Yvonne Lawson, a teacher at McFarland Junior High School in Northwest Washington, traveled halfway around the world to observe this international conference of women because she wanted to see if teen-age pregnancy is as much of a problem elsewhere as it is in Washington. "I found out that it definitely is and I'm learning some causes, if not many solutions," she said.
Jennifer Tucker, 33, who put off buying a new car and "would not even discuss with my husband the possibility of not coming," sees her attendance at the gathering as "a new stage in my development -- sharing and learning from other women around the world and establishing personal relationships with them."
Lawson and Tucker are among the hundreds of Washington area women who decided for professional and personal reasons to participate in the unofficial forum that preceded the United Nations conference to mark the end of the Decade for Women.
Their roles are both major and minor -- some are running workshops while others are observing. Some traveled here on scholarships and others made personal sacrifices to buy plane tickets.
Still others have been sent by organizations from the Anti-Defamation League and the National Council of Negro Women to the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Coalition for Women in International Development.
They are establishment women and political activists, housewives and scholars, teen-agers and elderly women walking with canes.
They are motivated by a variety of factors. Loretta Ross, a founder of the International Council of African Women and former director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, spent the last three years amassing "two rooms full of documents" to make sure the "progressive issues" and "militant segment"of the United States are represented. Her Third World women's workshops have been widely attended.
An interest in continuity spurred the journey of Joy Simonson, representing the American Association of University Women. She had attended the United Nations conferences on women in Mexico City and Copenhagen. "It is stimulating and exciting," she said, glancing around as Kenyan Masai women, aborigines from Australia and women from Japan, Norway and Iran milled about on the sun-splashed campus at the University of Nairobi. "I'm hoping that the constructive things at the forum will be disseminated to the folks back home."
This conference also has seen a large turnout of black American women -- an estimated 1,000 of the 11,000 participants. "That's twice as many as was in Mexico City and Copenhagen," said Ruth Sykes of the National Council of Negro Women.
Washington organizations are as prominent in teaching as in learning roles. One of the most visible is the Washington-based OEF International, formerly known as the Overseas Education Fund, whose workshops have ranged from one in which Salvadoran and other refugee women from the D.C. area talked about their problems, to another in which professional activists from 36 countries shared strategies on how to change discriminatory laws against women and discussed legal rights.
A presentation by Dr. Harriet McAdoo of Howard University on family roles of the black middle class was among the most popular workshops.
For a while, it appeared that a later-rescinded Kenyan government order to evict conference participants from their hotel rooms to make space for official U.N. delegates might seriously fracture the spirit of sisterhood here, but the mood now is more upbeat as women are discovering that in sharing knowledge and seeking sisterhood, they are finding themselves.