Women’s Rights in Cold War Europe: Disentangling Feminist Histories

TitleWomen’s Rights in Cold War Europe: Disentangling Feminist Histories
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsDonert, Celia
JournalPast & Present
Date Published03/2013

The history of East European engagement with women’s rights in international politics after World War II remains largely unexplored, particularly the period from the late 1940s to the late 1960s. A closer investigation of the archives of East European Communist parties and women’s organizations reveals that this period, often characterized in feminist historiography as an era of female political apathy ‘between the waves’ of first- and second-generation feminism, was actually rich in transnational exchanges between women activists who made crucial contributions to the form and content of international women’s rights during the UN Decade for Women launched in 1975. This article traces those transnational circulations, focusing on three key periods: the deeply ambivalent engagement of Communist women functionaries with international women’s rights in the late 1940s; the way in which East European women’s organizations framed sex equality in the language of world peace during the 1950s; and finally, the turn towards internationalizing a ‘socialist’ vision of women’s rights through the United Nations in the 1960s and early 1970s. The article focuses on the internationalization of women’s rights at the national, regional and international levels, focusing on the often-strained relationships between the mass women’s organizations of the East European people’s democracies, national Communist parties, the Women’s International Democratic Federation, and the various agencies of the United Nations.

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