They are supposed to be leaving for China in a week, and yet only a few of the Utah women who want to go have their visas. The road to Beijing, to the U.N.'s Fourth World Conference on Women, has been long and winding.
The Washington Post reported Friday that some women, particularly those representing Tibetan groups that China considers hostile, have been denied visas outright. Other women wishing to at-tend the nongovernmental organ-i-za-tion (NGO) forum - being held at the same time as the U.N. conference - are battling bureaucratic obstacles and delays.Peggy Batten, who teaches in the philosophy department at the University of Utah, got her visa Friday. So did Susan Roylance of the Utah Association of Women. Kenda Bartlett, who lives in Draper, is one of five official representatives of Concerned Women for America, a national organization. In one week, she is to meet other representatives of CWA in Dallas to board a plane for China. If all goes well, the other women will have Bartlett's visa with them.
Roylance says ordinary tourist visas are not difficult to obtain, but the Chinese government decided participants in the women's conference should apply for business visas, which is a more complicated process.
Initially, Batten says, it seemed like a great idea to hold a convention of 40,000 women in China. "But Beijing isn't a place accustomed to being a major tourist destination. The people are not in the habit of pleasing the customer."
Former state legislator Beverly White says her visa hasn't come, but she believes it will. Earlier this year, White says, she knew a dozen women who wanted to go but who were eventually discouraged by the process.
"First, they said you had to send your money nine months ahead of time. Then we couldn't get our official NGO registration numbers. Then you read in the paper that the whole conference is off. Then it's on again, but it's moved.
"My group just fell apart. Everyone else said, `Bag it. I'm going to England. This is too much has-sle.' "
Salt Laker Pema Chagzoetsang planned on making the trip with Tibetan women from the United States and Canada. This week, she learned she did not have a hotel room. Her name had mysteriously disappeared from the list of officially registered NGO representatives. Without hotel con-fir-mation, no visa can be issued. Said Chagzoetsang, "If China gives you a hotel confirmation, it means they've cleared your security. Mine didn't come through. It was a big disappointment."
Earlier this summer, when it seemed they would all be going to Beijing, nine other Tibetan women joined Chagzoetsang in Salt Lake City to plan for the forum. Kun-zang Yuthok, executive director of the Tibetan Rights Campaign, explained that women from other countries would be allowed to bring their flags, but Tibetan flags were forbidden. The Tibetan women planned to talk about human rights abuses by the Chinese against the Tibetans, specifically the killing of Tibetan nuns.
Kunzang said, "The NGO grounds are technically U.N. territory. You should have freedom of speech and expression there. But the moment you step off the grounds, you are on Chinese soil."
In China, the Tibetan women agreed, they would stick together. They would never walk anywhere except in groups of three. Only one would carry literature, and if she were arrested, she would not struggle or shout but go along quietly. The second Tibetan woman would then follow to see where she had been taken, while the third woman would return to alert U.N. officials.
The decision to participate in the forum was not made lightly, says Yuthok. But now it seems as if she, too, may have planned in vain. Contacted Friday in Washington, D.C., Yuthok says her name has disappeared from the list of official participants, which is why she still hasn't received the hotel confirmation she needs to get a visa.
The Chinese embassy offered her no explanation of why she wasn't on the list, nor any promise of when an updated list might be issued.
"We are definitely still hopeful we can get our women there. We've made sure our State Department knows of the situation. We faxed the office of Irene Santiago, the chair of the NGO Forum."
Yuthok calls these hurdles ridiculous, saying the United Nations has been weak in terms of gaining assurances for forum participants. "This is not a Chinese conference. This is a U.N. conference. We shouldn't be worrying about access at this time. We should be worrying about the substance of the work that is to go on."
The United Nations has attributed all the problems to paper-work overload rather than to any political motivations on the part of the Chinese government.