The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women – 20th Anniversary!

Beijing 1995 - Hilvi Sipila, Secretary General of the Second World Conference on Women and Marian Rivman
Beijing 1995 – Hilvi Sipila, Secretary General of the Second World Conference on Women and Marian Rivman

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW), which was held in Beijing September 4-15, 1995. As a media consultant to the conference secretariat, I was privileged to have an all-access pass at this historic event.

As indicated by its name, there were three previous UN world conferences on women – Mexico City in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985.

It had been ten years since gender equality and women’s issues were center stage on the world’s agenda. A majority of diplomats and activists were determined to accelerate progress towards achieving global gender equality. They supported a Platform for Action that addressed 12 areas of concern:

  • The persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women
  • Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to education and training
  • Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to health care and related services
  • Violence against women
  • The effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women, including those living under foreign occupation
  • Inequality in economic structures and policies, in all forms of productive activities and access to resources
  • Inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels
  • Insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women
  • Lack of respect for and inadequate promotion and protection of the human rights of women
  • Stereotyping of women and inequality in women’s access to and participation in all communication systems, especially in the media
  • Gender inequalities in the management of natural resources and the safeguarding of the environment
  • Persistent discrimination against and violation of the rights of the girl child

More than 50,000 people attended the gathering in Beijing. Attendees were divided into three primary categories: 10,000 official delegates from the 189 UN Member States; 30,000 representatives from international, regional, national and local non-government organizations (NGOs) and 10,000 journalists. It was mind-boggling.

The well-appointed and well-equipped Beijing International Convention Center was the site of the official UN meeting. The site of the NGO Forum was Huairuo, almost an hour’s drive away. The Forum was a unique space of advocacy, networking, training and knowledge sharing. Conditions in Huairuo were challenging to say the least; heavy rains had turned dirt paths to rivers of mud. Undeterred by the hardships, there was an electrifying spirit that permeated the Forum. These women meant business!

Beijing 1995 - Center: Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the Fourth World Conference on Women, at a press conference in Huairao
Beijing 1995 – Center: Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the FWCW, at a press conference in Huairao

Gertrude Mongella from Tanzania was Secretary General of the FWCW and presided over the sessions where the Member States gave their official statements. At one of these sessions Hillary Clinton uttered those now famous five words, “Women’s rights are human rights!”

Beijing 1995 - Noeleen Heyzer, Director of UNIFEM, with Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of the United States
Beijing 1995 – Noeleen Heyzer, Director of UNIFEM, with Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of the United States
Beijing 1995 - Dr. Patricia Licuanan, Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, at the opening ceremony for the FWCW
Beijing 1995 – Dr. Patricia Licuanan, Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, at the opening ceremony for the FWCW

Dr. Patricia (Tatti) Licuanan, a Filipina, who was the chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, was responsible for overseeing the negotiations for the agreements made during the conference. (Amazingly, Tatti had been my language instructor in the summer of 1968 when I was training for my assignment as Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines.)

There is no underestimating the impact of the outcomes of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women.

“Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted by 189 Member States meeting in China, its stature and significance as a roadmap for the achievement of gender equality remains undiminished. This pivotal document continues to guide the global struggle against constraints and obstacles to the empowerment of women around the world. In the face of new forces threatening to curtail the rights of women and girls, we must return to the agenda set by the Platform for Action and renew our commitment to carry it out in full.” Ban Ki-Moon Secretary-General United Nations

One only needs to read the headlines to understand that there is a dire need to invigorate support for women’s advancement on the international, national and local levels. It is my intention to join these efforts.

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Home Sweet Home

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It has never been easy to find an affordable rental apartment in New York City. Snagging one was always considered a major accomplishment and the subject of many a dinner party conversation.

Decades ago, the shortage of available housing led to a series of laws aimed at stabilizing the Big Apple’s real estate market. Though there’s been a weakening of those laws over the years, there are still currently close to a million apartments in New York City that are stabilized. These prize apartments offer perks including a guaranteed right to renew your lease and limits on how much your landlord can hike up your rent each year. It is my good fortune to live in one of them.

It most definitely was not my plan to spend my entire adult life in the same one-bedroom upper westside apartment. However, that is what happened. I have the dubious distinction of being the longest continuous tenant on my block, which runs between Broadway and Columbus Avenue.

Marian Rivman's block - West 68th between Broadway and Columbus Avenue
Marian Rivman’s Block – West 68th between Broadway and Columbus Avenue

I moved into my apartment in November 1968. I’d been staying with my best friend who had an apartment on West 83rd Street, which was a seriously seedy area at the time; Columbus Avenue was neither stylish nor safe. My friend’s apartment had been robbed multiple times, and she was having a new lock installed. The first thing the locksmith said was “What are two nice girls doing in a place like this?” He was the super of a building on West 68th Street and said there was an apartment available. We signed the lease the next day. My friend left two years later to move to Israel. I remained and have been there ever since.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my apartment this summer.As I develop the financial plan for my retirement, I realize just how blessed I am to have affordable housing.

Related Post: A Financial Check-up.

There have been many changes since I moved to the block. There were years of blasting and drilling as high-rises went up all around me. I used to envy the people in my building who had apartments with windows that faced 68th Street because they had unobstructed skyline views. No more. Thanks to the 47 story building that was erected directly across the street, they now face a brick wall.

For the most part, I embraced the changes. The Loews AMC multiplex was a welcome addition; I joined the Sports Club New York before it opened. However, the cost of commercial and residential real estate in the neighborhood has reached astronomical levels, and we are losing needed services.

For virtually all the time I’ve lived in my apartment, there was a supermarket on the corner of Broadway and 68th Street. No more. The Food Emporium left because it was more lucrative for them to sell their long-term lease than to sell food. Now Lowe’s Home Improvement is anchoring the corner.

Lowe's Home Improvement - 2008 Broadway NYC 10023
Lowe’s Home Improvement – 2008 Broadway NYC 10023

Lowe’s will be having its Grand Opening on September 12th, my 70th birthday. And on the same day, for the first time, the West 68th Street Block Association will be holding their Fall Party on my street rather than the block between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.

How very thoughtful of my neighbors. I hope you will join the festivities. There’ll be partying from 11:00am-4:00 pm.

Nearly 70 and Still Looking for Mr. Right

Marian Rivman at two years old
Marian Rivman at two years old

My mother told me that by the age of two, I was an expert at the Match Game. She would name one-half of a married couple, and I’d supply the name of the spouse. Marcie… and Murray. Evelyn… and Ira. Schendel… and Abram. Ruthie… and Manny. Corinne… and Aaron. Selma… and Nat. There was no fooling me. Ingrained at that very early age was the belief that adults lived their lives two-by-two.

The core couples in Marian Rivman's life. Front row: Marcy and Murray Jameson; Back row: Ira and Evelyn Shear, Nat and Julia Rivman
Front row: Marcy and Murray Jameson; Back row: Ira and Evelyn Shear, Nat and Julia Rivman

Growing up, I thought a crucial element on the ‘to do’ list for my life was finding the Frick to my Frack, the Salt to my Pepper. It never occurred to me that I would live most of my life alone

When puberty hit I was at an all-girls junior high school, so there were no boys around; the search for Mr. Right was on hold. Though popular in high school and college, I was never one of the girls who had lots of boyfriends or dates.

Senior year in college, a crop of new engagement rings would appear on the fingers of friends after a holiday break. I hadn’t found my Mr. Right but I was sure he was out there somewhere. In the meantime, I’d go about the business of my life.

During my two years of service in the Peace Corps right after college, my focus was on my assignment, traveling, and learning about Filipino culture. I managed to find a couple of Mr. Wrongs that were fun to be with but offered nothing in terms of a future. Not to worry. I had time.

No pressure, right? Wrong! It would hit when I’d least expect it.

My parents came to see me while I was living in the Philippines. They spent two weeks visiting my assignment, meeting my friends and witnessing first hand how I had adjusted to life on the other side of the planet. We were saying our good-byes at the Manila airport when my mother leaned over and whispered to me, “I’m so proud that you’re doing so well as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) but I can’t wait until you’re an MRS”. Would someone please shoot me!

Over the decades, there have been Mr.Wrongs, Mr. Okay for Nows and a Mr. Almost, who was in and out of my life for a dozen years. There was a time when I secretly suspected that the authors of the book Smart Women/Foolish Choices did their research while hiding in one of my closets.

I got used to being the third, fifth, seventh, etc. during gatherings as more and more of my single friends found  Mr./Ms. Rights. My coffers would be in much better shape if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard: “You’re not married? How could that be”? “I wish I knew someone I could introduce you to.” “You must want to stay single or you would have found someone.” “Do you think maybe you’re too fussy”?

My lack of a Mr. Right did not stop me from living a rich and full life. I was not one of those sleeping beauties who was waiting around for a prince to come before I started living.

May 2015 - Marian Rivman in Rome
May 2015 – Marian Rivman in Rome
Marian Rivman at BlogHer15
Marian Rivman at BlogHer15

Yet, here I am at nearly 70 thinking it would be nice to have a Mr. Right in my life, which is a pretty tall order for a woman who hasn’t had a date in ten years. But hey, I’m ever the optimist. In the spirit of  ‘God helps those who help themselves’, I joined Match dot com where I’ve been resoundingly unsuccessful.

So, should you happen to know an age-appropriate, healthy, financially secure, single man with loving children and grandchildren (Why not go for the whole enchilada??) who is affectionate, kind and generous; whose politics are left of center and who possesses both a great sense of humor and of adventure – do me a favor – send him my way.

Milestone Birthdays

On September 12, 2015, I will be 70 years old. The number astounds me. As I countdown to 70, I’ve been reflecting on other Milestone Birthdays, remembering where my life was at the time and how I’d spent the summer before each.

Twenty-One: The summer of 1966 was spent training for my assignment as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines; I was going to teach science in an elementary school. My first ever plane ride was from New York to Boston.

There were 42 in my training group. We spent ten weeks living in dorms on the Radcliffe Quad while taking intensive language and cultural studies classes. We rented bikes that we rode around Cambridge. I felt like an Ivy League co-ed. It was a far cry from the experience I had living at home with my parents in the Bronx and walking to Hunter College.

We flew to Manila on September 12th, my 21st birthday. There were champagne toasts as we crossed the Pacific. What a way to start my life as an adult!!

Thirty: The summer of 1975 was dedicated to job-hunting; I had been unemployed for more than a year. The situation was dire; my unemployment benefits were about to expire. Reorganization of New York City’s Addiction Services Agency where I had been working as a manpower development specialist had left me jobless in a very depressed employment market.

What was particularly frustrating was that I was supposed to be a job-finding expert. While at the agency, I had found jobs for hundreds of our clients and a booklet I wrote, “Help Wanted-A Job Hunter’s Guide” had been widely distributed.

A reporter at the Daily News, who thought my unemployment was a great human-interest story, wrote a piece “Job Expert Can’t Find One” that appeared in the paper on August 7, 1975. My phone started ringing the minute the paper hit the stands. The callers weren’t employers with job offers; they were producers and reporters asking for interviews. I did dozens hoping one would lead to a job.

On September 12, 1975, my 30th birthday, I appeared on the TV show Midday Live with Bill Boggs. One of the other guests was Stanley Tannenbaum, an executive at Kenyon & Eckhardt, an advertising agency. In the green room, Stanley told me he thought I was one smart cookie who should be in his business. He offered to send my resume to all the ad agencies in the city. I landed a job as an assistant account executive at Benton & Bowles.

Forty: By the summer of 1985, my foray into the advertising industry was long behind me having left B&B after a year. The Madmen life had not been for me. After a half-hearted job search, I decided to start my own business. Quality Respondents recruited subjects for consumer research groups. A New York Times article about QR, “A ‘Central Casting’ for Consumer Research”, prompted an avalanche of people to volunteer to be subjects.

By 1982, I had recruited thousands of people for hundreds of groups. I was ready for a change. That year, I fell in love with an Israeli underwater photographer who owned a travel company that specialized in exotic scuba trips. I became his de facto public relations consultant. My efforts were so successful that after two years, the executive director of the scuba diving trade association (DEMA) asked if I would be interested in promoting the whole industry. It was goodbye Quality Respondents – hello Marian Rivman Communication Consultants (MRCC). DEMA was my first client, and I represented the association for more than eight years.

With 40 fast approaching, the summer of 1985 was spent getting myself in shape for the globe-trotting life I was starting to live. I took multiple aerobics classes and treated myself to workouts with a personal trainer. I was fit and toned at the birthday party I threw for myself.

Me at 40
Marian Rivman at 40 scuba diving in the Caribbean 1985  Photo:PechterPhoto

Fifty: I had found my calling in Public Relations. By 1995, in addition to DEMA, MRCC had represented an eclectic roster of clients including: UN agencies, programmes and world conferences; beloved children’s singer Raffi; legendary music producer Phil Ramone and global non-profits like the Amazon Conservation Team.

In the summer of 1995, I was working at the UN. This time as a communications consultant for the Secretariat of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women that was being held in Beijing September 4-15. Since it was pre-birthday cleanup time, before heading to the office each day, I’d go to the sports club across the street from my apartment to run on the track and workout on machines

On September 12th, 1995, I celebrated my 50th birthday in Beijing. It was an incredible start to my 50s, which were filled with interesting work, travel, and a few romances.

Beijing Birthday with Helvi Sipila, Secretary General of 1975 UN World Conference for Women
Marian Rivman’s 1995 Beijing Birthday with Helvi Sipila, Secretary General of the 1975 UN World Conference on Women

Sixty: My life was in a VERY different place as I approached my 60th birthday in the summer of 2005. My father had died in January 2004, and I had become my invalid mother’s caregiver. I had moved her to New York from Florida, and she was living in an apartment across the street from mine; she had home health aids 24/7. I was running a nursing home for one.

My pre-birthday summer cleanup included multiple yoga classes weekly, an extended juice fast, and numerous hours with a masseuse. Having stopped jogging years before due to a knee injury, I bought a pedometer and started logging 10,000 steps a day.

On September 12th, 2005 I celebrated my 60th birthday with close friends at a neighborhood restaurant. My future was cloudy; I had no idea how long my mom would live and I would be caring for her.

With my mom, Julia Rivman
Marian Rivman with her mom, Julia Rivman 2005

Seventy: It is now the summer before my 70th birthday. I am no longer a caregiver. My mother died in my arms on April 16, 2014, three months shy of her 97th birthday. My dad had died when he was 90. I have some serious longevity genes.

This summer’s birthday cleanup is a crusade to get my mind, body and spirit in condition for the rest of my life. I’m devoting full-time to the effort. My FitBit (electronic activity tracker) has become my BFF and I’m fanatical about meeting my daily goals, and it’s working. My friends are getting used to my suggesting that we take a walk instead of going out to eat. The neighborhood Equinox Sports Club is my go-to place for yoga and other classes. Trader Joe’s makes it easy to eat healthfully. I am having a blast!

My 60s were spent caregiving. It is my intention to spend the rest of my life at “full throttle.” My Bucket List still has many items that I want to check off.

I hope you will follow me as I countdown to the big 7-0 and as I start my life as a septuagenarian.