What do the Reagan administration, Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug have in common?
Not much at home, certainly, and even less, it might seem, at an international women's conference where Abzug, Friedan and others have been outspoken critics of the administration's record on women's rights.
But as the United Nations' Women's Conference gets under way this week, the 30-member U.S. delegation headed by Maureen Reagan and prominent American feminists are unlikely allies on one critical point:
The need to keep the conference agenda focused on "women's issues" such as education and health care and away from the political quicksand of disarmament, Palestinian rights and improved terms of trade between rich nations and poor.
Both the administration and the American feminists believe that those issues sidetracked the two previous international conferences in 1975 and 1980 and are determined, if for different reasons, that it not happen at the final meeting for the United Nations Decade for Women.
American feminists say they are fearful that the last chance for assessing progress for women during the U.N. Decade and the last chance to agree on a plan for worldwide change during the next 15 years could be lost if the agendas of male governments are allowed to dominate the conference:
"We are determined that there be no domination and diversion of the conference on political issues that this conference really has no power to affect," Abzug said here Friday.
The administration is clearly anxious to avoid the political embarrassment of 1980, when the United States, Israel, Canada and Australia were isolated over a resolution that equated Zionism with racism:
"We are not in the course of this conference going to decide those issues that have eluded the U.N. General Assembly and the Security Council," Maureen Reagan said last week.
Abzug and others bristle at the suggestion that they sound like the Reagan administration on this issue. It is apparent already, however, to many observers that nonwestern delegates to this conference see the U.S. delegation and American feminists as two heads of the same dragon.
On Friday night, for example, less than four hours after Maureen Reagan and the U.S. delegates had arrived here, Margaret Papandreou, the American-born, Illinois-bred wife of the Socialist Greek prime minister and head of the Greek delegation to the conference, attacked the U.S. delegation and western feminists as pawns of their male-dominated "antifeminist" government.
President Reagan, Papandreou said to the enthusiastic applause of nonwestern women, had placed "a great burden" on his daughter by asking her to keep the conference focused on "women's issues" like education and health care and away from broader questions.
"Why is it this conference becomes politicized when you discuss the rights of refugee women or racist violence experienced by women in South Africa? Is that any more political than the issues that are called "women's issues"? Papandreou asked.
". . . The women's movement is a political movement. It is a social revolution, it is about changes in society, changes that are global. This means it addresses itself to all issues that affect the daily lives of women. This also means that no one group of women can determine what are women's issues and foreclose discussion on nonwomen's issues, as that group defines them . . . and I am talking about the United States."
Western feminists say Papandreou's statement is the most dangerous and subtle weapon that can be turned on the conference: the myth that feminism is a luxury only western women can indulge.
On the contrary, western feminists say, it is the women of developing countries whose straits are most dire and it is they who would profit most from a conference that presents the nations of the world with a unanimous, specific blueprint for advancing the cause of the world's women in everything from health care, to education, to legal and employment rights.
"The purpose of this conference is to address the women's concerns that the conservative, antifeminist, male-dominated governments all over the world are not dealing with," said Friedan.
Maureen Reagan declined to speak at the forum with Papandreou, and most of the rest of the delegation has been cloistered at the Hilton since they arrived, but one member of the delegation, Democrat Esther Coopersmith, called Papandreou's remarks "unladylike."
"Also ungentlemanly," she added. "That's not the way it's done at the U.N., particularly by heads of delegations. This is absolutely the only forum in the entire world where women can talk about women's issues. Let's not have the men make all of the decisions."
Margaret Papandreou's sentiments notwithstanding, the American contingent here is far from unified.
The National Organization for Women, the Population Crisis Committee and the National Political Congress of Black Women are just a few of the private U.S. organizations here who say the official American delegation and its agenda -- which focuses on the problems of illiteracy, battered women, women refugees and the lack of clean water in developing countries -- reflect the Reagan administration's poor record on women's rights.
As several of the official delegation's most prominent members -- former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick, Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.) and Rhode Island Attorney General Arlene Violet -- elected not to attend the conference, the group is composed of lesser-known Reagan appointees, State Department officials and private citizens, most of them Republican.
"These women don't speak for the majority of women in the United States," said Donna Brazile, of the Black Women's Congress, which claims to represent more than 10 million women.
"The Reagan administration has systematically prevented women from participation in the development process that was the goal and purpose of the U.N. Decade for Women."
The delegation's defenders point out that the Reagan group has had more preparation time than the group of Carterites who attended the mid-decade conference in Copenhagen. Because it is more ideologically uniform, they say, it is less likely to suffer the internal dissension the Carter group did over issues like apartheid.
The National Organization for Women says the administration's opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, legalized abortion, equal-pay-for-equal-worth proposals and the so-called Title 9 legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in hiring or educational programs that receive federal funds make it a poor representative for women's rights in the United States or abroad.
U.S. family-planning groups are critical of the State Department's failure to include contraception and reproductive health in the U.S. agenda. They say that the administration's decision last year to cut nearly $22 million in U.S. support for international family-planning programs has crippled that effort worldwide, particularly in the less-developed countries, where maternal and infant mortality rates are very high.