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The Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF): History, Main Agenda, and Contributions, 1945-1991

Francisca de Haan

Central European University



   Founded in Paris in late-November 1945, the Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF) was the largest and probably most influential international women's organization of the post-1945 era. This may come as a surprise, since the Federation is still relatively unknown among Western feminist historians. I will discuss below why this is the case. Based on my reading of the organization's documents and review of its activities, I would characterize WIDF as a progressive, "left-feminist" international umbrella organization, with an emphasis on peace, women's rights, anti-colonialism and anti-racism.[1] At its first congress, in 1945, 40 countries were represented; in 1958 at WIDF's fourth congress there were delegates from 70 countries; in 1985 the WIDF had 135 member organizations from 117 countries, in all parts of the globe. WIDF had a strong association with the communist world, and many of its leading women were communists. In addition, a considerable number of progressive but non-communist women were also involved in the organization and its member organizations, and this remained the case over time.[2]

   Diversity similarly characterized WIDF member organizations. Some were already existing women's organizations that affiliated themselves with WIDF; others were established especially for that purpose. Generally, they were progressive women's organizations with local branches, which, again, could consist of smaller units, down to their individual members, who could have very different degrees of actual involvement. Some WIDF national member organizations were affiliated with a Communist Party, others were independent women's organizations, and there were other formats, sometimes changing over time. WIDF member organizations included large and influential ones, such as the Soviet Women's [Anti-Fascist] Committee, the Union of Italian Women (UDI), the All China Women's [Democratic] Federation, and the Indonesian women's organization Gerwani, as well as, for example, the Union of Australian Women and the Netherlands' Women's Movement (NVB).[3]

   When the Cold War unfolded, WIDF generally supported the Soviet Union. This support, however, does not mean that WIDF was founded by "the international Communist movement" or that WIDF was a "Soviet front" organization with other goals than professed. It means even less that WIDF was "not really" interested in women's rights. All these things were stated by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), in a 1949 report about WIDF and its American affiliate, the Congress of American Women (CAW).[4] However, HUAC's accusations became very influential. Suspicion and rejection of WIDF as a "Soviet tool" have been pervasive in the West since. HUAC's campaign is one of the reasons that WIDF largely disappeared from Western feminist historians' mental map (to a dark place "behind the Iron Curtain").[5] Moreover, if WIDF did or does appear, HUAC's accusations often still resonate; hence the Federation is treated with suspicion and its championing of women's rights is not mentioned, not taken seriously, or suspected to serve other goals.[6]  

   In addition to this specific history, there are other reasons why the mainstream Western feminist historiography has largely overlooked or ignored WIDF and/or its contributions.[7] One is that this historiography generally focuses on liberal and gender-only feminism and excludes or treats as less central women's movements and organizations with a broader political agenda, including Third World women's organizations and/or those with a socialist, socialist-feminist or pro-communist orientation.[8] In the case of WIDF, however, the reasons for its absence from the feminist historiography and feminist collective memory go deeper. In addition to the factors already mentioned, Cold War attacks on WIDF have negatively influenced the state, location, and accessibility of WIDF archives and the possibility of doing oral history.

   Below I will first discuss this impact of the Cold War on our not-knowing about WIDF, or having only a partial and generally biased view of the organization.[9] Second, I will sketch the broad European anti-fascist feminist network that developed from 1934, in which WIDF's origins lie. Then I will focus on WIDF's founding congress, main agenda and activities, followed by a brief discussion of its crucial role in the United Nations (UN) – where among other things it initiated International Women's Year and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – and finally draw some conclusions regarding WIDF and its place in the history and historiography of transnational women's movements. Two things need to be emphasized in advance: the first is that WIDF still exists, so that the story below, about the organization until about 1990, is unfinished. Second, this is part of an on-going research project about the International Council of Women (ICW), International Alliance of Women (IAW) and WIDF during the Cold War, so that some findings and interpretations inevitably are tentative.

   1) Cold War Impact

   To understand how the Cold War shaped what we know about WIDF, we have to go back to the immediate post-World War II months and years.[10]  Despite the horrible events and losses of WWII, many women believed that a better world would be possible, based on a continuation of the wartime alliance between the Western democracies and the Soviet Union.[11] WIDF's agenda of anti-fascism, pro-peace, and pro-women's rights activism clearly struck a chord with many women around the world. Because the WIDF program was so appealing, many organizations joined WIDF and national branches were established in numerous countries, with sometimes impressive numbers of women involved. To name two striking examples: its U.S. branch, the Congress of American Women, established in early 1946, claimed to have 250,000 members by 1947, whereas the Danish branch of WIDF, the Danmarks Demokratiske Kvindeforbund (DKK), in the early 1950s had some 25 branches in Copenhagen alone.[12] One of the women involved in the USA in these early years was Gerda Lerner, the later pioneer of women's history as an academic discipline. She was of Viennese, Jewish middle-class background and, already in high school, was a committed anti-fascist. Hence she was in great danger after Nazi Germany annexed Austria (the so-called Anschluss) in March 1938. In 1939 she managed to flee to the United States. After the war, Lerner became a local and then also national CAW activist. In her political memoir, Fireweed, published in 2002, she describes how the local CAW branch she was involved in, in a neighborhood in Los Angeles, organized grassroots women, targeting issues such as rising food prices, insufficient child care, unequal pay, women losing their jobs to soldiers returning home and racism. She adds that "CAW consistently incorporated women's history in its work."[13] In addition to these various forms of activism, which occurred in cities across the United States, CAW women also focused their activities on the UN,[14] and the national CAW leadership was involved in representing WIDF as observers in the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

   The fierce anti-communism of the later 1940s and 1950s in the United States led to persecution of people on the left and of other "others,"[15] the distortion of "communist" goals (in what Natalie Zemon Davis in 1951 aptly called "Operation Mind") and the stigmatization of (alleged) communists who, in Gerda Lerner's words, were "cast …as traitors and spies in order to stifle dissent."[16] In this context, then, a large body of (alleged) "communist" or "pro-communist" women as the Congress of American Women became intolerable to the U.S. government. The CAW and WIDF became the subject of investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).[17] HUAC, in addition to destroying the CAW – the organization was forced to disband in 1950 as a result of the various forms of pressure exerted by the U.S. government – also managed to create a distorted image of WIDF, most importantly for our purposes here by claiming in its 1949 report that WIDF was not what it pretended to be. HUAC accused WIDF of being a Soviet "front organization," rather than a progressive international women's organization. Therefore, WIDF according to HUAC was "not really" interested in "women's problems, as such" but only pretended to be so, using that pretence as a way to lure "gullible women" into the Communist [Soviet] sphere. The Federation's real aim, the HUAC report stated, was "to serve as a specialized arm of Soviet political warfare in the current ‘peace' campaign to disarm and demobilize the United States and democratic nations generally, in order to render them helpless in the face of the Communist drive for world conquest."[18]

   The fact that these accusations were taken seriously is indicative of the anti-communist hysteria at the time. The House Un-American Activities Committee's report on the CAW and WIDF, with those accusations, has successfully established the image of WIDF as a Soviet instrument and – still in the logic of that anti-communist world view – therefore as not to be taken seriously in the history of women's movements and/or the international struggle for women's rights. Gerda Lerner has poignantly described the atmosphere of fear resulting from the stigmatization and persecution. Many Congress of American Women activists became so afraid for themselves or their families that they burned their papers and decided not to speak about their involvement, making it harder for historians to uncover and describe this important part of the history of women's activism.[19]

   The Cold War and its end had an equally important impact on the central WIDF archives. The organization had its headquarters in Paris until it was forced to leave France in January 1951, not only because it was an "international Communist organization" but in particular because its French affiliate, the Union des Femmes Françaises (Union of French Women, UFF), under the leadership of its President, Eugénie Cotton, who was WIDF founding President as well, had campaigned against the French colonial war in Vietnam. After careful deliberations, WIDF moved to Berlin, where the organization functioned until about 1991. By that time, state socialism in Europe had collapsed and an important part of the infrastructural support for the Federation had fallen away. After a few uncertain years, the Federation managed to re-constitute itself in 1994. Meanwhile, a not-insignificant part of its records was destroyed, another substantial part went back to Paris, and yet other material seems to have been relocated to other countries. The materials in Paris are still in private hands but will be deposited in a public archive in the near future.[20] Without suggesting that WIDF has only been a passive victim in the Cold War clashes it was involved in – indeed, the Federation was an "active producer of Cold War narratives"[21] – my point here is the impact of these events on the production of knowledge about transnational, left-feminist history: if WIDF had been able to remain in France and (part of) the WIDF archives had been stored in a French library or archival institute – as happened with other left-wing archives – this loss of material would have been avoided and the organization would have been less easy to overlook. For now, we don't know what has been destroyed or lost and may never know.

   Finally, suspicion, stigmatization, a-priori rejection and persecution of communists or alleged communists are not just issues of the past, and also influence what people are willing and able to remember. Similar to the USA, where "those on the right see [the history of the Communist Party] as a series of crimes,"[22] the dominant political climate in Europe is now such that the word communism is more easily and disproportionately associated with "crimes" than with the crucial Soviet contribution in defeating Nazi Germany, with anti-fascism more generally, or with a struggle for social justice or an egalitarian society. This is not to deny the crimes committed by Stalin or the Soviet Union, but to distinguish between what certain political leaders, states, parties and other entities have done in the name of communism, and the meaning of socialist and communist social and political movements which, not only in Europe but globally, have inspired and supported many millions of men and women in the fight against oppression and for social justice.[23] Communism cannot be treated as an undifferentiated phenomenon, as if it had just one meaning across time and place; instead we need to historicize and contextualize it and be specific about location, organizations, people, and ideas, as well as the wars waged against communist movements. However, the current climate is so negative that such nuances get lost and that many people are reticent to remember and talk about their former engagement or beliefs, what has aptly been called "the silence of communists."[24]

   What we need is a lot more critical post-Cold War research, grounded in extensive, multi-archival work, based on an awareness of the ongoing historical debate, and realization that communism should not be homogenized and that Cold War tenets still shape much of our thinking--specifically with respect to the Women's International Democratic Federation. Although a lot of primary material is either lost or still unavailable for research, significant amounts, including original correspondence and minutes, do exist and can be accessed in public archives. However, this material is located in a variety of countries and often not yet or only partially identified in archival descriptions, so that the research is time-consuming and complex. This, of course, makes the inclusion of a serious amount of WIDF publications in this database all the more important.

2) WIDF Beginnings: Women and Feminists involved in Anti-Fascism in Europe

   With Adolf Hitler becoming Reichs-Chancellor in Germany in 1933 and the threat of fascism increasing in Europe, a number of liberal, socialist and left-feminist women became involved in anti-fascist activism and organizing, aware of fascism's and Nazism's deeply racist and sexist ideology, hatred of the left, and generally violent nature. The French Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier (1912-1996), for example, who would later be Secretary-General of WIDF, like many others became a member of the French Communist Party after the fascist riots in Paris on February 6, 1934, whose aim was to encourage a fascist take-over of power. As an undercover journalist-photographer she travelled to Germany, where she took pictures of early Nazi concentration camps in that country.[25] In response to the increasing power of fascist parties and governments, Communist parties that were members of the Comintern (the international Communist organization founded by Lenin in Moscow in 1919 and dissolved in 1943, also known as the Third International) in 1934 ended their in-fighting on the left and instead began to build a united anti-fascist front; hence in France and Spain political parties of the left and center were able to form a common front against fascism, the so-called Popular Front.

   The women's movement in Europe similarly took a number of initiatives. Socialist-feminist-peace activist Gabrielle Duchêne (1870-1954), who headed the French national section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and also served as Vice-President of the WILPF international executive during the interwar years, initiated the "World Congress of Women against War and Fascism" that took place in Paris in August 1934. This Paris Congress led to the establishment of the "World Committee of Women against War and Fascism" (Comité mondial des femmes contre la guerre et le fascisme or CMF). Later, Duchêne would become actively involved in WIDF, for example, as a member of its Commission for the Rights of Women, as the WIDF 1948 Congress Report shows.[26] Although women in France did not have the right to vote yet, the 1936 French Popular Front Government headed by the socialist politician Leon Blum included three women members: Suzanne Lacore, Undersecretary of State for Child Protection, Section Française de l'Internationale Ouvrière, SFIO; Irène Joliot-Curie, 1935 Nobel Prize winner, Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research, independent; and Cécile Brunschvicg, Undersecretary of State for National Education, also independent. The latter two, Joliot-Curie and Brunschvicg, would be involved in WIDF.[27]

   Many women who participated in these anti-fascist and pro-peace activities also attended the 1936 Brussels Congress of the Rassemblement Universel pour la Paix/International Peace Campaign. The Brussels Congress's main organizer was Rosa Manus (1881-1942), a Vice-President of the International Alliance of Women (IAW), who died in Ravensbrück, the concentration camp established for women political opponents of the Nazi regime.[28] Elizabeth Acland Allen was (co-?)organizer of the UK side of the 1936 Brussels Congress. In subsequent years she was Vice-President of the (British) Women's Liberal Federation, General-Secretary (1942-1960) of the National Council for Civil Liberties, a member of the International Initiative Committee that in 1945 prepared the founding conference of WIDF, head of the British delegation to the WIDF founding Congress, and the keynote speaker on women's rights there.[29]

   Along similar feminist anti-fascist and/or Popular Front lines,[30] at a meeting in October 1937 in Caxton Hall, Westminster, London, Gabrielle Duchêne proposed to hold a simultaneous "Women's Day" in all countries, to be organized in each case by a national committee that focused on their own, specific "demands for equal status or such other urgent reforms as they were working for." A "special Women's Day" had been proposed by Clara Zetkin at the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen in 1910, and was celebrated in an increasing number of countries since 1911.[31] In this 1937 meeting with British feminists, including International Alliance of Women president Margery Corbett Ashby, Duchêne did not explicitly refer to the longer International Women's Day tradition, which would have been too much on the political left. Instead, she put her proposal in the context of broader contemporary efforts to counteract the attacks on women's rights by right-wing and fascist regimes across Europe.[32]

   We have no particulars yet about International Women's Day celebrations in the years immediately following 1937 along the lines suggested by Duchêne, but we know that it was celebrated in Britain during WWII.[33] In that period, International Women's Day functioned as an occasion for support, mutual inspiration and encouragement in the anti-fascist struggle. It was secretly commemorated in Ravensbrück and possibly in other concentration camps.[34] And it was prominently celebrated in London on March 7, 1943. Organized by the "National Committee for Celebration of International Women's Day," the structure Gabrielle Duchêne had proposed, the 1943 event was supported by a wide range of public personalities, representing an amazingly broad list of social and political positions in a joint anti-fascist front, and aimed at giving a boost to women's anti-war efforts. Included were women belonging to the aristocracy, intellectuals, and well-known liberal feminist, socialist, and communist women, among them Beatrice Webb (known for her support for the Soviet Union), Monica Whately (a feminist, journalist, investigator and lecturer, known for her support for India's independence),[35] Isabelle Blume-Grégoire, a socialist member of the Belgian Parliament,[36] feminist leader Margery Corbett-Ashby, and the Czech lawyer Maria Jurneckova.[37] The event was given added luster with telegrams of support from Mrs. Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the U.S. President, and Mrs. Smuts, the wife of the president of South-Africa.[38]

   These various anti-fascist activities created the broader political context and network in which the idea for WIDF took shape. The founding president of WIDF was the French left-feminist intellectual Eugénie Cotton (1881-1967), a close friend of Popular Front Government Undersecretary of State Irène Joliot-Curie.[39] In her unpublished memoirs, Cotton writes that she first floated the idea for international women's action at a meeting in Clichy (close to Paris) in October 1944 attended by British women, and that this idea was further strengthened when she attended an International Women's Day celebration in London in March 1945.[40] The idea for WIDF thus emerged in a context of shared, transnational, anti-fascist and anti-war, socialist and feminist activism that was especially important for women of the "United Nations," as the anti-fascist countries called themselves during WWII. There was nothing sudden about it; rather the ideas and the subsequent cohort of WIDF women gradually came together through the work of anti-fascist women before and during the war. This also means that, even if we cannot (yet/ever) retrieve all the details about WIDF's origins, it was not something as vague nor as (apparently) sinister as "the international Communist movement" that initiated WIDF, as HUAC claimed.[41]

3) WIDF Founding Congress, Main Agenda and Activities

   The founding congress of WIDF took place in the "Palais de la Mutualité" in Paris, from Monday November 26 to Friday November 30, 1945, attended by some 850 women from forty countries who represented 81 million women; the week ended with a big meeting in the "Vélodrome d'Hiver" on Saturday 1 December 1945.[42] WIDF espoused four principles that its leaders regarded as interrelated: anti-fascism, lasting peace, women's rights, and better conditions for children. The WIDF 1945 Statutes specified that the organization's goals were: active participation in the struggle for the complete annihilation of fascism; shared action to organize women in all countries of the world to defend their rights and to achieve social progress; the protection of public health and in particular the physical and mental health of children; and strengthening the friendship and unity among women in the whole world. In addition, the organization would do all that it could to realize the additional goals, including: complete equality for women and men; equal work and equal pay; equality for women in the domains of education and professional training; more and better social services and security for working women and women in the countryside; and protection of mothers, regardless of marital status (for the full Statutes, see their first Congress Report).[43]

   WIDF's governing structure consisted of a triennial International Congress of Women (the highest authority), with the size and vote of national delegations based on the size of the population they represented (hence different from the system of one-vote-per-affiliated organization of the Western women's organizations); a Council, which met at least once a year, in which all member countries were represented and which directed the Federation in between the Congresses; an Executive Committee, which met at least twice per year, whose minimally 27 members were elected by the Council and confirmed by the Congress, and which governed WIDF in between the Council meetings; a Secretariat, consisting of a Secretary General and four secretaries chosen by the Council from among the members of the Executive Committee, who were responsible for the general management of the Federation's governing structure, including the propaganda work; and lastly a Commission of Verification, consisting of three Council members who were not part of the Executive Committee, and whose task it was to control the Federation's bookkeeping. The national sections from five countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union and China) each had to pay an annual contribution of 750,000 francs; the national sections from nine countries (including Australia, Italy and Canada, Sweden and Switzerland) 200,000 francs each; those from fifteen countries each 50,000 francs and those from eleven countries 10,000 francs. In theory this would have given WIDF an annual budget of 6.610.000 francs (more than 400,000 Euros, excluding gifts and other forms of income).[44]

   WIDF emphasized that peace was a prerequisite for a just world and women's rights and, conversely, that war fundamentally prevented these. WIDF thus stood in a long and diverse tradition of women/feminists fighting for peace, including British Quaker women in the 1820s, the Swedish Fredrika Bremer (1801-1865) and the Austrian Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914), and organizations such as the ICW, IWSA/IAW, WILPF and Gabrielle Duchêne's 1934 World Committee of Women against War and Fascism.[45]

   At the same time, there were at least two important differences with earlier efforts. One is that WIDF's founders' aspiration to prevent further war was fueled by their having lived through the most lethal conflict in history, the Second World War, which took the lives of approximately 65 million people worldwide, 40 million of them non-combatants. Many WIDF women, such as the Spanish Dolores Ibarruri, the Serbian Kata Pejnović and the Russian Nina Popova, had actively participated in the anti-fascist resistance, and/or had lost family members in war and resistance.[46] As historian Marc Mazower has noted, "resistance itself was an exercise in communal solidarity, whose values lent themselves to an egalitarian and morally elevated vision of the post-war world."[47] The women in Paris who established WIDF clearly identified as "Sisters in Resistance" – the title of a documentary about four French non-Communist women who played leading roles in the French resistance and had survived Ravensbrück.[48] Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier, already mentioned above, who was WIDF's Secretary-General for the first ten years, is another example. After the French defeat in 1940 she became involved in the Resistance. Arrested in February 1942, she was part of a convoy of 230 non-Jewish French women who were sent first to Auschwitz and then, those still alive, to Ravensbrück, where they were liberated by the Red Army on April 30, 1945. Vaillant-Couturier, who would be a member of the French Parliament for many years, served as an important witness at the first Nuremburg trial against the main Nazi criminals in January 1946.[49]

   In addition to the catastrophe of WWII, some of the older women involved, such as WIDF founding President Eugénie Cotton herself, had also lived through and witnessed the consequences of WWI, which had been particularly traumatic for France.[50] The need for a lasting peace, therefore, was more than a theoretical issue for WIDF's founders; it was a most-deeply felt conviction – and not something they propagated in order to further the (allegedly false) Soviet "‘peace' campaign," as HUAC would suggest a few years later.[51]

   The second difference with earlier organized women's efforts to fight for or maintain peace, a point equally emphasized by Eugénie Cotton in her opening speech at the WIDF founding conference in Paris in 1945, was that WIDF enabled the "mass of women" to become politically active, both because of its socialist world view and because the number of women with political rights – basically the right to vote –increased enormously after WWII. In Cotton's words, "In a world determined to change the state of things that has led men to fight two horrible world wars within 25 year, the new element, the power of the mass of women active in public life, can and must be of very great importance."[52]

   WIDF's emphasis on peace does not mean that it regarded peace as the organization's single goal or presented it as such; rather, as stated earlier, peace was the necessary precondition for women's rights and children's rights. From the beginning, these causes were seen and explained as interrelated. This perspective included the insight that fascism and war meant the denigration of women and the denial of their human rights, whereas, conversely, there could be no democracy without women's full equality.[53] Women's rights, thus, were not a minor or additional part of the WIDF agenda; indeed, they were a fundamental conviction for Eugénie Cotton and other leading WIDF women and played a central role in the organization's history and struggle. This fact is not only evident from the organization's goals, mentioned above, but can be seen in the reports of all its congresses (see Table 2 below and the congress reports included in the WASI database), the fact that WIDF at least from 1948 had a Commission for the Rights of Women, and  in  WIDF UN initiatives. Two particularly interesting examples are the WIDF 1953 Copenhagen Congress, where women's rights were the main theme and that ended with the adoption of a globally influential "Women's Charter," and its 1975 Berlin Congress.[54]

   An important characteristic of WIDF was that it was more inclusive than the older international women's organizations, especially the International Council of Women and the International Alliance of Women, not only because the WIDF leadership and constituency included women of working-class origins, but also because women from all parts of the world were involved. In 1945 WIDF already reserved a place for a Chinese Vice-President, which was filled in 1948 by Mrs. Tsai Chang.[55] In 1953 the number of WIDF Vice-Presidents was increased from four to ten: Nina Popova (Soviet Union), Dolores Ibarruri (Spain), Dr. Andrea Andreen (Sweden), Tsai Chang (China), Céza Nabaraoui (Egypt), Monica Felton (UK), Funmilayo Ransome Kuti (Nigeria),[56] Rita Montagnana (Italy), Erzsébet Andics (Hungary), and Lilly Wächter (GDR) (with seats reserved for India, Japan, Brazil and the USA).[57]

   WIDF supported the struggles of colonized countries and people for national independence, struggles that accelerated after WWII. The organization's focus on women in Asia and Africa, its anti-war activism (for example, its support for Indonesian and Vietnamese women in their struggles for independence and against the colonial occupiers in their countries), plus its explicit anti-racist stance[58] were among the most significant differences between the WIDF and the ICW and IAW, which accepted Western colonial rule and were much less actively involved with "Third World Women." Table 3 below gives an indication of WIDF's broad global involvement (limited here to the early years). Two documents included in the database, WIDF Activities Report 1963-69 and its Appendix, also illustrate this side of the WIDF work very well.

   An important part of WIDF's activism and global outreach were its publications. WIDF organized women on the left from dozens of countries around the world who challenged gender, class, colonial and ethnic or racial inequalities, most of whom never met in person or attended one of the WIDF congresses. But they did read or see its widely distributed publications, including the monthly (from 1966, quarterly) Women of the Whole World (for a while published in six major languages). The journal served to create an imagined community of progressive women worldwide, in addition to providing information about WIDF and its activities, its congresses, national affiliates, and specific events and political causes. It also encouraged women to become politically active or express political solidarity. One recurring theme in the journal and part of WIDF activism was the struggle against women's illiteracy. Women of the Whole World is a rich source of information about WIDF activities and how the organization wanted to represent itself. [59]

4) WIDF in the United Nations

   From 25 April to 26 June 1945, the founding conference of the United Nations Organization took place in San Francisco. During this conference and in subsequent years, representatives of the three main international women's organizations of the post-war era, the ICW, IAW and WIDF, were deeply involved in the efforts to include women and women's issues in the new world organization, its bodies and agenda.[60] WIDF as such did not yet exist before November 1945, but the Australian transnational left-feminist Jessie Street (1889-1970), who would be involved in the WIDF, was one of a small group of women who played key roles in getting women's rights explicitly acknowledged and included in the UN Charter – with support of the Soviet delegation at crucial moments.[61] Following the San Francisco Conference, Jessie Street visited a number of American cities and from there went to London and then Moscow. After having traveled through the USSR, she flew from Moscow to Paris with the Soviet delegation to the WIDF founding congress in Paris. She did not take up an official position in WIDF but remained involved with the organization and supported it in difficult times.[62]

   WIDF, like the other women's organizations involved, regarded the United Nations as of the utmost importance, both because the UN was the international body set up to prevent war, guard the peace and enhance human rights, including women's rights, and because this was an institution through which they hoped to exert worldwide influence. At the WIDF founding congress, a motion in support of the UN was adopted, and support expressed for a Commission on the Status of Women.[63] In February 1947, WIDF was one of a number of international women's organizations that got Consultative Status in category B with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and its Commissions, including the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). There is no detailed and balanced research yet about the CSW's work in this period that establishes what the various sides and organizations contributed to its agenda, efforts, and achievements. While we need further research about WIDF's contribution to the UN, it is clear more generally that the unfolding Cold War had a huge impact on the work of and exchanges in the CSW – so much so that the CSW in its early years has been described as a "Cold War battle field."[64]

   Moreover, as already noted above, WIDF became a direct target of anti-communist policies as well. Not only was WIDF forced to move its headquarters from France in January 1951, but the organization also lost its Consultative Status at the UN in April 1954. This happened at the initiative of the United States, supported by Great Britain, in what friend and foe recognized as an undemocratic procedure.[65] The reason in this case seems to have been that WIDF in 1951 sent a fact-finding committee, consisting of twenty-one women from seventeen countries, to Korea to investigate and document the crimes committed by U.S. and South-Korean military in the Korean War; the committee then published a report about its findings, called We Accuse. Published in more than twenty languages, the report received considerable attention worldwide and made the American government furious.[66] WIDF was only readmitted to Consultative Status at the UN in June 1967 (thanks to the support of former colonized, newly independent countries); in May 1969 its status was upgraded to Consultative Status A. Not very long after its return, in 1972, WIDF proposed to hold an International Women's Year (IWY).[67] This proposal was accepted and IWY, held in 1975, turned out to be the beginning of a broader process of making women and women's issues more central to the UN and "gender equality" a generally accepted part of the international human rights agenda. This process included the extension of IWY into a Decade for Women (1976-1985), the four UN World Conferences on Women in 1975, 1980, 1985 and 1995, and the acceptance of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, the proposal for which also came from WIDF. The impact of WIDF on the status of women worldwide through its UN work alone clearly cannot be overestimated.[68]

   Although WIDF stood at the basis of International Women's Year, which included the first UN World Conference on Women in Mexico City in June 1975, the organization appears to have played only a minor role at the Mexico City NGO Forum, due to renewed/on-going Cold War politics which led to WIDF being sidelined from the Mexico City Forum organization.[69] WIDF held its own IWY World Congress in Berlin in October 1975. The dynamics around and impact of this World Congress, which had been planned much earlier than the Mexico City Conference and was recognized by the UN, still need to be carefully explored.[70] The fact that the Western historiography on IWY has mostly been silent about it certainly does not mean that the WIDF World Congress was insignificant.

   Although I have mainly discussed WIDF's contributions to women's rights or "gender equality," it is important to keep in mind that the organization had a broader agenda, as all its Congress Reports and other publications amply demonstrate. One example is their consistent focus on children's welfare and rights. Already in 1949, WIDF called for June 1 to be an International Children's Day; and it co-initiated the 1979 UN International Year of the Child.[71] In addition to its activities in the context of the UN, WIDF also tried to realize its goals through co-founding and participating in other international forums, such as the World Peace Council (1949), of which Eugénie Cotton was co-founder,[72] and the Permanent International Committee of Mothers (1955), in which WIDF Swedish Vice-President Dr. Andrea Andreen played a leading role.


   It is high time that WIDF becomes an integral part of the scholarship and narratives about the transnational or "global" women's movement. Including it will have consequences for how we see the movement's chronology, the attribution of some key initiatives regarding women's status, and, more generally, our evaluation of the so-called First, Second and Third World's commitment to women's emancipation and related issues of social justice. There is no doubt that WIDF has influenced and inspired many women globally in a variety of ways: through its overall progressive politics and agenda; through a number of highly influential national member organizations; its widely publicized congresses; its establishing of links between women's organizations in different countries – e.g. Australia and Indonesia; its material and political support for women's organizations and struggles in "Third World Countries," including training opportunities; through its fundamental work in the UN, and, last but not least, through its widely distributed and read publications, with the journal Women of the Whole World as the centerpiece.

   Earlier in this essay I emphasized that WIDF was not a Soviet tool but a progressive international women's organization that during the Cold War generally supported the Soviet Union. It is of crucial importance to acknowledge WIDF women's political agency. That includes exploring how they were actors in the Cold War, how they positioned themselves and with what consequences.[73] At a recent conference Clare Hemmings asked how we, as feminist scholars, deal with aspects of the historical subjects we study that we find problematic from our current political perspective and knowledge. In the case of Emma Goldman, these included her derogatory comments on women and her lack of engagement with contemporary racial politics in the USA. In the case of WIDF, the issue is its one-sided critique of Western imperialism and warfare and general lack of open criticism of the Soviet Union (we know that internally there was debate). This important issue needs more space and systematic attention than I can give it here, but I want to suggest that while exploring it we ask similar questions about the Western international women's organizations, which, for example, were silent about racism and colonialism, or about wars waged in the name of anti-communism, such as the Vietnam War.[74]

   It will be clear that there are important aspects of WIDF history that I have not or barely mentioned, let alone discussed. In 1994 WIDF put itself on a new footing – Sylvie Jan, WIDF President from 1994 to 2002 called it a renaissance of the organization – while making it clear that this was a continuation of the organization established in 1945. In 2002, WIDF relocated to Sao Paolo, where it is currently headed by its Brazilian president, Marcia Campos.[75] Both in terms of research and in terms of its contributions, therefore, the history of WIDF is ongoing.

Table 1: WIDF Presidents




Eugénie Cotton



Hertta Kuusinen



Freda Brown

1975 - 1991


Fatma Ahmed Ibrahim

1991- [1994?]


Sylvie Jan



Marcia Campos



Table 2: A Selection of WIDF and WIDF Sponsored Congresses 1945-1991

(* in column 1 indicates that this Proceedings is included in Women and Social Movements International)

WIDF Congress Number



Number of Delegates, Countries/Organizations [source]

Other WIDF Sponsored Conferences


26 Nov–1 Dec.

Paris, France

850 delegates from 40 countries


Dec. 1–6

Budapest, Hungary

390 delegates of 51 member countries


Vienna, Austria

Participants from 66 countries
[WIDF 40 years, 24]

Conference in Defense of Children


5–10 June

Copenhagen, Denmark

1990 representatives from 67 countries; 613 delegates, 1312 guests, 65 observers [1953 Congress Report, p. 3]


Lausanne, Switzerland

Participants from 66 countries

[WIDF 40 years, 24]

World Congress of Mothers


1–5 June

Vienna, Austria

Delegates and observers from 55 countries [1958 Congress Report, p. 7]


Copenhagen, Denmark

73 countries represented

International Assembly of Women to commemorate 50 years of IWD


24–29 June

Moscow, Soviet Union

1543 women from 113 countries [1963 Congress Report, p. 3]


14–17 June;
WIDF congress on June 18

Helsinki, Finland

Affiliated org. from 92 countries
[WIDF 40 years, 27].


20–24 Oct.

Berlin, GDR

1952 delegates etc. from 141 countries
- Affiliated org. from 103 countries [WIDF 40 years, 28]
- 121 in 106 countries [Prague 1981 Congress Report, p. 24]


8–13 Oct;
WIDF Congress on 14–15 Oct.

Prague, Czechoslovakia

131 affiliated org. from 116 countries [WIDF 40 years, 31]
[Same number in Prague 1981 Congress Report, p. 24]


23–27 June

Moscow, Soviet Union


30 March–1 April

Sheffield, UK

103 delegates representing 68 organizations from 62 countries [WIDF Newsletter 1991/1]

Table 3: Examples of WIDF Global Involvement until 1960


WIDF founding congress: participants from 850 women from Europe, Asia
(China, India, Indochina, Ceylon), Australia, Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco)
and the Americas (Canada, the US, Cuba, and Brazil, Argentine)


Report on The Women of Asia and Africa


Conference of the Women in Asia (held in Peking, China; originally intended to
be in Calcutta, India)


Cotton leads a campaign urging French mothers not to send their sons to fight
in the colonial war in Vietnam


An international committee is sent to Korea, to investigate the atrocities
committed by the US military there. The resulting brochure, We Accuse,
published in + 20 languages, received a lot of publicity worldwide.


Swedish WIDF council member, from 1953 V-P, Dr. Andrea Andreen is
member of an international committee to investigate the use of bacterial
weapons by the US in Korea and China


"First Latin American Women's Conference," Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


WIDF Council held in Peking


"Second Latin American Women's Conference," Santiago, Chile

I am grateful to Yana Knopova-Ziferblat and Raluca Popa for their helpful comments and suggestions.



[1] Left-feminist as defined by Ellen DuBois: "a perspective which fuses a recognition of the systematic oppression of women with an appreciation of other structures of power underlying ... society (what we now most often call ‘the intersections of race, class, and gender'). Therefore [she continues], by left feminism, I also mean an understanding that the attainment of genuine equality for women – all women – requires a radical challenge to … society, the mobilisation of masses of people, and fundamental social change." Ellen C. DuBois, "Eleanor Flexner and the History of American Feminism," Gender & History, 3:1 (1991): 81-90, quote on p. 84; condensed on p. 85 to "a sense of women's systematic oppression with a larger understanding of social inequality." This is my characterization, accepting that "feminist" is not a label that all Left-feminists embraced.

[2] For more data plus sources, see Table 2. The high Cold War rejection and persecution of communists and alleged communists drove many "non-Communists" away, but from the 1950s an increasing number of anti-colonial women from the global South also joined the Federation, so that it kept its mixed character.

[3] On the Soviet Women's [Anti-Fascist] Committee, see Yana Knopova-Ziferblat, "The Soviet Union and the International Domain of Women's Rights and Struggles: A Theoretical Framework and a Case Study of the Soviet Women's Committee, 1941-1991," MA thesis, Central European University, Budapest, 2011, and Melanie Ilic, "Soviet Women, Cultural Exchange and the Women's International Democratic Federation," in Sari Autio-Sarasmo and Katalin Miklossy, eds., Reassessing Cold War Europe (New York: Routledge, 2011) 157-74; on Italian and Yugoslav women's organizations in WIDF during the early Cold War, see Chiara Bonfiglioli, "Cold War Internationalisms, Nationalisms and the Yugoslav-Soviet Split: The Union of Italian Women and the Antifascist Women's Front of Yugoslavia," in Francisca de Haan, June Purvis, Margaret Allen and Krassimira Daskalova, eds., Women's Activism: Global Perspectives from the 1890s to the Present (London: Routledge, 2013), 59-73; on the ACW[D]F, see Wang Zheng, "‘State Feminism'? Gender and Socialist State Formation in Maoist China," Feminist Studies 31: 3 (2005): 519-51; on Gerwani, see Saskia Wieringa, Sexual Politics in Indonesia (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002); Barbara Curthoys and Audrey McDonald, More Than a Hat and Glove Brigade: The Story of the Union of Australian Women (Sydney: Bookpress, 2001); on the NVB, Jolande Withuis, Opoffering en heroiek. De mentale wereld van een communistische vrouwenorganisatie in naoorlogs Nederland, 1946-1976 (Meppel: Boom, 1990).

[4] Committee on Un-American Activities, U.S. House of Representatives [hereafter, HUAC], Report on the Congress of American Women (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1950, 23 October 1949, original release date),

[5] Francisca de Haan, "Continuing Cold War Paradigms in Western Historiography of Transnational Women's Organizations: The Case of the Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF)," Women's History Review 19:4, (September 2010): 547-73.

[6] Karen Offen, for example, in her important book European Feminisms 1700-1950: A Political History (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2000) writes that in 1953 WIDF "raise[d] the women's rights banner;" (xxviii) and that the WIDF in 1953 "annexed" the "language of ‘women's rights'" (p. 387), as if women's rights had not been central to the WIDF program and activities from day 1; she adds that this happened "in harness to a … political program spearheaded by the Soviet Union" (p. 387). The same statement about 1953 is reprinted in Offen,.Globalizing Feminisms 1789-1945 (London and New York: Routledge, 2010), xxvii; here it is also mistakenly stated that WIDF headquarters in 1945 were in the DDR. According to Emmanuelle Carle, Gabrielle Duchêne et la recherche d'une autre route: entre le pacifisme féministe et l'antifascisme (Ph.D. Thesis, McGill University, Montreal, 2005), 435, the goals of the WIDF were the fight against fascism and for democracy and peace. Women's rights are not mentioned. However, it is important to emphasize that Offen's and Carle's works are only examples of a broader pattern in Western historiography of overlooking or misrepresenting the WIDF (see the next note).

[7] The WIDF is not mentioned in, for example, Susan Kent, "Worlds of Feminism," in Bonnie G. Smith, ed., Women's History in Global Perspective, vol. 1 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press), pp. 275-312; Barbara Winslow, "Feminist Movements: Gender and Sexual Equality," in Teresa A. Meade and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, eds., A Companion to Gender History (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), pp. 186-205; or Bonnie G. Smith, ed., Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). It is further noteworthy that, for example, Christine Bolt, Sisterhood Questioned? Race, Class and Internationalism in the American and British Women's Movements, c. 1880s-1970s (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), does not include WIDF, or that Karen Garner doesn't mention that WIDF proposed International Women's Year; see her Shaping a Global Women's Agenda: Women's NGOs and Global Governance, 1925-85 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010), 215.

[8] It does so while generally accepting the Western women's organizations' self-professed "political neutrality." Influential examples are Leila J. Rupp, Worlds of Women: The Making of an International Women's Movement (Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997) and Offen, European Feminisms. For "Third World" women's movements/activism with a broader agenda than gender equality alone, see Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo and Lourdes Torres, eds., Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991). Other factors that have contributed to the lack of knowledge about WIDF include the dominance of national and androcentric perspectives in the historiography of women's movements, peace movements and the UN, see De Haan, "Continuing Cold War Paradigms."

[9] I won't discuss WIDF's relation with state-supported women's organizations in Central and Eastern Europe, nor how WIDF was or is viewed there. Scholars such as Raluca Maria Popa and Kristen Ghodsee are currently exploring European state socialist women's organizations' role in and connections with WIDF.

[10] Opinions on when the Cold War started differ strikingly, see, e.g.: Georges-Henri Soutou, La Guerre froide, 1943-1990 (Paris: Pluriel, 2010, orig. 2001) and André Fontaine, La Guerre froide 1917-1991 (Paris: Éditions de la Martinière, 2004). Soutou also points at the Eurocentrism of the term, La Guerre froide, 7. Robert J. McMahon, The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), uses the more common timeframe of 1945-'47 as the period when U.S.-Soviet Union relations went "From cooperation to conflict," 21 and further.

[11] Congrès International des Femmes; Compte Rendu des Travaux du Congrès Qui S'est Tenu À Paris du 26 Novembre au 1er Décembre 1945 [hereafter Congrès International des FemmesDécembre 1945] (Paris: Fédération démocratique internationale des femmes, 1946), 216; Gerda Lerner, Fireweed: A Political Autobiography (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002), 256.

[12] Amy Swerdlow, "The CAW: Left-Feminist Peace Politics in the Cold War," in Linda Kerber, Alice Kessler-Harris and Kathryn Kish Sklar, eds., U.S. History as Women's History: New Feminist Essays (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 296-312. Personal communication, Katrine Madsbjerg, Copenhagen ABA archivist, December 2011.

[13] Lerner, Fireweed, 257; Swerdlow, "The CAW." Kate Weigand, Red Feminism. American Communism and the Making of Women's Liberation (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).

[14] See the striking picture on the cover of Congress of American Women Bulletin 1 no. 6 (June 1947) of CAW women with the first UN Secretary General, Trygve Lie, after having submitted a petition to him. Sophia Smith Collection, Women's International Democratic Federation collection, Box 1 (Affiliates).

[15] David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare. The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2004).

[16] Lerner, Fireweed, 289. University of Michigan Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, Civil Liberties Committee of the University of Michigan [Natalie Zemon Davis], Operation Mind: A Brief Documentary Account of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (Ann Arbor, 1952).

[17] According to the historian Susan L. Brinson, "Many, though not all, [U.S.] historians agree that the anti-Communist attacks of the 1940s and 1950s were politically motivated assaults on the New Deal," which was seen as "antibusiness." "Thus, the reality of anti-Communism was that it was a public mask for a political backlash [against progressive New Deal policies]." See her book The Red Scare, Politics, and the Federal Communications Commission, 1941-1960 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004), 2-3; for the political use in the U.S. of the "wholesale denunciation of the enemy within," see also Eric Hobsbawn, The Age of Extremes. A History of the World, 1914-1991 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994), 235.

[18] HUAC, Report on the Congress of American Women, 1. For a description of the measures against and attacks on the CAW, and the resulting pressure on them, see Lerner, Fireweed, 272-73.

[19] Lerner, Fireweed, 273-74. On the depth of American anti-communism, its consequences, and the traumas it generated, see Ellen Schrecker, Many are the Crimes. McCarthyism in America (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), esp. Ch. 10, "‘A Good Deal of Trauma': The Impact of McCarthyism."

[20] Interview of the author with former WIDF president Sylvie Jan, Paris, January 17, 2012. Email, Florence Hervé to the author, June 8, 2012. More precise information is not yet available.

[21] This is Chiara Bonfiglioli's apt formulation in her Revolutionary Networks: Women's Political and Social Activism in Cold War Italy and Yugoslavia (1945-1957), Ph.D. thesis, Utrecht University, 2012, 11.

[22] Schrecker, Many are the Crimes, 5.

[23] Schrecker, Many are the Crimes, 5, makes a similar distinction. A recent important book is Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (London: Vintage Books, 2011; first published in 2010). Important as well is the current rethinking of "the idea of communism," see Costas Douzinas and Slavoj Žižek, eds., The Idea of Communism (London and New York: Verso, 2010).

[24] Vittorio Foa, Miriam Mafai and Alfredo Reichlin, Le Silence des communistes (Paris: L'Arche, 2007). Influential American examples include feminist leader Betty Friedan, who never acknowledged her left past, and Gerda Lerner, who only published about this part of her history in 2002.

[25] Hommage à Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier (Paris: Fédération Nationale des Déportés et Internés Résistants et Patriotes, 1997).

[26] Carle, Gabrielle Duchêne; Bolt, Sisterhood Questioned?, 140. On Duchêne's WIDF activities, see for example, Second Women's International Congress: Account of the Work of the Congress which Took Place in Budapest (Hungary) from the 1st to the 6th of December, 1948 [hereafter: Second Women's International Congress1948] (Paris: Women's International Democratic Federation, 1949), 552.

[27] See Congrès International des Femmes ...Décembre 1945.

[28] For the RUP/IPC archive, see; for Manus, see; for Ravensbrück, see

[29] The National Council for Civil Liberties was established in 1934. Among many other things Allen published an impressive brochure about the nature of fascism: It shall not happen here. Anti-Semitism, fascists and civil liberty ([London] 1943). From 1945 she was a member of the British National Committee for International Women's Day (IWD). See further (last accessed May 21, 2012). On her WIDF involvement, see Contre le Fascisme, Pour la Paix et le Bonheur, Réalisons l'Union des Femmes de tous les Pays! Interventions des Déléguées Étrangères au 1er Congrès National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises. Paris, 17-20 Juin 1945. Edité par le Comité d'Initiative International Pour la préparation et l'organisation d'un Congrès International des Femmes; and Congrès International des Femmes ...Décembre 1945.

[30] Schrecker uses the term "Popular Front feminism"--see her Many are the Crimes, 387-88. I see the feminist anti-fascist network of the 1930s as an important part of the history of international feminism, which has been unknown to us due to both the WWII losses and the subsequent Cold War; however, I doubt that leading IAW women such as Rosa Manus and Margery Corbett-Ashby would have identified with Popular Front policies, hence I suggest to speak of anti-fascist and Popular Front feminism rather than subsuming it all under the latter term.

[31] See Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, "From West to East: International Women's Day: The First Decade," in Aspasia vol. 6 (2012): 1-24. The theme of this volume of Aspasia is: “A Hundred Years of International Women’s Day in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe.”

[32] In particular, Duchêne referred to the fact that a League of Nations (LON) Committee of Experts to study the Legal Status of Women had recently been established, a decision in part justified and supported by the need to react to the attacks on women's rights by fascist regimes as well as the overall broader conservative climate in the 1930s. Duchêne used this recent achievement of international women's organizations to argue for International Women's Day celebrated on a wide scale.

The LoN Committee of Experts to investigate the Legal Status of Women also provides another link between pre-1940 and WIDF feminists via the Chair of that LoN's Committee: Kerstin Hesselgren. Dr. Andrea Andreen, involved with WIDF from 1945, in 1946 succeeded Hesselgren as president of the Left Federation of Swedish Women (Svenska Kvinnors Vänsterförbund, SKV), the Swedish WIDF affiliate.

The Women's Library (London), "Rough Notes Taken at Informal Conference with Mme Duchene, Caxton Hall, October 29th, 1937, A Simultaneous ‘Women's Day' in All Countries." [2 pages, typed], The Women’s Library (London), Papers of Teresa Billington-Greig, 7TBG/2/C/05, International Alliance of Women, 1937-1961, Box FL401.

[33] Social democratic women celebrated IWD in London in 1941, see Irene Bandauer-Schöffmann, "Absenz, Resistenz und Erinnerung. Frauentage zwischen 1933 und 1945 und die Thematisierung von Faschismus und Krieg," in Heidi Niederkofler, Maria Mesner, Johanna Zechner, eds., Frauentag! Erfindung und Karriere einer Tradition. Kataloge des Österreichischen Museums für Volkskunde, vol. 93 (Vienna: Löcker Verlag, 2011), 120-21. On the 1941 meeting, see also At least two of the women who attended the 1941 celebration, Blume-Grégoire and Jurneckova, were actively involved in the 1943 London celebration mentioned below.

[34] For Ravensbrück 1945, see Bandauer-Schöffmann, "Absenz, Resistenz und Erinnerung," 119-20.

[35] See about her: Linda Walker, "Whately, (Mary) Monica (1889–1960)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004), [, accessed 21 May 2012]. Whately attended the 1934 Paris World Congress of Women against War and Fascism (mistakenly dated here as having taken place in 1933), and was a member of the Six Point Group (which also included Jessie Street).

[36] (last accessed 21 May 2012). Robert Levy, Ana Pauker: The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Communist (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2001), 49 incorrectly refers to Blume-Grégoire as the daughter of the French politician Leon Blum.

[37] Various pamphlets regarding "International Women’s Day, March 7th, 1943," issued by the National Committee for the Celebration of International Women’s Day, The Women’s Library (London), Papers of Teresa Billington-Greig, 7TBG/2/C/05, International Alliance of Women, 1937-1961, Box FL401.

[38] Jan Smuts was highly regarded by many for his role in establishing the League of Nations. See Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace. The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009), Ch. 1: "Jan Smuts and Imperial Internationalism." Women on the March. International Women's Day 1943 (London: Published by the National Committee for the Celebration of International Women’s Day, 1943) (pamphlet, The Women’s Library, London).

[39] See Eugénie Cotton: Founding Member and President of the Women's International Democratic Federation, December 1945 - June 1967, Founding and Presidium Member of the World Peace Council, Honorary Headmistress of the Sèvres Normal College for Girls (Berlin: Women's International Democratic Federation, 1970).

[40] The meeting in Clichy was the first meeting of what would become the UFF, of which Eugénie Cotton became a member together with Sorbonne professors Irène Joliot-Curie and Pauline Ramart. "Eugénie Cotton entre à I'UFF," Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand (Paris), Fonds Eugénie Cotton, 1 AP 27.

[41] HUAC, Report on the Congress of American Women, 1.

[42] See Francisca de Haan, "Hoffnungen auf eine bessere Welt: Die frühen Jahre der Internationalen Demokratischen Frauenföderation (IDFF/WIDF) (1945-1950)," in Gabriele Kämper, Regine Othmer and Carola Sachse. eds., Gebrochene Utopien. Feministische Studien 27:2 (November 2009), 241-57.

[43] Congrès International des Femmes ...Décembre 1945, 381-89.

[44] Congrès International des Femmes ...Décembre 1945, 399. In 1958, WIDF changed its statutes; among other things, the words fascism and anti-fascism disappeared. These two concepts were connected to a particular time and struggle and had contested meanings in the Cold War. I will discuss this further in my book. The 1958 constitution is included in the Documents of the WIDF IVth Congress.

[45] Cynthia Cockburn, From Where We Stand: War, Women's Activism and Feminist Analysis (London and New York: Zed Books, 2007), 132.

[46] See further De Haan, "Hoffnungen auf eine bessere Welt," 243; for Pejnovic, see Maja Brkljačić, "Pejnović, Kata (1899-1966)," in Francisca de Haan, Krassimira Daskalova and Anna Loutfi, eds., A Biographical Dictionary of Women's Movements and Feminisms. Central, Eastern, and South Eastern Europe, 19th and 20th Centuries (Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2006), 420-23.

[47] Mark Mazower, Dark Continent. Europe's Twentieth Century (London: Penguin Books, 1999), 192.

[48] "Sisters in Resistance," directed by Maia Wechsler (2000). They were: Geneviève de Gaulle Anthonioz, Jacqueline Pery d'Alincourt, Anise Postel-Vinay and Germaine Tillion. See about the film (last accessed August 5, 2009).

[49] Charlotte Delbo, Convoy to Auschwitz. Women of the French Resistance (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997; originally published in France in 1965). For more details, see De Haan, "Continuing Cold War Paradigms," 563. Vaillant-Couturier also testified against Klaus Barbie, head of the Gestapo of Lyon from 1942 to 1944, at his trial in 1987. Extracts of her testimony at the Nuremberg trial can be found at or in French at (last accessed August 5, 2009).

[50] Cotton herself in 1916 lost a new-born baby due to war circumstances; see Eugénie Cotton: Founding Member and President, 24.

[51] HUAC, Report on the Congress of American Women, 1.

[52] Congrès International des Femmes ...Décembre 1945, xvii (my translation, FdH).

[53] For their gendered view of fascism, war and democracy, see, e.g., Françoise Leclerq, "La participation des femmes à la lutte pour la paix et la démocratie," in Congrès International des Femmes ...Décembre 1945.

[54] As One! For Equality, for Happiness, for Peace: World Congress of Women, Copenhagen, June 5 - 10, 1953, Reports, Speeches (extracts) Documents (Berlin: Women's International Democratic Federation, 1953). For the impact of this congress on women in Indonesia, see Kate McGregor, "Indonesian Women, the Women's International Democratic Federation and the Struggle for ‘Women's Rights', 1946-1965," Indonesia and the Malay World 40, issue 117 (2012) 193-208; International Women's Year: Equality, Development, Peace; Congress (Berlin: Women's International Democratic Federation, 1975).

[55] Second Women's International Congress ...1948, 22.

[56] See about her, Cheryl Johnson-Odim, "‘For Their Freedoms': The Anti-imperialist and International Feminist Activity of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria," Women's Studies International Forum 32 (2009): 51–59.

[57] As One! For Equality, for Happiness, for Peace: World Congress of Women, Copenhagen, June 5 - 10, 1953, 257-259

[58] See, for example, Second Women's International Congress ...1948, 36: "In the same way the solidarity between all women and their need for justice led W.I.D.F. to take up a position against all racial discrimination."

[59] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983); for an analysis of the ACWF journal, see Wang Zheng, "Creating a Socialist Feminist Cultural Front: Women of China (1949-1966)," The China Quarterly no. 204 (December 2010): 827-49; otherwise, a comparative analysis of a number of WIDF-related journals, as they appeared in different national contexts, would be a wonderful research project.

[60] Francisca de Haan, "A Concise History of Women's Rights," UN Chronicle XLVII no. 1 (2010); Toril 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 no. 1 (2008): 37-60; Glenda Sluga, "‘Spectacular Feminism': The International History of Women, World Citizenship and Human Rights," in De Haan et al., eds., Women's Activism: Global Perspectives from the 1890s to the Present.

[61] Heather Radi, ed., Jessie Street: Documents and Essays (Broadway, N.S.W.: Women's Redress Press, 1990). More details will be provided in my book.

[62] Jessie Street, A Revised Autobiography, ed. Leonore Coltheart (Annandale, N.S.W.: Federation Press, 2004), Ch. 9. Street was a member of the UN-CSW until 1948, when the Australian government replaced her because she was considered too "red." Leonore Coltheart, "Citizens of the World: Jessie Street and International Feminism," Hecate 31 (2005): 182-94.

[63] This may be less self-evident than it now appears; the IAW, for example, was initially against a separate CSW. Congrès International des Femmes ...Décembre 1945, 218-19.

[64] Helen Laville, Cold War Women: The International Activities of American Women's Organizations (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press; distributed in the USA by Palgrave, 2002), 113.

[65] Gertrude Bussey and Margaret Tims, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. 1915-1965. A Record of Fifty Years of Work (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1965) 198; Dora Russell, The Tamarisk Tree. Vol. 3. Challenge to the Cold War (London: Virago Press, 1985), 151-69.

[66] We Accuse! Report of the Commission of the Women's International Democratic Federation in Korea, May 16 to 27, 1951 (Berlin: WIDF, 1951). For a striking description of the committee's work, see Russell, The Tamarisk Tree, 144-46.

[67] As mentioned by Helvi Sipilä, UN Secretary-General of International Women's Year in her speech at the WIDF 1975 World Congress: "The idea of International Women's Year was initiated by the Women's International Democratic Federation, and particularly active was its late president [Sipilä's fellow countrywoman Hertta Kuusinen] whom we should remember on this occasion." National Organizing Committee of the GDR for the World Congress for International Women's Year, Documents of the World Congress for International Women's Year held in Berlin 20-24 October 1975 (Berlin [1975]), 25. See further Raluca Maria Popa, "Translating Equality between Women and Men across Cold War Divides: Women Activists from Hungary and Romania and the Creation of International Women's Year," in Jill Massino and Shana Penn, eds. Gender Politics and Everyday Life in State Socialist East and Central Europe (New York and London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009), 63. See also Women of the Whole World, 1973, no. 2, p. 5; and Women's International Democratic Federation: Published for the 40th Anniversary of the Founding of the WIDF (Berlin: WIDF, 1985) 20.

[68] For WIDF and CEDAW, see Women of the Whole World, 1972, no. 2, p. 3 (as mentioned in Popa, "Translating Equality," note 26), and Women's International Democratic Federation: Published for the 40th Anniversary of the Founding of the WIDF, 20.

[69] Garner indicates some of the maneuvering around this in her Shaping a Global Women's Agenda, 217-18.

[70] Women of the Whole World, 1973, no. 2, p. 5; International Women's Year: Equality, Development, Peace; Congress.

[71] Women's International Democratic Federation: Published for the 40th Anniversary of the Founding of the WIDF, 18-19.

[72] Eugénie Cotton: Founding Member and President.

[73] This is also one of the main questions in Bonfiglioli, Revolutionary Networks.

[74] Clare Hemmings, "A Genealogy of Ambivalence: Emma Goldman, Post Feminists and Feminist Politics for our Times, " Keynote presented at the 8th European Feminist Research Conference, Central European University, Budapest, May 20, 2012; Francisca de Haan, "Politics and Friendship in the Early Decades of the WIDF – an Exploration Based on Letters and other Personal Documents," Paper presented at the workshop "Intimate Internationalism: Women Transforming the Political in Postwar Europe," Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam, October 1-2, 2010.

[75] Email, Florence Hervé to the author, June 8, 2012; De Haan, "Continuing Cold War Paradigms," note 27; (last accessed Feb. 20, 2012).