Maureen Reagan, chair of the U.S. delegation to the closing conference of the U.N. Decade for Women, yesterday defended the qualifications of the official American representatives. In addition, she was openly critical of Attorney General Edwin Meese for withholding funds to a group that operates shelters for battered women.
"They were picked mainly for what they do," she said of the 36-member official delegation in response to reporters' questions at a State Department briefing yesterday. The group is scheduled to leave tomorrow for the conference in Nairobi, Kenya, the unofficial part of which opens today with a round of nongovernmental meetings.
"We looked for as wide a geographic mix as we could; we wanted to involve as many kinds of occupations as possible," she said. "We obviously knew there had to be an ethnic mix. We have that. To be perfectly honest, I would have to look at the booklet to tell you who are the delegates of color. I don't think of them that way."
Maureen Reagan dismissed concerns that the conference will lack a certain luster because Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), former U.N. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and some other delegates will not attend or will attend only part of the conference.
"We always knew that would be a problem," she said. Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.) would attend a later part of the conference; Rep. Marjorie Holt (R-Md.) "isn't sure," said Reagan. Alaska State Sen. Arliss Sturgulewski called yesterday, Reagan said, and said she would be delayed because of the possible impeachment of the governor of that state.
And of Kirkpatrick, Maureen Reagan said, "Jeane and I have a deal. If I get in trouble, she will fly immediately to Nairobi."
Although past conferences have not worked out many practical solutions to the pressing personal issues women face, Reagan said the Americans would be "pushing" four particular issues -- literacy, refugee women and children, family violence, and women and development.
"The literacy issue, because quite obviously in the last 20 years in the United States, we have succeeded in raising a generation that in too large parts is functionally illiterate. Family violence, because no one else wanted to talk about it," said Reagan. "Refugee women and children, quite frankly, because it was my own personal concern. I think not only do we need to discuss what happens in refugee camps, not only the pain and the unique problems women face as refugees in the world, but resettlement."
Questioned about the withholding by Attorney General Edwin Meese of a $625,000 grant to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which has been criticized by conservatives for promoting lesbianism and for being anti-Reagan, Maureen Reagan said, "That's just patently absurd."
Asked why Meese was holding up the grant, she replied tersely, "You'd have to ask him." When a reporter suggested she would be in a better position to question a member of her father's Cabinet, she answered, "I doubt it."
She added that domestic violence was an important issue because "there are people in the United States and throughout the world who take the idea that it comes with a marriage license. It does not come with a marriage license. Beating up on people, murdering people, does not come with a marriage license. It never has and it never will."
Reagan said she didn't think her effectiveness would be hampered by some official American policies that have been interpreted as working against the goals of women. Cited were the withdrawal of U.S. foreign aid to birth control programs and the administration's opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, which she has supported. "Everyone knows very well there is a difference of opinion in the Reagan administration over whether we should amend our federal Constitution," she said, smiling.
At the two previous U.N. meetings on the Decade for Women, in 1975 and 1980, the inclusion of a resolution on Zionism was a hotly debated issue that almost tore apart the proceedings. At this conference, Reagan pointed out, the discussion of Zionism is included in a catch-all paragraph that reads in part: "Other major obstacles to the implementation of goals and objectives set by the United Nations in the field of the advancement of women include imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, expansionism, apartheid, racism, Zionism . . ." Reagan said, "We will work to get it out, we will argue against it, we will vote against it."
The report to Congress from the White House and State Department on the degree of politicization at Nairobi and the delegation's agenda, which was originally scheduled to be submitted in April, was signed yesterday, according to Reagan. She said, "The report is on its way to Congress and it says we are going."