European Feminisms, 1700-1950: A Political History

By Karen Offen | Go to book overview
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Reinventing the Wheel?

In July 1949, when delegates of the International Alliance of Women convened in Amsterdam, the congress theme was "Human Rights and Human Needs." The IAW publication, The International Women's News (formerly Jus Suffragii), heralded the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as "a magnificent feminist victory." 1 The program for the future seemed evident: implementation of these principles. And yet, this would clearly not be so simple, as IAW leaders were deeply aware: "Alas, our experience shows that these declarations of principles remain a dead letter unless public opinion in each country insists on their implementation." Democracy without women, in Christine Fauré's more recent phrase, would not do; still less democracy without feminist watchdogs. 2

But how to implement the victory was precisely the problem. It seemed that women's international organizations and feminist activists still had to insist that governments fulfill their obligations to the equality of women and men under the UN Declaration. In the postwar nations of Western, Central, and Southern Europe, the disadvantaged legal status of women in marriage remained high on the list of problems that called out for remedies, as did the relationship of married women to paid employment and to the social benefits being elaborated by mostly male politicians in the newly developing welfare states. The long-standing issues of state-regulated prostitution and the international traffic in women and children took a step forward with the abolition in 1946 of the notorious and long-contested "French system" of governmentendorsed brothels in Paris (thanks in particular to the campaigns of Paris municipal councilor Marthe Richard) and by the subsequent 1949 International Convention "for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others," under the auspices of the United Nations, which deliberately employed the newly fashionable gender-neutral language of human rights.


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