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Conference embroiled in controversy over accommodations

July 9, 1985

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ The big problem for thousands of women attending a conference called Forum ’85 appeared Tuesday to be where they will sleep when many more arrive next week for the official end of the U.N. Decade for Women.

One group of angry delegates to the series of workshops on women’s concerns, which opens Wednesday, told a news conference in the ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel they would refuse to move out of their rooms.

They said they booked rooms in the hotel months in advance and now were being asked to leave by Friday to make space for official delegates to the centerpiece of the gathering, the U.N. Conference on the Decade for Women, which is scheduled for July 15-26.

The government has been handling accommodations for the estimated 11,000 delegates expected to attend the Forum ’85 workshops sponsored by nongovernmental organizations and also the U.N. conference that will end a decade dedicated by the world body to women’s issues.

Jessie Hacke of Washington, D.C., who represents Planned Parenthood, told the news conference the U.S. Embassy had ″lodged a protest in the strongest terms to the Kenyan government″ about accommodation problems faced by hundreds of American delegates.

American feminist Betty Friedan told The Associated Press that she met for 11/2 hours Monday with U.S. Ambassador Gerald Thomas about the housing problem.

Victor Jackovich, an embassy spokesman, said, ″We have expressed our concerns to the Kenyan government about the accommodation situation, and we have asked the American community resident in Nairobi to make available, strictly on a voluntary basis, whatever rooms and private accommodations they can.″

The Kenya Times, the newspaper of the ruling party, carried a front-page story quoting government organizers as saying all delegates would be accommodated - some in dormitories of the downtown University of Nairobi and at Kenyatta University College on the city’s outskirts. Others would be housed in smaller hotels, it said.

Many delegates from Third World countries said they had no problems with accommodations because most were staying with friends or associates in Nairobi and others had chosen less expensive hotels.

A resolution adopted by 99 women who attended a meeting Monday night on the accommodation shortage pledged that they would not be moved and would share their hotel rooms with delegates to the U.N. conference.

Barbra Arnwine of Boston, who is with a 43-member group of black women called Passage to Kenya, said visiting Africa was a ″spiritual homecoming,″ and the friendliness of Kenyans ″compensates for some of the chaos which has greeted us on arrival.″

She added that her group was not considering a boycott, and would ″tough it out″ instead.

Jessie Hacke of Planned Parenthood said, however, ″If I can’t stay at the hotel for which I have a prepaid booking, then I don’t mind just getting my money back, traveling down to Mombasa ... or even taking an earlier flight home.″

Mombasa, on the Indian Ocean coast, is a center of Kenya’s tourist industry.

Dame Nita Barrow of Barbados, who convened Forum ’85, called the accommodation shortage ″the first of many inconveniences that are likely to come up. ... We didn’t promise you a rose garden, and this isn’t going to be a bed of roses. You elected to come here yourselves.″

Tara Block of Flint, Mich., said she was threatened with eviction and likened the problem to those she faces as director of an emergency shelter for women. ″We plan to squat in our rooms,″ she said.

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