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Dossier : Genre, histoire et droit
IV. Combattre l’ordre juridique genré (et racialisé)

Towards “Equality of Sexes” as a Principle in International Law

Marion Rowekamp

Résumés

Cet article montre, dans une perspective de long terme, en mettant l'accent sur l'entre-deux-guerres, comment les femmes ont agi au niveau international pour œuvrer en faveur de l'égalité des droits pour les femmes et, ce faisant, ont commencé à définir les termes d’« égalité des droits » et, plus tard, de « droits de l’homme » pour elles-mêmes ainsi qu’en droit international. En fait, « l’égalité des droits » n'avait pas la même signification pour les femmes, comme le montrent tant les stratégies que les débats liés à la Société des Nations et, plus tard, à l’ONU. Ainsi, le mouvement international des femmes a suivi des approches différentes pour obtenir l’égalité des droits et s’est divisé dans cette tentative. Lorsqu’en 1945, le préambule de la Charte des Nations unies a finalement déclaré « l’égalité des droits des hommes et des femmes », les femmes ont réalisé que l’objectif qu’elles avaient atteint n’était que la première marche d’un processus visant à définir exactement ce que l’égalité des droits signifiait pour les femmes.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 V. Brittain, A Memorandum showing the connection between the status of women and the relations betw (...)
  • 2 The Dawn of a Discipline. International Criminal Justice and Its Early Exponents, ed. F. Mégret and (...)
  • 3 B. S. Anderson, Joyous Greetings. The First International Women’s Movement, 1830-1860, Oxford, Oxfo (...)
  • 4 J. Butterfield, Gendering Universal Human Rights. International Women’s Activism, Gender Politics, (...)

1“Is the Status of Women an International Question?” asked Vera Brittain, a member of the British feminist organization Six Point Group, founded in 19211. She answered her question in the affirmative, but if one looks at the history of international law, one will search almost in vain for references to the legal status of women until after 19452. While we find an increasing amount of work done in the area of women’s history3, one of the areas which are always addressed but somehow never deepened are the legal questions and women’s equal rights4. The existing research on women’s international fight for equal rights focuses mostly on the interwar time as well as the time after World War II as it is logical because within these years the international organization such as the League of Nations (League), the International Labor Organizations (ILO) and the United Nations (UN) were institutionalized, and women started to play a role in these events.

2But the story of women attempting for formulate international law started much earlier than that. First and foremost, women’s organizations tried to change the laws in their individual countries since the 1850s and not being able to do so, they turned to the international level and later to the international institutions. Their strong involvement on the international platform is due exactly to the fact that they could not yet fight their struggle in the national parliaments and turned to the international arena to solve them there as again Brittain stated:

  • 5 Brittain, Memorandum, p. 3.

[…] the time has come to move from the national to the international sphere, and to endeavor to obtain international agreement what national legislation has failed to accomplish5.

  • 6 M. L. Siegel, Peace on our terms. The Global Battle for Women’s Rights after the First World War, N (...)
  • 7 National American Woman Suffrage Association, Report of the First International Woman Suffrage Conf (...)
  • 8 International Council of Women, Women's position in the laws of the nations, a compilation of the l (...)

So at least since 1888, with the founding of the International Council of Women (ICW) and the establishment of the International Alliance for Women’s Suffrage in 1904 (Alliance) as well the Women’s International League various forms of women's parliaments met regularly, long before the idea of the League of Nations emerged6. In their congresses they discussed legal issues, compared the law, and searched for common solutions against women’s legal discrimination. They even made their own surveys on women’s legal status. In 1902 Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Women Suffrage Association had collected data on the status of women throughout the world, it was published in the report of the international meeting of women in Washington 19027. In 1912 the International Council of Women published a more extensive survey on the Legal Status of Women8. So with time the international women’s organizations became lobbying organizations that increasingly found a voice in terms of women’s legal status globally.

3For all these organizations it was a matter of course to struggle for equal rights, but equal rights did not mean one single problem which could be dealt with but a multiplicity of highly complex legal and social problems which assumed different and not so different aspects according to the social and legal habits and structures of different countries. These women’s organizations addressed them one by one, for example women’s missing custody over their own children, the rights of the father to decide in marriage, divorce, suffrage, labor law. They tackled these questions under different names and definitions whether they called them equal status, equal rights, equal citizenship, legal discrimination, abolition from law of distinction based on sex, they meant in the end the same thing as an overreaching goal. But in the breakdown of the principle of equality into specialized laws it did not necessarily mean the same thing as we will see in the article.

4In this article I will try to show how women moved on the international level to work for equal rights for women in a long-time perspective with a focus on the interwar time and while doing so, started to define the terms of “equal rights” for themselves as well as in international law. I will focus on the debates related to the League and later the UN and the strategies the international women’s movement followed here, trying to set another focus than most research done on this time. The story how the debates on women’s rights played out it usually told along the lines of the feminist dichotomy “equality-difference” as two supposedly opposite ideas which two camps played out against each other but with an impeded hierarchy running towards the equality argument which supposedly had won out in the end. I argue in this article that this is a reading which tells us more about women writing women’s history nowadays as they are setting the parameters of their research and decide how to look at a certain event. It does not necessarily reflect on what has happened in the past, it is just one interpretation of it. In fact, the research on women’s history has spent much energy on the question of difference and equality and feminists movements still struggled with the right approach when women in the past might not have seen these concepts as mutually exclusive as US-American feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton reflected in 1868:

  • 9 E. Cady Stanton, “Miss Becker on the Difference in Sex”, The Revolution, 2/12, 1868, p. 184-185.

It matters not whether women and men are like or unlike, woman has the same right as man has to choose her own place. […] We started on [the equality] ground twenty years ago, because we thought, from that standpoint, we could draw the strongest arguments for woman’s enfranchisement. And there we stood, firmly entrenched until we saw that stronger arguments could be drawn from a difference in sex, in mind as well as body. But while admitting a difference, we claim that difference gives the men no superiority, no rights over woman that she has not over him9.

  • 10 H. Dohm, Der Frauen Natur und Recht. Zur Frauenfrage. Zwei Abhandlungen über Eigenschaften und Stim (...)
  • 11 A. Augspurg, “Das Recht der Frau”, Der internationale Kongress für Frauenwerke und Frauenbestrebung (...)

In Germany feminist Hedwig Dohm claimed in 1876 that “women’s rights are human rights,” also based on equality and difference reasons10. Feminist Anita Augspurg followed around the turn of the century on an international women’s congress in Berlin stressing: “What do we mean by the right of a woman? Nothing other than the right of a human in general”11. They claimed for equal human rights, independent of whether this demand was based on the idea of difference or equality. For most of them there existed no contradiction in between requesting equal rights as protective legislation for wives and mothers or to ask for equal rights on the same level as men. To the contrary, they worked both ends at the same time, and when they saw disagreement, they had their arguments, their personal dislikes, they split apart in new movements, but they were aware of a common basis from which they didn’t leave. This changed in the late 1920s when the women’s movement split until today along ideological lines of “equality” and “difference” or other words for the same concept and fell into different camps as the article will describe in more detail below. These attempts to push strongly for certain agendas instead of finding a common ground challenged women’s so far proven ability to forge a collective identity. This started when ideas became ideologies to secure influence instead of understanding them more as different strategies as feminists had done for the last decades. But when Anglo-American women lost the flexibility to negotiate but insisted in the rightfulness of their approach on “equality” and the “Equal rights treaty”, their ideas became rigid and one-sided with the claim that there was only one right solution, their solution, meaning they became ideological. The Equal Rights feminists used their set of ideas as power instruments against the other women’s organizations to gain and secure their influence in way so far unknown to the international women’s movement.

5The interwar years saw another important change, an expanding of the women’s movement beyond the movement of the global north trying to include the global south or depending on how to see it, extending their influence on other parts of the world. Especially Latin America developed into a backyard of the US but also for the US-women’s movement which tried to secure its influence towards the south. While the women from the global north in the 19th century already had their share of niggling about influences and power bases, they in the end were all white, middle- and upper-class women from similar cultural backgrounds. They managed to keep their differences under control because there were more similarities between these women than differences. Extending influence beyond the global North meant also different tensions because this implied stronger hierarchies than existed before and different cultural ideas, focuses, language, and geographical interests.

6So, the story as told in this article, is much more about shifting women’s alliances around gaining influence within the League and the UN and in the international women’s movement itself. It is based on the understanding of women coming from different cultural, political, and historical backgrounds which defined their possibility of acting, ideas they developed and the strategies they chose. It is as much about failing as about winning in the struggle for equal rights.

I. Women and the League

  • 12 M. Röwekamp, “Challenging Patriarchalism in the Family. Law Reform and Female Protest in 19th and 2 (...)
  • 13 C. Clark, The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914, London, Allen Lane, 2012; Gender and Th (...)

7By the end of World War I, women’s organizations had gained already some experience in international work, in suggesting legal reform demands nationally and internationally. But it was also very clear, that women’s equal rights were not an issue that male decision makers saw as a topic that they needed to deal with internationally. All laws which discriminated women were national laws which were the most central part of national law making while at the same time not being “serious” laws men wanted to be involved in. Law of the family, juvenile law, social laws, all areas which did not raise male ambitions but were central to women’s life and the central area where they were legally discriminated. And in fact, in family law married women almost all over the world were legally strongly restricted12. Still, World War I was a milestone, it was – as many of the feminist felt – the consequence of dramatically bad decisions made by male governments leading into a world war. These decisions also had changed women’s life dramatically13. Many had worked in different fields on the war time without men present and gained independence. Most of European Women received suffrage after World War I and had the right to vote and be elected. They wanted to participate in the rebuilding of Europe, and they wanted equal rights which in half of the constitutions of newly established nations and democracies were granted in principle. Thus, the idea of establishing the idea of women’s equal rights in constitutions as a general idea was not only in the world but was already in a first test trial in countries in Central Europe when Alice Paul came up with the idea of the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States.

  • 14 L. G. Heymann and A. Augsburg, Erlebtes/Erschautes. Deutsche Frauen kämpfen für Freiheit, Recht und (...)

8Women had their own ideas how to participate in the new order of Europe, especially to establish a League of Nations to guarantee peace and justice. In fact, it was a group of women suggesting to President Wilson in the Women’s Hague peace conference of 1915 the set-up of the League. After parts of their ideas were established in the Versailles Treaties and the League and ILO were set up, women wanted to be closely affiliated to the organizations they had dreamed of and helped to bring into existence by suggesting their creation14. Feminists saw the use of international law as a powerful tool for creating a society that was more egalitarian and more peaceful. National governments would be required to harmonize their domestic legislation with treaty obligations after ratifying an international agreement. Vera Brittain again articulated this sentiment when she stated:

  • 15 Brittain, Memorandum, p. 3.

Women have come to regard the League as the one fitting instrument through which justice can be done to women, completely and for all time15.

  • 16 The Women’s International League, League of Nations or Holy Alliance? The Draft of a League of Nati (...)

Despite also criticizing the covenant of the League as a perpetuation of the domination of the weak by the strong, women believed in this new international idea and institution. In 1919 the British section of the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace called the League of Nations a “Holy Alliance”, whose “idea inspires the one hope of world”16. But women from all parts of the world asked themselves also whether the status of women was now finally ripe for international action and how to use the League and the ILO to realize their demands.

  • 17 In the entire time of the existence of the League only eight countries sent female delegates to the (...)

9Despite being at least one of the providers of an idea of the League of Nations women found that they were not included when the League was set up in the treaties of Versailles. A group of women from the international organizations invited Allied women to meet in Paris to see to the fact that peace interests and the interests of women would not be overlooked and brought pressure for at least some participation of women as in Art. 7 of the Covenant of the League which suggested to open positions within the League based on equality between men and women as well as Art. 23 which made sure that the League “will endeavor to secure and maintain fair and human conditions of labor for men, women and children”17.

  • 18 International Conference of Women at Washington, Archives of the League of Nations (LoN) R1356-23-3 (...)
  • 19 Conferences of women’s organisations, LoN R1356-23-1042-1042; R1356-23-1042-2668; R1356-23-1042-358 (...)

10But women followed much greater ideas. Some tried to establish a permanent International Conference of Women as a pillar of the League representing organized women throughout the world to secure the social, economic, and legal regulations of the advancement of women’s interest as well as protective laws and suffrage as well as equal rights of citizenship as women of an International Conference in Washington in 1919. The delegates should be representatives from organized women in each State as well as women members of the Commissions of the League.18 In Britain women formed a Women’s League of Nations Committee which held its first conference in Westminster to ensure women’s participation as promised in Art. 7 in the League. They suggested a detailed proposal of Scottish barrister Chrystal Macmillan to form a special women’s bureau and hold special annual women’s meetings. Both proposals received strong opposition by especially women from the Anglo-American countries claiming that a special institution would create a special corner for women who would not be included in the general work of the League anymore and would lessen rather than raise the status of women. Macmillan on the other hand argued with an interesting analogy that women’s low status made a special organization necessary, just as low wage earners (workers) were especially represented in the ILO to secure their voice which usually went unheard. Especially women from “backwards” countries would not have any voice if the governments would not be forced to include them by the measures of the League. The secretary of the League was in sympathy with these ideas but hinted that women should get in agreement whether they wanted a special woman’s bureau or not. As they could not agree on it, in the end the women’s organizations suggested a very general inclusion of women to all organs of the League and provided a list of women who would be competent to represent in Geneva19. Basically it led to the appointment of only one woman who would head the Social Committee which in turn also directed the sub-committees with the topics deemed to be women’s topics such as trafficking of women, slavery and children’s welfare. The desired profile the League secretary set up for this leading woman was telling:

  • 20 Remark of Dr. Nitobe, 7.5.1929, Eric Drummond, 9.5.1920, LoN R1356-23-1042-3702.

One has, of course, to be very careful about the selection of such a woman – more careful about than selecting a man. She must be a good public speaker in two or more language, but one who does not say too much20.

  • 21 Ibidem.
  • 22 See Report of 23.6.1920 by Florence Wilson of the meeting of the International Woman Suffrage Allia (...)

And she should be appointed from the lists the Anglo-women had handed in which was seconded by Eric Drummond that it must be a British woman and should not play a too prominent part in the suffrage question21. In the end Dame Rachel Crowdy was chosen to fill this role of representation and coordination. The debate for or contra a woman’s bureau kept on being led though. The debate on the Alliance meeting in 1920 in Geneva was exemplary. Carrie Chapman Catt was against it as the whole French, German, Danish, Finish, Czech, Hungarian, Swiss, and part of the Italian delegation. In favor was Australia, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Greece, Holland, Norway & Sweden, Spain, Serbia and South Africa, the final ended with 51:43 votes against. But they agreed that there should be a woman’s bureau just not aligned with the Secretariat but independent22.

  • 23 ICW, Alliance, World’s Women’s Christian Association, International Federation of University Women, (...)
  • 24 S. Zimmermann, “Liaison Committees of International Women’s Organizations and the Changing Landscap (...)

11To work better with the League, women formed different new institutional bodies such as the Joint Committee of Women’s International Organizations, established in 1925 which compromised representatives of seven organizations who combined for the purpose of securing appointment of suitable women to the various bodies of the League and the ILO. By 1930 it was constituted as the Liaison Committee of Women’s International Organizations, known as the Liaison Committee and representing eleven women’s organizations23. The Liaison Committee soon worked beyond the original objective of the Joint Committee pressing for the inclusion of women on the bodies of the League and began to co-ordinate the work of the women’s international organizations on subjects of common interest and on which they had in general agreements as we will see one of the hinges in the struggle for equal rights for women24.

II. From the idea of women’s rights as minority rights to a formulation of equal rights for women on a “constitutional” basis

  • 25 K. Hausen, Überlegungen zum geschlechterspezifischen Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit, Differenz (...)
  • 26 S. Zimmermann, “A Struggle over Gender, Class, and the Vote. Unequal International Interaction and (...)
  • 27 Meeting of the Alliance in Geneva, LoN R 1356-23-3554-5359.

12The League saw that women in their social and legal discriminated position needed protection like other “minorities” which also fell within the area of responsibility of the League. That came naturally as it was a long-standing idea that men had to protect women while women had to serve in the house25. Especially the ILO acted in this sense when drawing up the Night Work Convention of Women. Also, in the League the first sub-committees to be set up were the ones for Trafficking of Women and Children as well as Child Welfare and later also Slavery which brough forward in 1921 the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffick in Women and Children, in 1923 the Convention for the Suppression of the Circulation and Traffic in Obscene Publications and in 1926 the Convention on Slavery. In all these conventions women were protected as a group. Many women especially from Socialist and union background all over the world supported these politics26. They understood protective labor laws as the most effective means to equalize women’s place on the labor market. Most of the women including especially the socialist women and unionist women saw the distinct realties of women in the work force. They fought for the passage of the eight-hour day, minimum wage, women’s unique healthcare needs, motherhood protection laws to protect working women from gender-based exploitation which resulted in low wages, long hours, and gender specific dangers as well as limited job opportunities. They thought that the principle of equal rights had little meaning if it failed to recognize women’s distinct experiences in class, race, age, family, and kind of work they performed. And they believed it would be easier to the more “female” connoted areas of social and juvenile first to get at least one foot onto the table of power. Later, once installed in position, more radical ideas could follow. They strategized on individual issues of women’s equal rights as can be seen in the program of the Alliance which had met in Geneva to discuss how they would proceed as a group after women had by now received suffrage in most countries in the global north. They decided to change the name and to focus especially on reaching the full panorama of women’s equal rights. For thus they focused on different groups as political rights, personal rights, domestic rights, educational and economic rights, and moral rights27.

  • 28 Women’s ILO: transnational networks, global labour standards, and gender equity, 1919 to present, e (...)
  • 29 For example: Open Door Council, Restrictive Legislation and the Industrial Women. Reply to the Stat (...)
  • 30 S. Becker, The Origins of the Equal Rights Amendment: American Feminism Between the Wars, Westport, (...)

13These kinds of politics, and especially the protective work of the ILO, brought new Anglo-based women’s organizations in strong disagreement28. They opinioned, that women and men should be treated strictly equally in law, even if the law also discriminated male workers for example. They felt the argument based on special legislation for women was a legal trap. In labor law this meant no special protection for mothers and women working in mines etc. The critique of the new group of feminists, especially from Anglo background of the ILO politics was ferocious, they claimed their politics towards women was harmful or even the “enemy”. In fact, in 1929 anti-protective labor legislation activists broke away from the International Alliance over a disagreement about protective laws. They established the Open Door International (ODI) and attracted women interested in collaborating across national borders to fight protective labor legislation29. In the beginning they were only against the work of the ILO but more and more they developed the idea to push only one single issue instead of several legal issues. These women bolstered around the idea of Welsh feminist Margaret Rhondda of the British Six Point Group to introduce one formula on equal rights into international law comparative with the formulations in the new constitutions in Austria, Germany, Poland, the Baltic Republics and Czechoslovakia where equal rights for women had been established constitutionally. This idea appealed to American lawyer Alice Paul who pushed in the United States of America for such an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which she wanted to be included in the constitution30.

14What could be done on national and constitutional basis, so Paul, should also work on international level and she suggested the formulation of an Equal Rights Treaty (ERT) which read as a mirror to the ERA. The treaty was supposed to read:

  • 31 Equal Rights International, The Status of Women, London, Women’s Printing Society, nd, prob. 1937, (...)

The contracting states agree upon the ratification of this Treaty, men and women shall have equal rights throughout the territories subject to their respective jurisdictions31.

  • 32 “Déclaration des droits internationaux de l’homme”, Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit International, (...)

It was the first time that a general formulation of equal rights for women was suggested on the international level to work as a kind of guiding principle such as constitutional clauses on national level to which women could nationally refer as well. But the language of the ERT sounded barren as compared to the formulation of women’s rights in the Declaration of Human Rights adopted on suggestion of Alice Paul and Doris Stevens one year later in October 1929 in Briarcliff Manor, New York. Here we find traces of the human rights language which first time included sex as every individual’s equal rights to life, liberty and property “without distinction as to nationality, sex, race, language, or religion”32. The statement of the Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality in 1935 shows the importance of these guiding principles in international law:

  • 33 Statement of the Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality, sent on July 31, 1935 to Secretary (...)

[…] we know that the League of Nations as a body cannot legislate nationally, it can only lay down fundamental principles through its World Conventions […]. But these Conventions of the League of Nations become guiding principles for the Member States of the League. Therefore, the need for the League to take a stand for equality is very great, at the present time, when women in many countries, are being deprived of their essential human rights33.

But the women’s organizations were not all in accord whether these general principles would be such a good idea. The World’s Young Women’s Christian Association remarked in this sense:

  • 34 World’s Young Women’s Christian Association, 7.7.1937, LON R3756-3A-19786-13900, p. 172.

The Association has consistently maintained that the adoption of an international convention drawn in general terms is not an adequate method of dealing with so complicated a question as that of equality of status as between men and women in all departments of life34.

Also, the socialist women organized in the International Federation of Trade Union’s International Committee of Trade Union Women warned against an Equal Rights Treaty, it expressed:

  • 35 International Federation of Trade Union’s International Committee of Trade Union Women, Supplement (...)

a warning against any hasty decision on this Treaty. It notes with alarm that the proposal to remove all legal distinction based on sex may be a menace to the protective legislation already secured for women workers by the movement of some countries35.

It also stressed the complexity and scope of the question that could not be brought down to one formulation which might be hurtful to women as the Art. 1 of the Treaty of Montevideo showed. Absolute equality here could even mean a worsening of women’s status, especially in social law.

  • 36 A. Towns, “The Inter-American Commission of Women and Women’s Suffrage, 1920-1945”, Journal of Lati (...)

15As it became obvious immediately that the ERT would not fly with the already established international women’s organizations, Paul and her coworker US-lawyer Doris Stevens turned to Latin America to find here a new area of influence for their ideas. They successfully presented the Treaty at the Sixth Pan-American Conference in La Habana in 1928 which led to the establishment of the Inter-American Commission of Women (IACW). It was the first female intergovernmental body which could work through the Pan American Union and thus push women’s rights on an international level from inside. Stevens was voted Chair of the IACW, and Alice Paul was elected Chair of the Nationality Committee. In Latin America the US-American women met in no means a weak woman’s movement as they had assumed, women had started to claim from 1910 on equal rights here as well. In 1923 they demanded the recognition of equal rights by the International Conference of the American States. While in the beginning women in Latin America were hopeful about a good cooperation with the US-American women, Paul and Stevens managed to offend quickly a large part of the Latin feminist movement not only by their way of feeling superior but also by pushing exactly their equal rights ideas on the agenda while the Latin women developed in the time another kind of feminism related to ideas of equal rights based on social issues as it was needed in their poorer countries36.

  • 37 Doris Stevens to Bertha Lutz (23 September 1933), Doris Stevens papers, folder 62.11., cit. Butterf (...)
  • 38 M. Feinberg, Elusive Equality. Gender, Citizenship, and the Limits of Democracy in Czechoslovakia, (...)

16While Stevens tried to explain that the treaty was simply to establish the principle that all countries [...] shall hereafter make all their national laws confirm to the principle of equality”37, neither Stevens nor Paul ever explained how the principle of equality should translate exactly to national laws. Thus, they avoided the tricky questions of how the laws should in the end be formulated, pro or contra gender-specific treatment. To remain on the abstract meant not to deal with these final questions. And of course, it never occurred to them to see how the idea of an equal rights amendment played out in Europe. Here the interwar years showed that European women with the formula in the constitution did in the average not fare much better in their struggles for equal citizenships than the women who could not build their equal rights arguments on an equal rights formula. Thus, it was already obvious here that the equal rights inclusion in constitutions was also not the magic bullet to change discriminating laws for women immediately. At the same time of course, it meant a milestone on women’s way to equal rights38.

17First it appeared as if the new groups with their equal rights treaty just were new groups with a new idea in the panorama of the international women’s movement as had happened before many times. But it soon became clear that the way Paul pushed this issue would split the women’s movements work at the League for more than a century.

III. Women’s Equal Status in Married Women’s Nationality

  • 39 E. Dubois, “Internationalizing Married Women’s Nationality: The Hague Campaign of 1930”, Globalizin (...)
  • 40 C. Lewis Bredbenner, A Nationality of Her Own. Women, Marriage, and the Law of Citizenship, Berkele (...)
  • 41 Nationality of Women, Discussions at the Twelfth Ordinary Session of the Assembly 1931, LON R2076/3 (...)
  • 42 International Woman Suffrage Alliance, Nationality of Married Women, London, Irvines, n.d., LSE Dig (...)

18The first breaking point on international level was the legal matter of married women’s nationality which was pushed on the agenda of The Hague Conference of the Codification of International Law in 1930 by the international women’s movements39. Background was that in all countries that women who married outside of their own nationality lost their own nationality without consent for the unity of the family. Women’s movements for decades had already fought these laws on national level before also raising it to the international level. Women organizations, mostly led by Chrystal Macmillan, who agreed that women should not automatically lose their citizenship upon marriage, but they disagreed on how to proceed. The nationality law was the subject of bitter disagreements over whether it should be drafted to grant women separate nationality and give women their own choice as Macmillan as the yearlongs specialist in the area and ICW and Alliance argued, or to be identical to males, as the ERT feminists and the IACW suggested. This stand was rather amazing as Macmillan’s standpoint would mean every individual woman had a choice while in the suggestion of the equalitarian feminists the women lost their nationality according to the same rules as men, without their consent. So, the insisting in equal rights in this case made little sense to these women who thought that having separate nationality rules would benefit women more than having identical nationality laws. Most governments on the other hand favored the unity of nationality always following the husband as it was the case in most countries. It was not an easy legal matter to solve because international law could not dictate to states how to regulate their nationality laws. Secondly, a common solution would only work if all member states of the League (and countries beyond the League) would agree to change the rules in their country at the same time to not make a legal mess as it already existed since some nations such as the US had already changed their law. That eased the issue for US-American women but complicated it broadly for women migrating to the US40. To change one by one complicated the issue internationally as now different rules existed and contradicted each other making the situation of women marrying outside their own nationality even more severe than it had been before when it was at least uniform that women’s nationality followed one of her husbands. And thirdly, most governments believed women’s rights were secondary to the rights of the family41. The only solution offered was to make a provision that would, in future, prevent married women from becoming stateless, a disability under which they had suffered especially since different countries such as the US started to change their nationality law. And the recommendation that nations should change their nationality laws granting equal rights to women. The Hague convention was not ratified, so it remained on the agenda of the women’s organizations a soon made it onto the one of the League. The women’s organizations, in one voice, expressed their outrage, an outrage of 45 million women they claimed to represent42.

  • 43 Nationality of Women Report of the First Committee to the Assembly, LoN A-84-1931-V_EN.

19The matter of married women’s nationality was brought into the League council in January 1931. It was also the first time that the subject of the status of women in general was brought before the League. The Council adopted a resolution presented by Guatemala, Peru, and Venezuela to place the nationality of women on the agenda of the 12th Assembly in fall 1931. The Council also requested the Secretary General to submit a report to the Assembly after consulting with specialized women’s organizations and to establish a woman’s organization advising the League in this process. Thus, the Secretary general invited in February 1931 nine international women’s organizations to enter communication with one another with a view to the establishment of a committee. Eight responded and set up the Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality (WCCN) in 1931 which was supposed to provide information to the League assembly on the question of married women’s equality. It did not have an official League status but had the right to hold meetings in the secretariat and to have its correspondence passed to the assembly and council. The WCCN consisted partly out of the same group as the Liaison committee43.

  • 44 The League Year-Book, ed. J. Jackson and S. King-Hall, New York, Macmillan, 1932, p. 377.
  • 45 Ibid., p. 369.
  • 46 Nationality of Women, Consultation with feminist organisations, LoN, R3886/3E/1791/887; Nationality (...)
  • 47 The League Year-Book, 1933, ed. J. Jackson and S. King-Hall, New York, Macmillan, p. 238-39.

20The nearly universal outrage over The Hague Convention, united the first women’s committee officially endorsed by the League of Nations. They requested to introduce sex equality in nationality laws and made a report in July 1931 to reconsider the Hague Nationality Convention and the submission of a new Convention to governments for the ratification. The report was brought to the attention of the Legal Committee of the Assembly in autumn 1931 which discussed the matter and requested the Council to ask the governments to submit their opinions in the matter so this question could be further discussed in the 1932 assembly44. At the same time Assembly asked the Council to examine ways in which women could cooperate better in the League’s work45. Both the WCCN and the Liaison Committee were informed and asked for further observations. The 13th Assembly had replies of 33 government as well as reports of various women’s organizations which the Secretary General circulate broadly before the meeting of the assembly. Most of the answers were against reconsidering the Hague Convention in general or thought that the provisions were the best that could be done for the moment46. Thus, it decided against a new conference to redraft the convention and suggested that women’s organizations direct their effort to change national laws. This must have sounded almost cynical since women’s organizations had done this mostly in vain for decades already before turning to the new chance of changing these laws internationally. The League passed a resolution expressing the hope that the countries had signed the Hague convention would enact laws to give it effect and reporting in this sense47.

  • 48 Status of Women – Correspondence with the Women's Consultative Committee on Nationality, LoN R3756/ (...)

21While most women organizations kept asking for a better solution, they were realistically enough to see that the Hague standards was the maximum that could be reached for the moment. They recommended, based on the advice of member of the Secretariat, Lithuanian Princess Gabrielle Radziwill, that the Hague convention should be ratified because it provided at least some protection for married women and later it could be resolved better. The equalitarian feminists, however, refused to compromise on their interpretation of the term “equality” as meaning laws for men and women in all legal fields and thus prevented better solutions by tying women’s nationality to the ERT. They worked to associate the terms “equality” and “equal rights” with their campaign for the ERT and argued that opposition to the ERT was in the end a stance for inequality. Thus, they worked strongly against the ratification of the Hague Convention. This could only lead to frustration among all women because of course nobody was against “equal rights”. Paul, Dorothy Evans, and her colleagues managed to gain better publicity. Finding itself unable to agree, the WCCN submitted in autumn 1932 two separate reports to the Assembly48.

22Because of the single minded and aggressive politics of the equalitarians an enormous distrust started to emerge in the women’s organizations and especially within the WCCN. Paul, according to Geneva's feminist leaders, was merely happy if others followed her orders and was playing unfair to reach her aims. The Equal rights equalitarians, left wingers or advanced feminists how they described themselves became ever more dismissive with the women associated with the ICW, the Alliance and the in general the Liaison Committee whom they characterized as “old-fashioned”, conservative, and only concerned with social reform. Two members of the WCCN, the Alliance and the International Federation of University Women, resigned from the committee. But Paul also stepped down from ERI although it was formed to promote her idea of the Treaty, supposedly because the board included twelve British members and only five American ones. Paul also attacked the first chairman of the ERI, Helen Archdale. Even within the organizations she herself had founded, Paul sowed mistrust:

  • 49 Winifried Mayo to Jessie Street, 20 May 1932, cit. M. Lake, “From Self Determination via Protection (...)

I have really conceived a profound distrust of Miss Paul and her methods. She has quarreled with every other International Society and with all officials at Geneva and since her meeting has boasted that “she has killed bigger things than the ERI” […]. I am told that Mrs. Corbett Ashby had a nervous breakdown as a result of contacts with her49.

  • 50 Note by Hugh McKinnon Wood to M. de Montenach, received 8.10.1935, LoN, Status of Women, Communicat (...)

While before women’s movements also had their share of disagreements over priorities and their personal antagonism, they managed to show a more or less common front to the outside. This great achievement the equalitarian feminists blew up in their single-minded focus on their idea how equal rights were supposed to be defined and reached. These kind of tactics and clashes made the League Secretary and the Women’s Liaison Committee soon question the value of the WCCN which was now felt to be in the hands of Paul and her followers. With them consensus could not be reached though the other women’s organizations fought hard for it. Also, for League politicians, working together with Paul and colleagues was strenuous, they called Paul and her camp “extremists”50. Thus, the Secretary-General and the Council decided to empower the women’s organization in general and like that losing the ties with the WCCN by receiving communications from women’s organizations not organized in the WCCN to gain a broader perspective. Extra reports by organizations within the WCCN on the other hand were not accepted, so it had lost some of the special status it had enjoyed before.

  • 51 Nationality of Women, Discussions at the 7th Panamerican Conference, Montevideo, December 1933, LoN (...)
  • 52 Miller, “Latin American Women and the Transnational Arena”, p. 193-203; Marino, Feminism for the Am (...)
  • 53 League of Nation, Communication of the Assembly, Council, and the Members of the League by the Firs (...)

23After not reaching her goals easily in Geneva, Paul with her National Woman’s Party turned again back to Latin American to find support for her ideas over there. Doris Stevens in extension to Paul had raised in the Pan American Union and its Inter-American Commission of Women’s first an agreement which led to the Montevideo convention in 1933 which stated first time in international law that men and women had equal rights in terms of their nationality51. While Stevens raised similar antagonism within the IAC as Paul and her followers did in Geneva, she was more successful with lobbying the male delegates who agreed to raise the topic of an Equal rights treaty it in the League assembly in September 193452. Henni Forchhammer from Denmark addressed the Assembly urging close attention to this matter as the Liaison Committee set up a contemporary committee to work more intensively on this subject. As a result, in September 1935 the Assembly passed a resolution that mentioned the existence of the Montevideo Convention and the fact that it was open for accession by all States. While the Hague Convention was not yet signed, it meant the only international contract existing was a kind of short-term victory for the equalitarian feminists. The failure for them came when the Assembly adopted a resolution which repeated the recommendations of 1932 that governments ratify the Hague Convention. This was the last time; the Assembly considered the topic of married women’s nationality. When the WCCN still proved unable to draft a unanimous opinion, also the League Secretariat recommended to sign the Hague Convention. It came into force in 1937 with the only recommendation to secure that married women would not become stateless upon marriage with a foreigner and a powerless recommendation to work towards equal rights of women in nationality laws. Despite starting with an own commission with an adviser status to the League the women had made a cock up of their first equal rights struggle53.

IV. Shifting balances in international law: Women’s Legal Status

  • 54 J. Eisenberg, “The Status of Women: A Bridge from the League of Nations to the United Nations”, JIO (...)
  • 55 An over 900-page summary can be found in: Documentation of Women’s Consultative Committee on Nation (...)
  • 56 M. Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870-1960, (...)

24Women’s organizations had dealt with the questions of the civil and political status of women since their establishment54. A step towards launching a global campaign for women’s equal status was Paul’s and Steven’s attempt to have the ERT signed also in Montevideo in 1933. To convince the American nations of signing the married women’s convention and the ERT the IACW had undertaken the Herculaneum task to prepare a survey of laws relating to women’s stating in the Americas for the Montevideo conference of the Pan-American Union. This survey had been suggested by Cuban lawyer Flora Parado and was worked out for many years basically by lawyer Clara González from Panama. In 21 volumes, one volume for each country they represented the legal situation of women in the Americas55. While the survey convinced the Latin American nations to sign the treaty on married women’s nationality, it did not convince them to sign also the ERT. Only four nations were convinced to do so. It was something totally different to give American women their symbolical support than it was to give them actual equal rights in their own countries. To raise their voices in the League was coming more from a desire to appear “civilized” and “modern”, of theoretically providing “equality” for every human after their recent independences from colonial power and to join the Western civilization by fulfilling their standards at least on paper than from a conviction that their own women should have equal rights56.

  • 57 Status of Women. Proposal of Certain Delegations for Examination by the Assembly of the Status of W (...)
  • 58 League of Nations, Status of Women, Report submitted by the First Committee of the assembly, Alice (...)
  • 59 LON CIS-8250-1937_EN_Communiqué No. 8250, September 16, 1937; Official Journal of the League of Nat (...)
  • 60 Vera Laughton Mathews, St. Joan’s Social and Political Alliance to General Secretary of the League, (...)

25In consequence of Montevideo and probably due to the pressure of Paul and Stevens, a group of ten Southern American countries sent in 1934 a request of the IACW to include the question of the Status of women on the agenda of the next Assembly based on the “consideration of the fact that the League of Nations is an international organization designed to defend human rights,” because the “present widespread and alarming encroachments upon the rights and liberties of women”57. They closed with the demand to “remove all legal distinctions based on sex,” taking up the formulation of the ERT. In discussing the request, the Assembly’s First committee distinguished in between “the question of conditions of employment, whether men or women” deeming this to be a “matter which properly falls within the sphere of the International Labour Organization,” and the “question of political and civil status of women” within the jurisdiction of the League58. On September 7th, the same day the last action was taken by the assembly in terms of nationality of married women, a resolution was passed, and member states were asked for observations on the civil and political status of women and to suggest what action the League might take in the matter. The Russian substitute delegate Aleksandra Kollontai called the resolution the first step in international action regarding the equality of the sexes59. The women’s organizations were invited to continue their study of the whole question on the status of women and to pass these reports to the Secretary General. Women’s organizations all approved. The Liaison Committee thought that the League might finally act for women’s equality in general after conducting research and an international convention “designed to give equal status to women with men” would be able to raise the status of women60. The equalitarian feminists believed the study’s findings would boost the equal rights treaty effort. They even convinced the other women’s organizations to join the ERT as the basis of a proposed Convention on the Status of Women. The other women’s organizations agreed with “the principle” of an equal rights treaty but didn’t see it as a priority.

  • 61 Documentation of Women's Consultative Committee on Nationality, LON COL140bis-122-2; COL 141/123/1.

26The WCCN compiled a summary of the laws in various parts of the work which contained sex distinctions. The reports of the other women’s organizations also arrived rapidly and were circulated to all member state of the League. Many of them organized their reports the same way as the League, sending a questionnaire to the national branches. The ICW for example received 21 answers in terms of political, legal, economic, social, and professional/labor status of women. Based on the women’s surveys the First Committee of the Assembly presented in September 1935 a first report on “the whole status of women”61.

  • 62 League of Nations, Status of Women. Communications from Governments and Women’s International Organ (...)

27But it was not until 1937 that sufficient reports arrived from 38 countries. These were so diverse in their quality and clearly non-scientific that the introduction to the reports presented to the Assembly stated that these were more “Observations and statements as to the political and civil status of women”62. Delegates from 40 countries sat together to debate the problems of equal rights for women and men in the Assembly of 1937 for five days. Kerstin Hesselgren from Sweden was the rapporteur in this matter, and she stated in the summary:

  • 63 Report submitted by the First Committee to the Assembly of the League of Nations, League of Nations (...)

I need not say […] conditions vary greatly in different countries, and therefore the data given must be of a very rough nature. A more concise survey would ask for preparation and analysis by legal experts63.

She also remarked:

The replies of the governments and the debates in the first Committee, in which no fewer than 23 delegates took part, have shown that the status of women is not a question which at present one can hope to see settled for all countries by the adoption of a simple and all-embracing formula,

a brush off for the equalitarian feminists. Though some speakers were sure that ultimately it would be possible to reach such a general acceptance for an international convention on women’s equal rights, no delegation felt it was yet the moment to do so. Because

  • 64 Status of Women. Memorandum on the work of the League of Nations with Regard to the Legal Status of (...)

the League is nothing more than the Governments which compose it. When some of these Governments consider the status of women to be so entirely a matter of falling within domestic jurisdiction of each State that the League should not deal with it at all whereas the other Governments are not agreed whether any practical action can be taken by the League, the League itself for the time being can evidently not commit itself to action in a particular sense64.

Thus, the League saw the best way to help in this matter to keep going on with the legal survey on the status of women for creating a basis for further progress.

28To make a world survey of the status of women the assembly requested the council to appoint a committee of experts. The dream at least of women’s organizations became partly true, a committee on the status of women was established on the same legal footing as the other committees. In the beginning, there was some anxiety among the women’s organizations about being part of the League and losing independence. Some women’s groups feared that the work in a permanent League would interfere with their own work as NGOs. But in the end, they around to the idea that a permanent League group could open a broader platform for pushing women’s equal rights, not only in the sense of protection women as a minority group but to include women’s equal rights in principle.

  • 65 Anonymous, “In memoriam: Madame Bastid. 1906-1995”, Annuaire français de droit international, 40, 1 (...)
  • 66 S. Djajić, “Standing Alone but Standing Tall: A Female Perspective of International Law from the In (...)
  • 67 Male members were chosen from the imperial powers without any debate: Mr. H.C. Gutteridge (UK, Chai (...)

29As before the Secretariat carefully chose the women involved to not offend the women’s organizations on one hand but also not to choose the obvious match for the positions, so it was decided to appoint more women than men into the committee. As a nod to the French government, a French woman should be included but instead of for example appointing the longtime French specialist Maria Vérone they chose the young, not experienced lawyer Suzanne Bastid. But she also had her merits. She was an international lawyer, the first female law professor in France and the first woman to argue in an international court of justice65. The equalitarian feminists were represented by Yugoslav lawyer Anna Godjevac instead of Alice Paul66, while ironically the ICW and the Alliance saw themselves more represented by the compromise candidate, US-American lawyer Dorothy Kenyon. Hesselgren was the only non-lawyer among the female specialists67. The League Committee for the study of the legal Status of women got established in January 1938. In a session in April 1938 the committee already started slightly overwhelmed by this task. Chairman Gutteridge said:

  • 68 Status of Women. Memorandum on the work of the League of Nations with Regard to the Legal Status of (...)

Even as it stood, the program of work was a vast one. For a country such as France, it covered no less than a third of the Code Napoléon, and if that example were followed for every country, it would cover a third of the civil legislation of the world. Nothing of the kind had ever been attempted on such a scale68.

And again as Hesselgren before, he commented:

  • 69 Ibid., p. 8.

The League has, therefore, been obliged to disappoint the hopes of those who consider the “equality of the sexes” to be a principle for which the League should be able to secure universal recognition and application69.

  • 70 Committee for the Study of the Legal Status of Women, Minutes of the Twelfth Meeting, 9. April 938, (...)
  • 71 Miller, Lobbying the League, p. 224.

While neither member states nor the League were ready to pursue an intervention, the committee drew up a plan with a number of women’s organizations70. In the end it was decided to lay the study into the hand of independent legal experts to provide the League with an objective picture of the legal position of women. Different sections were sent to the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law in Rome, the International Institute of Public Law in Paris, and the International Bureau for the Unification of Penal Law in The Hague. It was supposed to be a three-year inquiry worked out in parts by the institutes under the supervision of a committee of legal experts appointed by the Council and in co-operation with the women’s international organizations. The different women’s camps were satisfied for different reasons and agreed on the fact that the inquiry would be a first step for women’s emancipation by providing a solid basis. Especially the egalitarians took credit for this success71.

  • 72 For example: The St. Joan’s League prepared a survey on women’s situation in Africa, LoN, Status of (...)
  • 73 Sandell, Rise of Women’s Transnational Activism, p. 81-99.
  • 74 V. V. Joshi, Legal Disabilities of Hindu Women. Published by the Standing Committee of the All-Indi (...)
  • 75 LoN, The Monthly Summary of the League of Nations, 19, 7, 1939, July 1939, p. 296-297.

30The committee of the status of women as well as the specialist from the legal institutes, however, discovered soon, that the problems of this study with the plurality of Western laws as well as the interpretations of non-Western Laws was not as easy as it first appeared. Many experts from Scandinavia, Europe, the United States, and the United Kingdom suggested restricting their global survey to “civilized countries”, partly because the colonial powers didn’t want any international attention to the problematic human rights situations in their colonies. The St. Joan’s Social and Political Alliance as well as the All-Asian Women’s Conference for example wanted the situation of women in the colonies explicitly included. St. Joan even referred to the disgrace of the colonial powers in the treatment of women72. So the male specialists, especially from the colonial powers, suggested that a legal comparison of women’s rights in between “civilized” countries and countries without civil laws but governed by religious laws were scientifically not sound. Many of the definitions used in the questionnaires the League used like the distinction between public, private and criminal law did not refer to the partly not written laws of all countries. They claimed they had no methodology to work on legal systems different then the Western ones. That of course implied the rejection of feminist’s theory that the discrimination of women was a global phenomenon on one hand and protest from all other countries which would again be the “others” on the other. So, this suggestion was strongly protested by the All-India Women's Conference and the Pan-Pacific Women's Association but also by the Liaison Committee. The equalitarian feminists on the other hand were against including women from other areas than the global north as they wanted the status report not to be delayed. The women’s movement as indicated before was experiencing a shifting of balances visible especially in the 1930s when many new women’s organizations from other than the global north joined and these women as well as the countries they represented felt that a twofold study would repeat their exclusion based on race73. The committee partly changed its mind in response to fierce resistance, particularly by India. The Global South would not be disregarded totally, at least India got a special section as several studies especially about women’s status in India already existed74. But, what about the rest of the Global South? They were in the end excluded. After the shortest time, the original legal and methodological classification of the commission was in pieces and the legal specialist made either superficial or no reports at all. The committee could not find an institution capable of dealing with the broad topic and thus could not meet the ultimate deadline in 194175. It was clear that the legal experts had no universalized concept yet to work with and were also not willing to develop one.

31But what was also obvious by 1937 was that women had managed to include women’s rights as human rights in international law. They began to refer to them in the follow-up of the New York Declaration to formulate women’s rights expressively as human rights. The Women’s Consultative Committee claimed for example in 1935:

  • 76 Statement of the Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality, sent on July 31, 1935 to Secretary (...)

The world needs the wisdom of women in all departments of life quite as much as it needs that of men. Men and women must go forward together as human beings, as entities, above sex distinction76.

ODI followed up in the same year:

  • 77 LON Nationality and Status of Women, Statements Presented by International Women’s Organizations, L (...)

The status of an individual is the sum total of his rights and duties. In every community, it is the status of the man which is taken as the normal. His rights are accepted as those pertaining to the human being. To the woman are always denied some of these human rights77.

1937 also former French law professor and now League rapporteur on the nationality of women question René Cassin confirmed in the assembly that the “competence of the League in humanitarian matters […] was fully accepted”:

  • 78 Journal of the Eighteenth Session of the Assembly No. 10, 23.9.1937, p, 103, LON R5244/15/30625/285 (...)

The League could not ignore inequalities of so gross a character in some countries that it left women under such disabilities as to cause much suffering […]. The League, by its universality, the fact that it contained all civilisations, could aid Governments by its high moral authority to overcome their local difficulties and to remove serious inequalities in their countries78.

32These arguments clearly link equality based on sex or gender under a breach of human rights or to formulate it positively identify women’s equal rights as part of the human rights claim. Women had scored a big point by including the women’s question fully on the agenda of the League. By formulating women’s rights as human rights, women defined them within the canon of rights that should be protected internationally.

V. Women’s Rights as Human Rights. The United Nation and Women’s Legal Status

  • 79 H. Browning, Women under Fascism and Communism, London, Martin Lawrence Limited, w.d.; S. L. Kimble (...)

33Since the mid of the 1930s and the increasing influence of Fascism and Stalinism women internationally started to protest the limitations on women’s rights in many countries under Fascism and Stalinism as well as the atrocities committed in the civil war in Spain and the concentration camps in Germany79. This also changed the way women’s organizations defined equality.

34Interestingly now they also included a number of intersectional parameters in their narrative which had played a minor role so far such as religion and race as expressed by the Alliance in 1939:

Our great pioneers fought for equality […]. Their fight was essentially a part of the great struggle against oppression of creed, race, class and sex. It was in favour of the right to education, and economic freedom as well as of preparation to the task of citizenship.

In the political situation of 1939 women stressed less women’s rights as they had done for decades always in relation to men’s rights. Now they defined women’s rights again as the ones of free human beings independent of sex.

  • 80 All citations: International Alliance of Women for Suffrage an Equal Citizenship, Report of 13th co (...)

The woman’s battle is that of all mankind. There can be no freedom of women when freedom is no longer a recognized right of every individual. There can not be justice nor economic freedom of women, when all justice is dependent on the will of an oligarchy80.

  • 81 K. Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex. A Black Feminist Critique of Antidi (...)

This change of definition is noteworthy because it shows besides an early awareness of intersectionality and the combination of parameters which led to discrimination of humans and might have been a consequence not only of Fascism and Stalinism and their increasing threat to the humankind but also the increasing inclusion of women in the international work who did not come from the global north. The women’s movements thus had become aware of new parameters such as race. Their ongoing involvement in peace work and rescue work of women and children persecuted based on their creed or their ethnical backgrounds had them formulate realities of exclusion which only much later was reformulated as the theory of intersectionality by W.E.B. Du Bois, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Iris M Young, Martha Minow and others81.

  • 82 R. Adami, Women and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, New York, Routledge, 2018; Butterfie (...)
  • 83 The Status of Women in the Post-War World. Conference convened by the Liaison Committee 6.3.1943, c (...)
  • 84 Ibid., p. 31-32.
  • 85 Charter of the United Nations. T. Skard, “Getting our History Right: How were the Equal Rights of W (...)

35When it came to the re-founding of the League in San Francisco in 1945, European women did not participate in this event as traveling was out of question at this time for everybody except government officials82. It became immediately clear that the old position of power in the feminist movements had, during the war shifted away from Europe the same as in “male” politics. Countries such as Australia, China and Brazil credited their new stronger position with including women delegates to lend more credibility to their status as advanced nations. Women from Latin America who had in the war years held up the torch of feminism stepped up. Bertha Lutz from Brazil, Minerva Bernadino from the Dominican Republic, Amalia González Ledón from Mexico, and Jessie Street from Australia argued strongly for equal rights of men and women. They understood that the postwar created another great window of opportunity as had been the case after World War I to press for women’s equal rights. And they were as committed as the League women and the interwar women’s organizations had been to push for women’s equal rights. In fact, the Liaison Committee hat met in 1943 in London to discuss the status of women in the post-war world asking to have the principle of equality of women recognized as well to include the women from the former war countries into the debates about reconstruction83. Some members of the Liaison Committee had kept on working in the war time in the survey of women’s equal rights in the different nations. Women felt that there was a general willingness in granting women equal rights but a total ignorance about seeing where the problem was84. And it became clear in San Francisco that women were again not present on equal level with men but reduced to the same position than in the League having to push from the outside with their old mechanisms. But at least they managed to enshrine “equal rights of men and women” in the Preamble of the Charter of the UN as well as Article 1 declaring that “human rights and … fundamental freedom” were to be guaranteed “for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”85.

  • 86 United Nations, Journal of the Economic and Social Council 1, 12 (10.4.1946), p. 123ff.

36The human rights commission, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, proposed a draft that did not include gender as a special feature but argued for an “universal” character. Considering this, Bertha Lutz suggested to create an UN Sub-Commission on the Status of Women to deal specifically with the equal rights of women. Lutz suggestion sparked a renewed debate among the women’s organizations whether the human rights commission would adequately protect and promote women’s rights which Lutz based on experiences of the past clearly did not believe. Opposing feminists believed as in the interwar time that such a special commission would potentially marginalize women within the UN besides setting another agenda in terms of priorities and contents. But Lutz gained the support of Minerva Bernardino of the Dominican Republic, who headed the IACW since Stevens’ withdrawal, and the sub-commission was formed86.

  • 87 Report of the Subcommission on Status of Women to Commission on Human Rights, 12-14 May 1946, Journ (...)
  • 88 Resolution Creating Commission on Status of Women, 21.6.1946, Journal of the Economic and Social Co (...)
  • 89 Lake, “Defining Women’s Rights at the League of Nations and the United Nations”, p. 266-267.

37The new Status of Women sub-commission was headed by Bodil Begtrup from Denmark. In its first meetings in spring 1946 the commission took up on the work done before but found it missing as it was focused on the content of laws while they wanted to have a survey focusing on the application of laws as well as on political rights, since without them little progress could be made according to them and without obvious knowledge of women’s earlier struggles for equal rights and their successes without political rights87. Due to lobbying by Begtrup and Roosevelt the sub-commission was within its first year of existence promoted to be a complete Commission on the Status of Women88. But the committee of Human Rights tried also to narrow the space of work of women. They for example should be only present at debates when women’s rights were discussed. As women explained, women’s rights were concerned at every stage of the drafting. They also worked towards a mentioning in the introductory statement of the declaration to make clear that every time a male noun as “man” was chosen that it also should include women.. For centuries men had argued if women should have been included, legal texts would have chosen another formulation than man or male. Again, to no avail89.

  • 90 J. W. Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man, Cambridge, Harvard Un (...)

38Feminists in the Status of Women group tried to avoid the problems arisen in the Interwar time between the feminist’s favoring protection of women and the equalitarians. They worked towards reformulating the legal texts that contained “protection” of women in formulating these texts as positive rights. Women should not receive maternity protection but maternity rights for example. But Article 25 formulated motherhood as a condition needing “special care and assistance,” again going back to the protective impetus. On the other hand, the women committee was also clear about the fact that women needed special rights as mothers, as women in war cases, as being trafficked, as prostitutes but the men in the human rights committee favored a general formulation that did not make mention of women’s special needs. They deemed the general formula sufficient that should be enjoyed by everybody without distinction. About women’s claims of special protection they only joked, providing a nursing mother with a right to nurse, seemed still unthinkable. Also, the Charter formulated equal rights for men and women reinscribing masculinity as the universal standard. But the universal standard for centuries had not meant that women were included. In fact, women’s reaction of claiming special and equal rights for women was a reaction to their exclusion from universal rights, so it was only logical that it made them suspicious of just having the only oral assurance that this time they were included. At the same time, all feminists, the equalitarians and the others were aware that special rights also meant exclusion from universal rights. This paradox is just inherent to the idea of minorities fighting for equal rights if they differed from the assumed “normal case” (which until today is based on the male experience)90.

39Between 1949 and 1959, the Commission elaborated the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, adopted by the General Assembly (1952), the Convention on the Nationality of Married Women (1957) and two conventions on consent and minimum age for marriage. Each of these treaties promoted and safeguarded women's rights in contexts when the Commission believed those rights to be particularly at risk. However, it was thought that, outside of such areas, the general human rights accords provided the best protection and promotion of women's rights. Even though these instruments demonstrated the UN system's increasing complexity in terms of the defense and advancement of women's human rights, the strategy they reflected was fragmented since it fell short of addressing discrimination against women in its entirety.

40Additionally, women were concerned that the whole human rights regime was not actually protecting and promoting women's rights as effectively as it could. As a result, on December 5, 1963, the General Assembly passed Resolution 1921 (XVIII) in which it asked the Economic and Social Council to invite the women’s committee to create a proclamation that would incorporate several international standards articulating the equality of men and women into a single instrument. Women's rights advocates both inside and outside the UN system have supported this procedure the entire time. The Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was finally accepted by the General Assembly in November 1967. The Declaration's preparation was a challenging process even though it ended to be only a declaration of moral and political intent without the legal binding power of a treaty.

41In many regions of the world, a new awareness of the patterns of discrimination against women emerged throughout the 1960s, and the number of groups dedicated to eradicating the effects of such discrimination increased. The Comission on the Status of Women considered the possibility of drafting a legally binding treaty that would give the Declaration's provisions normative force in 1972, five years after the Declaration's adoption and four years after the Economic and Social Commission instituted a voluntary reporting system on its implementation. The Comission then decided to request the Secretary-General to ask UN Member States to share their opinions on such a proposal. A working committee was established the following year to develop such a convention. At its twenty-fifth session in 1974, the Commission made the decision to create a single, comprehensive, and legally binding instrument to end discrimination against women in light of the working group’s report. This document was to be created without regard to any potential future proposals from the UN or its specialized agencies for the creation of legislative tools to end discrimination in particular professions.

42The text of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was prepared for three years by different working groups within the Commission until the Convention was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979 by votes of 130 to none, with 10 abstentions. It defines what constitutes discrimination against women and lays out a plan for national action to abolish it. It consists of a prologue and 30 articles. According to the Convention, discrimination against women is

[…] any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field91.

4364 States signed the Convention during a ceremony held at the Copenhagen Conference on July 17, 1980, and two States sent in their ratification documents. Faster than any other human rights treaty, the Convention came into force on September 3, 1981, 30 days after the 20th member State had ratified it. This marked the culmination of United Nations efforts to codify extensively international legal norms for women.

Conclusion

  • 92 Zimmermann, “Liaison Committees of International Women’s Organizations”.

44Women’s struggle for equal rights in international law at least in the global North has a history which is as long as that of the struggle for equal rights in each individual country. The struggle on national and international level was closely interwoven. Women from the Global North started out claiming in the Enlightenment for women’s rights as human rights and moved from there to demand equal rights for women as special rights because they were legally discriminated as group of women. In their strategies fighting for equal rights did first not mean that they had a clear one sentence definition of what equal rights meant. Instead, they fought on many different levels for equal treatment in the law, sometimes using arguments of equality, sometimes of difference, but mostly using them at the same time. When the idea came up that human rights in the constitutions would protect single groups and would phrase also individual rights for women, women also fought to be included here as a special group needing special protection under the constitutions. Thus, many women fought for an equal rights formulation which guaranteed their equality in constitutions. That movement they also transferred into international law. The story as it is told by research is mostly a story of a conflict between equality and difference arguments, but this story is more a narrative of a generation of women refighting similar struggles as women of the past had fought them already. The story of women looking for equal rights is more a story of women who due to the culture and the possibilities where they came from were trying to find the best strategy how to reach some goals at all. The struggle was despite differences and personal antagonisms for decades a common one because of an existing tolerance to other opinions and a common commitment to find a common ground, even when a new woman’s organization split off to stand for special rights. This only changed, when a group of women decided to push single mindedly for only one strategy which was as good as any other by feeling superior. They raised the supposed dichotomy of equality and difference into an each other excluding ideology which is still resonating in debates on women’s equal rights. New to women’s right in international law was their attempt to include women’s equal rights in “male” international institutions. Until World War I women had worked basically through all-female networking for a global legal solution. With the establishment of the League and the ILO, an idea the international women’s movement had suggested to Wilson who picked up part of their ideas in the Peace of Paris, women seized the chance to participate in these new institutions. The League did not exactly embrace these efforts and continued to reject direct action on the legal status of women in the sense of recognizing women not only as a “minority” group which needed protection but as group which needed individual rights beyond protection. Despite all the conflicts among the different group of feminists and their different strategies they in the end managed to compel the League to consider women's equality, even though the League rejected the notion that it should be a topic of international legislative concern as did the individual nations. The creation of the committee on women’s status and the survey into women’s legal status globally demonstrates the effectiveness of women's collective lobbying that the League gave in and established a formal committee equal to other committees. The creation of the committee of experts represented even a contradiction to the League's expressed position that women's rights had no international character and were instead a concern of the internal political and social organization of states. The formation of the the different kind of commissions provided a forum through which women activists could legitimately insist that the League and in consequence the national governments heard their demands92. On the other hand, official participation in inter-governmental bodies gave women greater access to the political decision-making process, but they did so as national representatives, not international activists. This situation limited their independence and political effectiveness. Feminists’ experiences with these disparate forms of advocacy played a role in the 1945 debate over the desirability of a separate UN women’s commission.

  • 93 For the time before see: S. Kimble, “Women’s Rights and the Rights of Man: Women’s Status under Law (...)

45The survey the League commissioned into women’s civil and political status throughout the world was one precondition for making later more concrete reform moves by the United Nations. It was based on the understanding that women were disadvantaged globally and that these problems could be addressed objectively and scientifically. This was a great step ahead since nationally women all over the world were without full rights in the family, socially, economically, and in many countries also politically. Women’s legal discrimination had never been questioned or taken seriously. In between the League recognizing that a problem existed and trying to make a survey into it, the problem has shifted into another level of consciousness. Women’s inferior legal status was now officially internationally recognized as an obstacle to human progress and democracy in the future world. Women’s progress was equalized to the concept of civilization93.

46In terms of the split of the women’s movements in the interwar time caused by the insistence of the equalitarians in a way, their lobbying might have been more effective if they had agreed on a common strategy and they for sure would have made a better impression in their work. But in terms of results in establishing equal rights in international law they probably could not have reached more even with a common interest and strategy as the League was not ready to commit itself differently and realistically, it also could not. But the foundational split of the women’s movement based on mutually excluding ideas of “equality” versus “difference” had repercussions until now in the ongoing debate in between which would be the way to best reach women’s equal rights and split the women’s movement until today. This split also impacts in the way women’s history is written, so we carefully must deconstruct and question the way we fight for women’s rights and our tolerance to each other, and we also must strongly question our own standpoint in writing women’s history.

47When equality of women was at last enshrined in the official documents of the postwar era, in itself a process repeating arguments and strategies developed in the inter war time, equalitarians had to realize that with the formulation much was won but much was not. Since international law could not be enforced in the individual countries, women could argue about the existence of equality clauses but the process of applying them in the national countries in the end was not dependent of the international law. It seems like there are kind of “saddle-times” when ideas become ripe such as after World War I when many governments were ready to include some equality rights for women in constitutions and the political system. When women’s rights were installed internationally women were parallelly also receiving these same rights in the nations, at least in the Global North. Ironically, the women who had fought most for pushing the equal rights treaty on international level, still live without the Equal Rights Amendment within the US. Thus, it seems that women in the US don’t depend so much on the constitutional formulation of it to gain the same rights as women in other parts in the world. General legal formulations are necessary, they can help but there are also other ways to reach the same goal.

48As some of the debates addressed in this article are ongoing, the issues addressed here mirror the debates today suggesting the ongoing search for women’s equality. Here we can not only learn about the pros and cons of equal rights as legislative strategy but also see how dangerous it might be to abandon the so hard-won equality rights of women in constitutions and international law in a time of pandemic and steady crisis when women must fight to keep their rights. These kind of specific formulations of specific women’s equal rights are the constitutional basis for several laws and basis for affirmative-action policies in the twenty first century in many nations but also on the international level. To quit them with the argument that equal rights are a matter of legal course as did the human rights commission of the UN does turn not only a blind eye to the fact that equal rights for women have yet to be achieved but that in a certain way, they will take away the constitutional basic argument for women. Because it remains always a question of definition who exactly is included in general and universal formulations and whose experience they also reflect. Since the formulation of international rights so far had not been made with the female experience as standards and knowing the long history of women’s struggle for equal rights, it mignt be a moment to rethink how women’s equal rights should be formulated without simply subsuming them into “universal” formulations of human rights.

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Notes

1 V. Brittain, A Memorandum showing the connection between the status of women and the relations between countries, London, The Six Point Group, n.d., LSE, Inter-war Feminist Pamphlet Collection, p. 3

2 The Dawn of a Discipline. International Criminal Justice and Its Early Exponents, ed. F. Mégret and I. Tallgren, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2020; Research Handbook on Feminist Engagement with International Law, ed. K. Ogg and S. H. Rimmer, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019.

3 B. S. Anderson, Joyous Greetings. The First International Women’s Movement, 1830-1860, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001; Globalizing Feminisms 1789-1945, ed. K. Offen, New York, Routledge, 2010; L. Rupp, Worlds of Women: The Making of an International Women’s Movement, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1997.

4 J. Butterfield, Gendering Universal Human Rights. International Women’s Activism, Gender Politics, and the Early Cold War, 1928-1952, PhD Thesis, University of Iowa, 2012; K. M. Marino, Feminism for the Americas. The Making of an International Human Rights Movement, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2019; New Perspectives on European Women’s Legal History, ed. S. L. Kimble and M. Röwekamp, New York, Routledge, 2017; M. Sandell, The Rise of Women’s Transnational Activism: Identity and Sisterhood between the World Wars, London, I.B. Taurus, 2015.

5 Brittain, Memorandum, p. 3.

6 M. L. Siegel, Peace on our terms. The Global Battle for Women’s Rights after the First World War, New York, Columbia University Press, 2020; A. Wilmers, Pazifismus in der internationalen Frauenbewegung (1914-1920): Handlungsspielräume, politische Konzeptionen und gesellschaftliche Auseinandersetzungen, Essen, Klartext, 2008; S. Blasco, C. M. Portolés, Feministas por la paz. La liga internacional de mujeres por la paz y la libertad (WILPF) en América Latina y España, Barcelona, Icaria, 2020; R. Deutsch, The International Woman Suffrage Alliance: it’s history from 1904 to 1929, London, Stephen Austin and Sons, 1929; Women changing the world: a history of the International Council of Women, 1888-1988, ed. E. Gubin, Brussels, Racine, 2005.

7 National American Woman Suffrage Association, Report of the First International Woman Suffrage Conference. Held at Washington, U.S.A. February 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 1902, Boston, John Youngjohn, 1902.

8 International Council of Women, Women's position in the laws of the nations, a compilation of the laws of different countries, Karlsruhe, Braunsche Hofbuchdruckerei, 1914.

9 E. Cady Stanton, “Miss Becker on the Difference in Sex”, The Revolution, 2/12, 1868, p. 184-185.

10 H. Dohm, Der Frauen Natur und Recht. Zur Frauenfrage. Zwei Abhandlungen über Eigenschaften und Stimmrecht der Frauen, Berlin, Wedekind & Schwieger, 1876, p. 185.

11 A. Augspurg, “Das Recht der Frau”, Der internationale Kongress für Frauenwerke und Frauenbestrebungen in Berlin 19. bis 26. September 1896: eine Sammlung der auf dem Kongress gehaltenen Vorträge und Ansprachen, ed. R. Schoenflies et al., Berlin, Walther,1897, p. 327-331.

12 M. Röwekamp, “Challenging Patriarchalism in the Family. Law Reform and Female Protest in 19th and 20th Century Europe”, Feminist Approaches to Law. Theoretical and Historical Insights, ed. Dragica Vujadinović et al., Heidelberg, Springer, 2022, p. 90-123; Family Law in Early Women’s Rights Debates. Western Europe and the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ed. S. Meder and C-E. Mecke, Cologne, Böhlau, 2013; Reformforderungen zum Familienrecht international. Westeuropa und die USA (1830-1914), ed. S. Meder and C.-E. Mecke, Cologne, Böhlau 2015.

13 C. Clark, The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914, London, Allen Lane, 2012; Gender and The First World War, ed. C. Hämmerle et al., London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

14 L. G. Heymann and A. Augsburg, Erlebtes/Erschautes. Deutsche Frauen kämpfen für Freiheit, Recht und Frieden 1850-1940, ed. M. Twellmann, Meisenheim, A. Hain, 1972, p. 134; U. Lembke, “Der Frauenfriedenskongress 1915- auch ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Pazifismus als Völkerrechtsidee, Archiv des Völkerrechtes, 53/4, 2015, p. 424-460.

15 Brittain, Memorandum, p. 3.

16 The Women’s International League, League of Nations or Holy Alliance? The Draft of a League of Nations signed by the Allied & Associated Powers, London, Women’s International League, 1919, p. 2, LSE Digital Library, Inter-war Feminist Pamphlet Collection.

17 In the entire time of the existence of the League only eight countries sent female delegates to the assembly, the first one was appointed in 1929 and altogether only ten women served in this function, more served as substitute delegates and technical advisers (in these posts 29 countries placed women). A list including brief biographies of these female deputies can be found in: D. M. Northcroft, Women at Work in the League of Nations, London, Page & Pratt, 1925, p. 3-4; United States Department of Labor, International Documents on the Status of Women, Bulletin of the Women’s Bureau No. 217, Washington: United States Government Printings, 1947, p. 99ff.

18 International Conference of Women at Washington, Archives of the League of Nations (LoN) R1356-23-312-312; LoN R1356-23-1042-3702.

19 Conferences of women’s organisations, LoN R1356-23-1042-1042; R1356-23-1042-2668; R1356-23-1042-3586; R1356-23-1042-3702.

20 Remark of Dr. Nitobe, 7.5.1929, Eric Drummond, 9.5.1920, LoN R1356-23-1042-3702.

21 Ibidem.

22 See Report of 23.6.1920 by Florence Wilson of the meeting of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, IWSA, LoN R1356-3554-5359, p. 20-26.

23 ICW, Alliance, World’s Women’s Christian Association, International Federation of University Women, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, World Union of Women for International Concord, St. Joan’s Social and Political Alliance, International Federation of Business and Professional Women, Equal Rights International, International Federation of Women Magistrates and Lawyers.

24 S. Zimmermann, “Liaison Committees of International Women’s Organizations and the Changing Landscape of Women’s Internationalism, 1920s to 1945”, Women and Social Movements, International – 1840s to Present, 2012, www.Alexanderstreet.com.

25 K. Hausen, Überlegungen zum geschlechterspezifischen Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit, Differenz und Gleichheit. Menschenrechte haben (k)ein Geschlecht, ed. U. Gerhard, Frankfurt am Main, Ulrike Helmer, 1997, p. 268-282; J. Rendall, “Nineteenth Century Feminism and the Separation of Spheres: Reflections on the Public/Private Dichotomy”, Moving On: New Perspectives on the Women’s Movement, ed. T. Andreasen et al., Aarhus, Aarhus University Press, 1990, p. 17-37; U. Frevert, “Mann und Weib, und Weib und Mann. Geschlechterdifferenzen in der Moderne, Munich, Beck ,1995.

26 S. Zimmermann, “A Struggle over Gender, Class, and the Vote. Unequal International Interaction and the Birth of the ‘Female International of Socialist Women’”, Gender History in a Transnational Perspective, ed. O. Janz and D. Schönpflug, New York, Berghanh, 2014, p. 101-126.

27 Meeting of the Alliance in Geneva, LoN R 1356-23-3554-5359.

28 Women’s ILO: transnational networks, global labour standards, and gender equity, 1919 to present, ed. S. Zimmermann, Leiden, Boston, Brill, 2018; S. Zimmermann, “Night Work for White Women, Bonded Labour for Colored Women? The International Struggle of Labour Protection and Legal Equality, 1926 to 1944”, New Perspectives on European Women’s Legal History, ed. Kimble and Röwekamp, p. 349-375.

29 For example: Open Door Council, Restrictive Legislation and the Industrial Women. Reply to the Statement by the Standing Committee of Women Industrial Organisations, London, WCI, 1928.

30 S. Becker, The Origins of the Equal Rights Amendment: American Feminism Between the Wars, Westport, Conn, Greenwood Press, 1982.

31 Equal Rights International, The Status of Women, London, Women’s Printing Society, nd, prob. 1937, p. 11, LSE Digital Library, Inter-war Feminist Pamphlet Collection.

32 “Déclaration des droits internationaux de l’homme”, Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit International, 2, 1929, p. 125-126; R. Ludi, “Setting New Standards: International Feminism and the League of Nation’s Inquiry into the Status of Women”, Journal of Women’s History, 31/1, 2019, p. 12-36.

33 Statement of the Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality, sent on July 31, 1935 to Secretary of League of Nations, in: League of Nations, Status of Women. Communications received from Governments and Women’s International Organisations since September 1936, File. Status of Women, Summary of statements presented by Women’s Organisations, LON R3756-3A-19254-13900, p. 51.

34 World’s Young Women’s Christian Association, 7.7.1937, LON R3756-3A-19786-13900, p. 172.

35 International Federation of Trade Union’s International Committee of Trade Union Women, Supplement 2, Nationality and Status of Women, 11.9.1935, LON R3756-3A-19786-13900, p. 172 and 199.

36 A. Towns, “The Inter-American Commission of Women and Women’s Suffrage, 1920-1945”, Journal of Latin American Studies, 42/4, 2010, p. 779-807; F. Miller, “Latin American Women and the Transnational Arena”, Globalizing Feminisms 1789-1945, ed. K Offen, New York, Routledge, 2009, p. 193-203; eadem, Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice, Chicago, University Press of New England, 1991, Marino, Feminism for the Americas.

37 Doris Stevens to Bertha Lutz (23 September 1933), Doris Stevens papers, folder 62.11., cit. Butterfield, Gendering Universal Human Rights, p. 49.

38 M. Feinberg, Elusive Equality. Gender, Citizenship, and the Limits of Democracy in Czechoslovakia, 1918-1950, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006; M. Röwekamp, “‘The Constitution is only a Meaningless Piece of Paper.’ Citizenship, Constitution and the Limits of Equality for Women in Central Europe (1918-1933)”, Weimar Moments, ed. M. Goldmann and A. J. Menéndez Menéndez, Oxford University Press, 2023 (forthcoming).

39 E. Dubois, “Internationalizing Married Women’s Nationality: The Hague Campaign of 1930”, Globalizing Feminisms, ed. Offen, p. 204-216; C. Miller, “‘Geneva - The Key to Equality’: Inter-war Feminists and the League of Nations”, Women’s History Review, 3/2, 1994, p. 219-245; ead., “Lobbying the League: Women’s International Organizations and the League of Nations”, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Oxford, St. Hilda’s College, 1992; C. Jacques, “Tracking Feminist Interventions In International Law Issues at the League of Nations. From the Nationality of Married Women to Legal Equality in the Family, 1919-1970”, New Perspectives on European Women’s Legal History, ed. Kimble and Röwekamp, p. 321-348.

40 C. Lewis Bredbenner, A Nationality of Her Own. Women, Marriage, and the Law of Citizenship, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1998; M. Feinberg, Elusive Equality.

41 Nationality of Women, Discussions at the Twelfth Ordinary Session of the Assembly 1931, LON R2076/3E/31324/25640; Observation on Recommendations of the 1930 Hague Conference and the 11th Assembly 1930, LON R2077/3E/25761 subseries, here especially R2077/3E/29040/25761, Observations of Governments on the recommendation of the 1930s Conference in Hague, R2077/3E/29087/25761.

42 International Woman Suffrage Alliance, Nationality of Married Women, London, Irvines, n.d., LSE Digital Library, Inter-war Feminist Pamphlet Collection.

43 Nationality of Women Report of the First Committee to the Assembly, LoN A-84-1931-V_EN.

44 The League Year-Book, ed. J. Jackson and S. King-Hall, New York, Macmillan, 1932, p. 377.

45 Ibid., p. 369.

46 Nationality of Women, Consultation with feminist organisations, LoN, R3886/3E/1791/887; Nationality of Women, Correspondence with Governments, LoN R2078-R2079/3E/32295.

47 The League Year-Book, 1933, ed. J. Jackson and S. King-Hall, New York, Macmillan, p. 238-39.

48 Status of Women – Correspondence with the Women's Consultative Committee on Nationality, LoN R3756/3A/19254/13900; Marriage Laws and Nationality of Women, LoN R1273/19/9443.

49 Winifried Mayo to Jessie Street, 20 May 1932, cit. M. Lake, “From Self Determination via Protection to Equality via Non-Discrimination: Defining Women’s Rights at the League of Nations and the United Nations”, Women’s Rights and Human Rights: International Historical Perspectives, ed. P. Grimshaw et al., New York, Palgrave, 2001, p. 260.

50 Note by Hugh McKinnon Wood to M. de Montenach, received 8.10.1935, LoN, Status of Women, Communications with ODI, R 3755-3A-18581-13900, p. 69.

51 Nationality of Women, Discussions at the 7th Panamerican Conference, Montevideo, December 1933, LoN, R3886/3E/11108/887.

52 Miller, “Latin American Women and the Transnational Arena”, p. 193-203; Marino, Feminism for the Americas.

53 League of Nation, Communication of the Assembly, Council, and the Members of the League by the First Committee to the Assembly, 24th of September 1935, on the topic of Nationality of Women, Alice Paul Papers, Schlesinger Library, Minutes, and reports, mostly Liaison Committee of Womens’s International Organizations, 1927-1938, seq. 32-33; LoN R3886/3E/19860/887 - Nationality of Women – Discussions at the 16th session of the Assembly, September 1935.

54 J. Eisenberg, “The Status of Women: A Bridge from the League of Nations to the United Nations”, JIOS, 4/2, 2013, p. 8-24; Ludi, “Setting New Standards”, p. 12-36; Lake, “Defining Women’s Rights”, p. 254-271; Butterfield, Gendering Universal Human Rights.

55 An over 900-page summary can be found in: Documentation of Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality, LoN COL140bis/122/2; Report of the Inter-American Commission of Women on the political and civil Rights of Women, LoN COL141-123-1, p. 760-802; Marino, Feminism for the Americas.

56 M. Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870-1960, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005.

57 Status of Women. Proposal of Certain Delegations for Examination by the Assembly of the Status of Women as a Whole, 15 May 1935, LoN A-8-1935-V_EN; R. Ludi, Geschlechtergleichheit als Menschenrecht? Überlegungen zur Bedeutung der Menschenrechtssprache im Völkerbund, Menschenrechte und Geschlecht im 20. Jahrhundert, ed. R. Birke and C. Sachse, Göttingen, Wallstein, p. 46-71; L. Offen, Women’s Rights or Human Rights? International Feminism between the Wars”, Women’s Rights and Human Rights. International Historical Perspectives, ed. P. Grimshaw et al., New York, Palgrave, 2001, p. 243-253.

58 League of Nations, Status of Women, Report submitted by the First Committee of the assembly, Alice Paul Papers, sec. 34-36.

59 LON CIS-8250-1937_EN_Communiqué No. 8250, September 16, 1937; Official Journal of the League of Nations (OJ): Special Supplement 170 (1937), p. 27.

60 Vera Laughton Mathews, St. Joan’s Social and Political Alliance to General Secretary of the League, LoN, Status of Women, Correspondence with the St. Joan’s Social and Political Alliances, R3755-3A-17385-13900, p. 106.

61 Documentation of Women's Consultative Committee on Nationality, LON COL140bis-122-2; COL 141/123/1.

62 League of Nations, Status of Women. Communications from Governments and Women’s International Organisations, 1936, Item A-33-1936-V_E, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Alice Paul Papers, Series V. Other International Activities, Minutes, and reports, mostly Liaison Committee of Womens’s International Organizations, 1927-1938, seq. 38-54.

63 Report submitted by the First Committee to the Assembly of the League of Nations, League of Nations, Official No. A 54.1937, V, printed in: United States Department of Labor, International Documents on the Status of Women, p. 43-49.

64 Status of Women. Memorandum on the work of the League of Nations with Regard to the Legal Status of Women Prepared for the Conference of the World’s Young Women’s Christian Association held in Canada, Sept. 1938, LoN, Women’s Status, Correspondence with the YWCA, R3755-3A-19189-13900, p. 11.

65 Anonymous, “In memoriam: Madame Bastid. 1906-1995”, Annuaire français de droit international, 40, 1994, p. 7-9.

66 S. Djajić, “Standing Alone but Standing Tall: A Female Perspective of International Law from the Interwar Yugoslavia”, Legal Issues of International Law from a Gender Perspective, ed. I. Krstić et al, Cham, Springer, 2023, p. 199-224.

67 Male members were chosen from the imperial powers without any debate: Mr. H.C. Gutteridge (UK, Chairman, Professor of Comparative. Law at the University of Cambridge, M. de Ruelle (Belgium, Legal Adviser of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Paul Sebestyen (Hungary, Counsel for Division).

68 Status of Women. Memorandum on the work of the League of Nations with Regard to the Legal Status of Women Prepared for the Conference of the World’s Young Women’s Christian Association held in Canada, Sept. 1938, LoN, Women’s Status, Correspondence with the YWCA, R3755-3A-19189-13900, p. 8.

69 Ibid., p. 8.

70 Committee for the Study of the Legal Status of Women, Minutes of the Twelfth Meeting, 9. April 938, League of Nations, Official No. C.S.F., 1st Session/P. V. 12 (1), printed in: United States Department of Labor, International Documents on the Status of Women, p. 50-58.

71 Miller, Lobbying the League, p. 224.

72 For example: The St. Joan’s League prepared a survey on women’s situation in Africa, LoN, Status of Women, Correspondence with the St. Joan’s Social and Political Alliances, R3755-3A-17385-13900.

73 Sandell, Rise of Women’s Transnational Activism, p. 81-99.

74 V. V. Joshi, Legal Disabilities of Hindu Women. Published by the Standing Committee of the All-India Women’s Conference, w.p., w.d., several more surveys on India can be found in: Documentation of Women's Consultative Committee on Nationality, LoN COL140bis/122/2.

75 LoN, The Monthly Summary of the League of Nations, 19, 7, 1939, July 1939, p. 296-297.

76 Statement of the Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality, sent on July 31, 1935 to Secretary of League of Nations, LON R3756-3A-19254-13900, p. 51.

77 LON Nationality and Status of Women, Statements Presented by International Women’s Organizations, LON LON R3756-3A-19254-13900, p. 292.

78 Journal of the Eighteenth Session of the Assembly No. 10, 23.9.1937, p, 103, LON R5244/15/30625/28564; 18th Session of the Assembly, 1937; LON, R5244/15/30625/28564/Jacket 1-3.

79 H. Browning, Women under Fascism and Communism, London, Martin Lawrence Limited, w.d.; S. L. Kimble, “Internationalist Women against Nazi Atrocities in Occupied Europe, 1941 – 1947”, Journal of Women’s History, 35/1, 2023, p. 57-79.

80 All citations: International Alliance of Women for Suffrage an Equal Citizenship, Report of 13th congress, Copenhagen, July 8th-14th, 1939, Ashford Kent, IAW, 1939, p. 8.

81 K. Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex. A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics”, University of Chicago Legal Forum 1, 1989, p. 139-167; I.M. Youg, Iris, Justice and the Politics of Difference, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1990; M. Minow, Making All the Difference. Inclusion, Exclusion and American Law, New York, Ithaka University Press, 1990; bell hooks, Feminist Theory – From Margin to Center, Cambridge, South End Press, 2000.

82 R. Adami, Women and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, New York, Routledge, 2018; Butterfield, Gendering Universal Human Rights; D. Jain, Women, Development, and the UN: A Sixty Year Quest for Equality and Justice, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2005; J. H. Quartaert, The Gendering of Human Rights in the International System of Law in the Twentieth Century, Washington, American Historical Association, 2006.

83 The Status of Women in the Post-War World. Conference convened by the Liaison Committee 6.3.1943, cit. Zimmermann, “Liaison Committees of International Women’s Organizations”, p. 31.

84 Ibid., p. 31-32.

85 Charter of the United Nations. T. Skard, “Getting our History Right: How were the Equal Rights of Women and Men Included in the Charter of the United Nations?”, Forum for Development Studies, 35/1, 2008, p. 37-60, J. Morsink, “Women’s Rights in the Universal Declaration”, Human Rights Quarterly, 13/2, 1991, p. 229-256.

86 United Nations, Journal of the Economic and Social Council 1, 12 (10.4.1946), p. 123ff.

87 Report of the Subcommission on Status of Women to Commission on Human Rights, 12-14 May 1946, Journal of the Economic and Social Council 1, 14 (24.5.1946), p. 169ff.

88 Resolution Creating Commission on Status of Women, 21.6.1946, Journal of the Economic and Social Council 1, 29 (13.7.1946), p. 525ff.; Dorothy Kenyon, “The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women”, Women Lawyers Journal, 33, 1947, p. 37-44.

89 Lake, “Defining Women’s Rights at the League of Nations and the United Nations”, p. 266-267.

90 J. W. Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1996.

91 https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-elimination-all-forms-discrimination-against-women, last access October 24, 2022.

92 Zimmermann, “Liaison Committees of International Women’s Organizations”.

93 For the time before see: S. Kimble, “Women’s Rights and the Rights of Man: Women’s Status under Law as the Measure of ‘Civilization’ in Political and Legal Discourse, 1869-1914”, Laws and International Relations: Actors, Institutions, and Comparative Legislations, ed. R. Cahen et al. (forthcoming Paris, Pedone, 2023).

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Marion Rowekamp, « Towards “Equality of Sexes” as a Principle in International Law »Clio@Themis [En ligne], 25 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2023, consulté le 19 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cliothemis/4309 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/cliothemis.4309

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Marion Rowekamp

Colegio de México, Freie Universität Berlin

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