s Network. Artwork by Rie Munoz.

A group of Alaskan women went to the Fourth United National World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. They returned inspired and eager to turn the Platform for Action into a springboard for Alaskan women’s rights. I met with these women right after a women’s conference I helped organize here in Juneau, Alaska. The scene is still so vivid in my mind. We were in Centennial Hall, the largest facility in town. Knowing that we would be scattered all over the state by the next morning, we gathered in a tight group in the center of the ballroom. The janitors literally swept up around us. Questions flew. How could we capture the momentum we had created before everyone left? How would we communicate across this vast state? Nobody wanted to lose what we had created over two and a half days.

This was 1995. It was before Facebook and ubiquitous cellphones, but we exchanged email addresses. In the following weeks, we had several teleconferences. We decided our priority was to create a website and put together an email list of women across the state. We called it the Alaska Women’s Network and based the content on the Beijing Platform for Action. Rie Munoz, a famous Alaskan artist, gave us permission to use her image of a Native Alaskan mother with her children for our logo.

Our son, Will, helped me program the website. I wrote the description that is still on the website, and I was the first Web Goddess (aka President) for many years. By that time, I was the Executive Director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) and spent a great deal of time traveling. One evening, I was sitting at a big round table in the Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer, Alaska, with several local fishermen. A woman who worked for Fish & Game joined us, and I was introduced as Barbara Belknap, the “boss at ASMI”. She exclaimed indignantly, “No, she’s not! She’s the Web Goddess!”

Let’s join Jean Shinoda Bolen in her vision. I don’t know how many GTW women went to one of the United Nations World Conferences on Women. If you did, please share your experience on our Gather the Women Facebook page. If you would go to a 5th WCW, tell us why. I would go in a heartbeat. If anyone knows how we can add our voices to Jean’s, tell us how. The technology we have at our fingertips is light years ahead of where we were in 1995. Let’s use it!

You can read Jean’s blog at

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