Biographical Sketches of Activists at UN World Women’s Conferences


Charlotte Bunch, the founder and founding director of Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University, is one of the principal authors of the “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” campaign, which gained prominent international attention at the 1993 UN-sponsored human rights conference in Vienna and had come to define human rights standards by the 1995 Beijing women’s conference.  This immense accomplishment earned her a place in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996, and in 1999 President Bill Clinton awarded her the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.

Arvonne Fraser, an early president of the Women’s Equity Action League, she established its Washington legislative office and its legal defense fund, served as part of the official US delegation to the 1975 UN International Women’s Year Conference in Mexico City, as one of two NGO representatives.  She not only played a critical role at the conference itself, she has been instrumental in publicizing the accomplishments and objectives of the Mexico City and subsequent UN conferences in Copenhagen, Nairobi, and Beijing, producing books, pamphlets and documents collections that have been indispensable to scholars and activists seeking to understand their importance.  She has also served as an ambassador to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women and the coordinator of US AID’s Office of Women in Development.

Rounaq Jahan, originally from Bangladesh, received her Ph.D. in political science at Harvard University before returning to teach at the Dhaka University.  At the 1975 IWY conference in Mexico City, she served as a panelist on the socialization of women — a panel that ended up exploding into an unforeseen and contentious discussion about women’s sexuality.  She is currently on the faculty of Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs and writes extensively about gender and development.

Devaki Jain wrote the book on women in the United Nations, with her Women, Development, and A Sixty Year Old Quest for Equality and Justice. Trained as an economist, she has taught at the University of Delhi, founded and directed the Institute for Social Studies Trust (ISST)--a center which highlighted women's work--making her a leading scholar to call for gender statistics and other economic data. She has helped lead the transformation of NGOs after 1975, creating newer, more innovative organizations that incorporate a much more diverse range of voices and interests than had previously been the case and was one of the founding members of DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era), the first NGO network headquartered in the global south, and its first general coordinator from the ISST.

Mildred Persinger chaired the organizing committee for and presided over the NGO tribune parallel to the UN women’s conference in Mexico City, which brought together women from all over the world who with UN delegates and staff became the nucleus of an international women’s movement. NGO representative of the World YWCA and a founder of the International Women’s Tribune Centre, she took part in planning the three subsequent NGO forums at the UN world women’s conferences. The documentary records demonstrate her leadership in helping ensure that the UN Decade for Women would transform the landscape of women’s transnational activism by radically increasing the diversity of participants.

Peggy Simpson worked for 17 years as a reporter for the Associated Press before becoming a freelance journalist.  She has held a prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University and has consistently spoken out against sexism in the media.  Her reflective articles about media coverage of both the Mexico City and Beijing women’s conferences have served as indispensable reminders to those of us who would use the newspaper sources as reliable representations of what occurred at these important events.