Bella Abzug, the presiding officer of the nation's first federally funded convention to promote women's equality, yesterday presented a proposal for improving women's lives that will be the point of departure for the gathering's discussions.
She and Jean Stapleton, who plays television's classic housewife, Edith Bunker, presided over a press conference intended to promote enthusiasm for the far-reaching proposals.
The speakers stressed the organizers' concern about "ultra-light attempts to disrupt" the $5 million conference, formally that of the National Commission on the Observance of Internation Women's Year, to be held in Houston next month.
"In some states there were disruption attempts by the ultra-right, like the Ku Klux Klan, who still want to keep their women home washingthe sheets," said Abzug. "Or, like in Mississippi, where, to the shame of the nation, an all-white delegation was elected.
That Mississippi delegation will be among the 2,000 women chosen at state meetings to vote at the conference on the proposals and send them off to the President and Congress. About 140,000 proposals were heard during the state meetings, and the proposals unveiled yesterday represent some of their ideas.
But as often as the "ultra-right" came for criticism by Abzug, its influence was not reflected in the comprehensive document that makes policy recommendations for 26 issues deemed to be women's concerns.
At the press conference, Stapleton offered that Edith Bunker would vote for the Equal Rights Amendment, "if she understood it."
In the most controversial areas, the working papers went against Conservative opinion, supporting federally funded abortions for the needy and the ERA. They also included a plea for phasing out nuclear weapons arsenals, support for a national health security program and a request that the President appoint a Cabinet-level women's department.
If the proposals were followed: lesbians would be protected from discrimination in employment, housing or other areas.
International affairs got the greatest amount of attention in the proposal, taking up four of the 38 pages with a list of recommendations to strengthen women's voices at the State Department and in international forums.
The degree of success the proposals will meet next month apparently rests on the support that "ultra-right" groups have drummed up among the elected state delegations. Abzug said the KKK, the John Birch Society, the Morman Church and the Right to Life anti-abortion group were among the groups "attempting to subvert the conference."
"This is not just another women's meeting but a conference of serious deliberations that have taken a year of preparation," she said. "Those who wish to prevent this are really in violation of the law."
In 1976, International Women's Year, Congress appropriated the money to set up this conference, intended to allow women to design their own program to break down barriers to equality. But over the past year there have been major reversals in national policy reagarding abortion and homosexuality. Abzug blamed these reversals on the elements she described as subversive.
"Houston can make a difference. We can show that the majority of people do not approve of Congress actions," she said, referring to the removal of federal funds for abortions.
She and others said they thought accord could be reached easily on many issues, like proposal for more women to be employed by the federal government, for federally funded child-care centers, for programs to help abused children and battered wives and for new laws to ensure equity in divorce settlements, with primary consideration for children.
Comparing this conference to the historic turn-of-the-century, Seneca Falls, N.Y., convention that kicked off the campaign for women's right to vote.Abzug claimed that the program could "ensure that women and men . . . indeed form a more perfect union."