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UN Decade for Women: The Power of Words and Organizations

By Arvonne Fraser

Independent Scholar


    " our times, women's role will increasingly emerge as a powerful revolutionary social force...

   There are significant differences in the status of women in different countries and regions of the world which are rooted in the political, economic and social structure, the cultural framework and the level of development in each country, and in the social category of women within a given country. However, basic similarities unite women to fight differences wherever they exist in the legal, economic, social, political and cultural status of women and men."[1]

   Optimism, grounded in reality, with a determination to battle on all fronts to improve women's situation globally, was the essence of the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-85). These statements in the introduction to the World Plan of Action, adopted at the first UN world women's conference, reflect the skillful, if not exactly elegant,[2] wordsmithing of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the body responsible for drafting the World Plan. This drafting, combined with the political acumen of women delegates to the three UN women's conferences held during the Decade, plus the organizing skills and determination of the thousands of women attending the parallel non-governmental forums, helped create the revolutionary social force predicted in 1975.

   Delegates attending the 1975 conferences held in Mexico City knew they were participating in an historic event, but few understood the event was the result of centuries of feminist writing and organization.[3] The media scoffed—a world conference on women?!—as did many of the male delegates, albeit quietly. Although women delegates to the 1946 UN General Assembly and subsequent meetings that year, supported by non-governmental (NGO) leaders, proposed a women's conference in discussions that ultimately resulted in the establishment of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), it took almost 30 years for the idea of a women's conference to come to fruition.[4]

   The UN Commission on the Status of Women, an organization too little studied by historians, was more cognizant of women's history. For centuries, female writers and later women's organizations had focused on women's right and access to education; their employment outside the home; and women's legal status, including the right to participate in public life, symbolized by the right to vote in democratic societies.[5] From its inception, CSW built on this agenda and the earlier efforts of international women's organizations such as the International Alliance of Women (IAW), and others that had lobbied the League of Nations after World War I.[6] As government-appointed representatives, CSW members tended to be women interested in these issues who had been active in their own countries with women's organizations and in politics, government and law.

   In 1972, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 1975 as International Women's Year (IWY) as part of the Second United Nations Development Decade. Included among IWY's goals and objectives was "the encouragement of the full integration of women in the total development effort" with CSW called on to develop a program for the year.[7] The result was not only the 1975 world women's conference but, following it, the declaration of a UN Decade for Women (1976-85).[8] Two more world women's conferences were held in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1980 and Nairobi, Kenya in 1985. By 1972, the CSW was also drafting the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that was approved by the UN General Assembly[9] in time for signing by 64 nations at the 1980 conference. By the end of 1980, this convention had been ratified by the requisite number of UN member countries to become what is now recognized as the women's human rights treaty.

   A long-time CSW member, Helvi Sipila of Finland, was chosen as Secretary-General of the 1975 International Women's Year conference. A lawyer specializing in family law, she was the mother of two children, had served as president of the International Federation of Women Lawyers and been active with the Girl Guides before being appointed a UN Special Rapporteur, and producing a landmark Study on the Interrelationship of the Status of Women and Family Planning.[10] An astute politician, Sipila understood that in 1975 a majority of the world's women lived in rural areas and a high percentage were illiterate. They would be unable to either attend the conference or read any document produced by it. Thus, she had an IWY logo designed consisting of a dove symbolizing peace with the women's sign and an equal sign in its body. This logo was used extensively during IWY, the Decade, and beyond.[11]

   The themes set for IWY and later the Decade were equality, development and peace. Although it is often argued that these were the result of a political compromise with Western non-communist nations arguing for equality; non-industrialized countries favoring development; and the Soviet bloc settling for peace; historians will find that the IAW at its 1926 conference stated that the goals of the international women's movement were equality, international understanding and peace.[12] The Decade's sub-themes—education, employment and health—also were also an unacknowledged tribute to the earlier work of international women's organizations, including the birth control movement that linked lack of birth control knowledge and technology resulting in excessive child bearing to women's health.

   In drafting the 1975 World Plan of Action, the CSW established the framework for the documents adopted at the succeeding conferences: the 1980 Programme of Action at the Copenhagen conference; the 1985 Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women to the Year 2000 at the Nairobi, Kenya conference; and also for the 1995 post-Decade conference held in Beijing, China. Each document contained an introduction; a section on national actions, strategies and goals; an international section aimed at the UN and other international agencies; and called for more research and data on women. In addition to discussing the themes and sub-themes, each document introduced specific areas of concern that reflected both the influence of NGOs and women's interests in other global issues, most specifically other world conferences on women held during the Decade.

    The 1975 Plan included sections on political participation, the family in modern society—issues the CSW was particularly concerned about—and sections on population and housing that related women's interests in those two world conferences.[13] The 1980 Programme of Action included sections on "national machineries," (women's bureaus or agencies); the role of non-governmental and grass roots organizations; and listed under priority areas requiring special attention: rural, migrant, young, and unemployed women, child care, and "women who alone are responsible for families."[14] This last issue created the most controversy at the UN conference. By 1980, research studies had documented the increasing number of female-headed households worldwide, including in developing countries, but a number of governments argued that female-headed households did not exist because legally they could not. Only males could head households, but women could be left responsible for families.

   The Forward Looking Strategies[15] document adopted at Nairobi in 1985 had the most extensive list of new topics not only because of increasing NGO activism, but also because by the end of the Decade governments were beginning to understand that their female constituents were demanding attention and that foreign aid donors had become more serious about integrating women in the development process. Grouped under the major themes of equality, development and peace—and in that order—the emphasis was on strategies for implementation or gaining attention to new issues. Under equality the emphasis was on constitutional and legal issues and equality in social and political participation. The section on development ranged from the sub-themes of education, employment, and health to food, water and agriculture, science and technology, communications, housing, energy, the environment and social services. The peace section contained the most contentious paragraphs, namely, women and children under apartheid, and Palestinian women and children.

   Two interesting topics for historians are whether the gradual increase in the number of women on and heading government delegations influenced the Decade documents and, secondly, whether the conferences were more political than the other world conferences held during the Decade. Cynics argued that leaders of government delegations, primarily male, had little interest in women's issues, and thus used the women's conferences to test out or make points about contentious international issues such as the Israel/Palestinian problem. The media, also dominated by male reporters and publishers, especially during the first two conferences, paid most attention to the international political issues as well. Some NGOs complained about these issues being inserted in Decade conferences while others argued that women should be involved with these issues. On the other hand, a good question is whether the Decade served to increase the number of women holding significant positions in politics, within foreign ministries, and within the UN itself.

   It is important to emphasize here that UN world conferences have two parts: the official United Nations conference, composed of delegates appointed by, and representing the interests of, countries that are UN members, and the parallel gathering of non-governmental leaders and organizations (NGOs) interested in the issue the UN conference is discussing. Governmental delegates speak for their governments, not as individuals. Delegations are headed by government ministers, who traditionally are not female. The parallel NGO conferences are sanctioned by the UN and organized by NGOs having UN consultative status. They are financed by contributions, raised by NGOs, and attendance is open to anyone interested in the subject matter of the conference who has the means or can obtain the financing necessary to attend the conference. Thus, in 1975 of the 6,000 NGO forum attendees in Mexico City, the majority were from North and South America, and, of course, were primarily women. With a Women in Development (WID) movement underway by the 1980 conference, the participation of developing country women vastly increased. By the time of the 1985 conference, some 15,000 attended the NGO forum, many from developing countries, and there were more women heading and serving as members of government delegations.

   The 1975 NGO conference, called "the Tribune," was organized by Mildred Persinger, International YWCA representative at the UN,[16] who later organized the International Women's Tribune Centre that reported worldwide on women's issues at the UN and on women's NGO activities during and after the Decade. Rosalind Harris, president of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO) affiliated with the UN, recruited Persinger as organizer of the non-governmental forum while Harris took responsibility for publishing the daily NGO newspaper that reported on both the UN and NGO meetings. This publication, however, could not cover all the seminars and workshops and more informal activities that took place during the NGO forum. This NGO forum, called the Tribune in 1975, established the pattern for the subsequent NGO forums and was the birthplace or impetus for hundreds of new international women's organizations and projects.[17]

   In 1975 delegates and some NGOs from developing countries argued that equality would follow economic development; Westerners were equally vehement in stressing that women's rights in industrialized countries were still a crucial issue. CSW members and other influential women within the UN, were bent on defining development not simply as the economic development of nations, but to include "sustained improvement in the well-being of the individual and society"[18] and women's "participation in the development process as mother, worker and citizen."[19]

   Omission of the word "wife" is significant and was deliberate. Worldwide and throughout history, female children were reared for marriage, confined by custom and law to the home with a male—husband, father or uncle—their public representative. Home and family were the private sphere within which the public was not to intrude. Men, by extension, dominated and ruled the public sphere. Thus, this new definition of woman as "mother, worker and citizen" was revolutionary. It defined women as individuals with three important roles in society, wife not being one of them. The significance of this new definition deserves far more study and analysis than it has had to date for it goes to the heart of the question of equality between men and women.

   As its name and history implies, CSW, the Commission on the Status of Women, saw as its mandate carrying out the UN Charter language calling for "equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small." What Helvi Sipila, Secretary-General of IWY, and the CSW members in 1975 understood was that words are important. They define life and are the essence of communication. They also understood, as had their predecessors in the international women's movement, that organizations, governmental and non-governmental, were more than a collection of individuals and that their power was greater, as the saying goes "than the sum of its parts." Words and organizations could foment a revolution. They always had. Hence, the CSW drafters of this 1975 World Plan of Action paid scrupulous attention to drafting the document that would come out of this first world conference. Words have consequences. They are the essence of laws and policies. Defining ideas in simple terms and then expanding on them is how cultures change. Just as the idea of a world conference on women put into the 1946 resolution lived on, the more experienced CSW members believed that the words put into the document emanating from this first world conference would be consequential and live on.

    The CSW women and their experienced NGO supporters, as had their predecessors in the international women's movement, were bent on using the power of international institutions and governments as a vehicle for the transformation they desired. These women understood that only the power of the NGO community, as citizen lobbyists, and a growing share of women as government and UN officials could assure that the words in resolutions, documents, and international treaties would have force and precipitate national government actions. They were determined to make women equal citizens with the power to participate equally in public and private decision-making. Only organizations dedicated to putting power behind words could accomplish change.

   What the UN Decade for Women produced was a "free space" for interested women in both government and NGOs to debate, dialogue, strategize and organize around issues that concerned them.[20] By the 1980 conference development had become the over-riding issue at the United Nations. Lucille Mair of Jamaica was selected as Secretary-General for the conference. A single parent, an academician and international diplomat, her Ph.D. thesis was on women. She also had published a book on a slave woman who led a slave uprising. Criticized by many industrialized country feminists for having been active with the Group of 77, a developing country caucus at the UN, she was not alone in the emphasis on development.

By1980 almost every foreign aid donor country had established a Women in Development (WID) office within their foreign aid program and an international consortium of WID officers from donor nations had been established under the auspices of OECD/DAC, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development/ Development Assistance Committee, based in Paris. [21] This WID consortium raised much of the funds to support the 1980 NGO forum plus many of its workshops and seminars and a majority of the developing country participants. The WID movement and the Decade also stimulated foundations with international interests such as the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the British Commonwealth Fund to support projects researching and aiding women in developing countries.[22]

   This level of financing and the increased attendance of developing country women at both the 1980 UN women's conference and the NGO Forum gave meaning and impetus to the UN resolutions proclaiming IWY and the Decade that had concentrated on development. [23] Development, to many, meant primarily economic development, although women within the UN system had worked to include what was termed social development. The exact meaning of "integrating women in the development process," a term used in both UN and national government documents, especially by those governments providing or receiving financial assistance to developing countries, was never adequately defined. Rather, it became a work in process, with the Decade conferences playing a significant role in its elaboration. To those who concentrated almost solely on infrastructure projects, such as building roads, it could mean that, since women walked on roads, a road project could be termed a Women in Development project, although WID officers and activists rejected this theory with great contempt. At the other extreme were those who noted that the UN documents linked equality and development, and argued that improving the condition and status of women in developing countries was a prime goal for WID. Between these two poles were those who focused on women as mothers—the reproductive role—and those who researched and brought to world attention women's productive or economic role, especially as unpaid workers and as farmers in their own right.

   The result was that information about and research on women worldwide proliferated. Each Decade conference—and especially at the NGO forums—saw an exponential increase in publications about women, in the number and variety of seminars and workshops at the forums, and an increase in the number and kind of issues that needed attention. For historians, this poses a huge problem for only the UN conference produced a printed record. This makes imperative the collecting, categorizing and analyzing the rich mine of materials and information produced during the Decade, especially that from the NGO forums, the new international groups, and the WID movement. This will not be an easy task for, until very recently, repositories of historical material have shown little interest in women's or international collections.

   The Decade also gave impetus to the new style of international women's organizations that began after the 1975 conference and were dealing with this broader range of issues. No longer was the NGO community a collection of formal organizations with NGO status at the UN such as the YWCA, the Associated Country Women of the World, the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, the International Federation of University Women and many others. The new groups were informal, almost structureless. They were coalitions of individuals and groups with common interests working on, researching, and publicizing specific issues rather than a broad range of women's issues. Primarily funded by outside sources rather than by their members, they communicate using modern technology and occasional meetings. Together with the older organizations, a new international women's movement was created concerned with the problems, circumstances, and conditions of women and their contributions to, or lack of participation in, the development of nations.[24]

   In 1985, the third Decade conference, held in Nairobi, Kenya, demonstrated the power and breadth of this new international women's movement. One hundred fifty countries participated in the UN meeting and 15,000 NGO participants were estimated as attendees at Forum '85. Sixty percent of those attending Forum ’85 were from developing countries or the Third World, as the non-industrialized countries were often called. Since Nairobi could not accommodate such an inundation of participants at both the UN and NGO conferences, the NGO forum was held immediately preceding the official conference.

   For the UN conference, Leticia Shahani of the Philippines was selected as Secretary-General. Dame Nita Barrow of Barbados was selected as organizer and director of the NGO Forum with Eddah Gachukia of Kenya as leader of the Kenya organizing committee. Shahani, widowed mother of three, had worked her way up through the UN system, becoming an international diplomat by alternately representing her own country and serving within the UN organization. As a representative of the Philippines at CSW, Shahani's actions also illustrated the "free spaces" idea. Another astute international politician, while at CSW as it drafted CEDAW, she had successfully proposed that free discussion—essentially off the record—be allowed. This meant that delegates, as representatives of their countries, could freely contribute ideas and suggest wording of the convention even if they were required by their governments to vote against the provision in a final, recorded vote.[25] This was a crucial, strategic move that might well be criticized today when transparency in public meetings has become the new mantra. Shahani's suggestion allowed for the free flow of ideas, open discussion and compromise, and decreased partisanship.

By 1985, worldwide media had increased coverage of the conferences and of women's issues at home and abroad and, not incidentally, its employment of female reporters. The new women's organizations—local, national and international—created during the Decade made news. Their activities and publications got increasing media attention.[26] These developments illustrated not only the diversity among women but of the arenas in which they promoted "the revolution." Unfortunately for historians, the leaders of these groups were too intent on creating change to take time to systematically document what they were doing and how they did it.

   An additional problem is that during the Decade, the words "leader" and "leadership" were problematic, connoting elitism, autocracy, hierarchies and paternalism. In the Western world the focus was on participation, reaching the "grass roots," and developing consensus. Elites were suspect. Leadership existed and was exercised but was often identified by outsiders, usually the media, as individuals and groups feared any attempt at establishing a hierarchy implied patriarchy. No self-respecting leader dared call herself a leader.[27] And to many in the developing world, including those who were anti-feminist, Westerners were the elites, therefore suspect. These states of minds were exemplified in the NGO forums as was the danger in the minds of Third World women who dared neither to be seen as leaders of organizations unsanctioned by their governments nor publicly express views that might be construed as criticizing their governments.[28] Collecting documents, interviewing leaders of organizations, and tracing the evolution of thought and responses to that evolution will keep historians of women busy for decades, because the Decade produced was a revolution, albeit a fairly peaceful one.

   Governments of all kinds were forced to respond. Kenya, at first eager to have the 1985 conference, tried to slow down and hinder preparations as it saw the enthusiasm among women about such a conference. Right wing groups in the U.S., such as the Heritage Foundation, opposed the conference, to no avail.

   Preparations began in 1983 with a CSW special session. By that date Leticia Shahani was serving as UN Assistant Secretary General for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs. In her speech at the opening of CSW's special session, she made an oblique reference to the growing threat of religious fundamentalism in world affairs by noting "a resurgence of deep seated prejudices and discriminatory practices against women" and urged participants to review the progress that had been made during the Decade as they developed the forward-looking strategies for the document they were drafting.[29]

   The women's NGO community was equally active. During 1984 Nita Barrow held an international NGO preparatory conference in Vienna, Austria; Eddah Gachukia convened another at a college near Njoro, Kenya and numerous foundations sponsored others.[30] The momentum built. Governments understood they had a new political constituency that demanded attention. This was most dramatically illustrated after the Decade at the 1993 world conference on human rights in Vienna, where almost every government attending felt obligated to include a section on women, including the problem of violence against women, in their presentation to this human rights conference.

    As no other, the issue of violence against women transcended "the significant differences among women" that the 1975 UN document had noted.[31] It was also the most dramatic issue, rounding out the circle of the three themes of the Decade: equality, development, and peace.

   While peace, at the beginning of the Decade was considered to be an issue between nations symbolized by lack of war, by the end it also meant lack of violence within the domestic sphere and between men and women. An issue for historians is why this issue—violence against women—exploded as the Decade ended. One theory is that the Decade, with its emphasis on women, filtered down to the local level and dramatized the most horrific example of the subordination of women, rule by violence.[32] Another is that gradually, attention to the issue by the media and women's groups allowed victims of such violence at the local level to speak out, go public with an issue that had troubled women but about which they had remained silent since time immemorial.

   Another possible inquiry worth pursuing is the different responses to the problem wherein some groups aiding victims of the violence concentrated on consoling and providing escape and protection to the victims in battered women shelters while others demanded new laws and enforcement of existing laws concerning rape and domestic violence. Both are important, but the first without the second will accomplish little.

By 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China, women's human rights and ending violence against women became major themes. This development rounded out twenty years of emphasis on women and brought full circle the three themes of the Decade—equality, development, and peace. While the first conference emphasized equality, the second development, the third was on developing forward-looking strategies, to the year 2000. The Beijing conference harked back to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women signed and ratified in 1980 but receiving little attention at that time. In its preamble that treaty states that "the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields" and "that a change in the traditional role of men as well as the role of women in society and the family is needed." It then goes on, in 16 substantive articles to spell out what the requirements are to make women full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in all arenas and full participants in the economic, social, and political life of countries and communities.[33]

   As Peggy Antrobus, a leader in DAWN, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, organized primarily by Southern hemisphere women, says, the Decade transformed the international women's movement into a global movement that recognizes both the differences between women and the similarities that unite them. Her book, The Global Women’s Movement: Origins, Issues and Strategies, offers a cogent analysis of the transformation of women's international activism in the past two decades.

   Historians have a challenge. Two transformative phenomena of the 20th century were the creation of the United Nations and the peaceful revolution that resulted in women's mass participation in public life. Not only did women obtain voting privileges in countries that elect their governments, the UN Decade for Women, in the last quarter of the century, gave impetus and force to a worldwide women's movement that affected all aspects of life. How and why did this happen and what was achieved? Answering this question demands significant, even pioneering work for women's part in history is only beginning to be documented, much less analyzed. This is especially true at the international level.

   Compounding the problem is the fact that women, because of their history of subordination, tend to be reticent about claiming their agency. Thus, women leaders, unlike their male counterparts, often do not write autobiographies, nor are they often the subject of biographies. When they do write, as historian Jill Ker Conway has pointed out, they conform to traditional societal norms, downplaying their accomplishments, partially in order to be published. [34] Likewise, with rare exceptions, traditional history centers have not sought materials from or about women and those, in the United States at least, that have become interested in women's history have not, until recently, dealt with U.S. women's participation internationally.

   To write the history of the UN Decade for Women adequately will require oral histories of both women leaders within the UN and NGO leaders at the Decade NGO forums. (See the seven interviews in this archive and database conducted at the 2011 Berkshire Conference on Women's History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.) Interviewers can help interviewees overcome their modesty and draw upon colleagues to identify interviewees from whom to get the full story. But time is running out, as these leaders are aging.

   An equally urgent need, as noted above, is the collection and storage of the variety of documents produced during and for the NGO forums before they are lost to recycling centers. Equally important will be combing newspaper files for stories about the Decade conferences with a special emphasis on the NGO forums. However, care should be taken with media reports for individuals perceived to be leaders may not have been those who were the intellectual leaders of any group.

   In addition, philanthropic organizations must be encouraged to support these efforts and to contribute copies of publications produced by and about recipients of their grants that pertain to the Decade, to Women in Development efforts, and to international women's organizations. Likewise, government archives will have to be searched for lists of delegates to the UN conferences and, even more important, for those who served on the conference preparatory committees. Writing the history of the women in development movement will require searching government archives as well as understanding that the new form of international organizations was characteristic of this movement. It was composed of networks of women inside and outside government, of researchers in academic institutions and of scholars and activists in areas—physical and intellectual—ignored by earlier international women's organizations.

   Finally, the explosion of technology during the 20th century, and into the 21st, has important consequences for the international women's movement and for the historians studying the UN Decade for Women. The collection of historical information and artifacts will be different. The Women and Social Movements, International project at SUNY Binghamton is a good beginning. It is using technology effectively for the good of historians. There is much more to be done if women are to claim their place in history.



[1] Irene Tinker and Michele Bo Bramsen, eds., Women and World Development: With an Annotated Bibliography (Washington, D.C.: Overseas Development Council, 1976), 192. Commonly referred to as the World Plan of Action, the full text, with numbered paragraphs, is also contained in Report of the World Conference of the International Women’s Year, Mexico City, 19 June -2 July 1975 (New York: United Nations, 1976), pp. 9-43. The paragraphs cited above are numbered 6 and 7.

[2] The somewhat cumbersome and inelegant language of UN documents is a result of writing by committee, in this case representatives of every UN member nation in attendance at a world conference, and the need for translation into all the official UN languages. Consensus is the UN's goal; votes are rare. Often there is debate about the meaning of words. (Sexism is only one example. How can it be translated?) Each document has to be politically acceptable to governments in attendance; every government delegation operates under the supervision of its ministry of foreign affairs; and each conference reflects the global political context of its time. Thus, almost every word is scrutinized.

[3] The terms feminist and feminism are used in this essay to mean the belief in and drive to achieve equality between men and women.

[4] Margaret E. Galey, "Women Find a Place," in Anne Winslow, ed., Women, Politics and the United Nations, (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995), 13.

[5] See Arvonne Fraser, "Becoming Human: The Origins and Development of Women's Human Rights," in Women's Rights: A Human Rights Quarterly Reader, Bert Lockwood, ed., (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). Also reprinted in Marjorie Agosin, ed., Women, Gender and Human Rights: A Global Perspective, (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2001), 15-64.

[6] For more information on CSW and early work of the IAW, see Galey chapters in Winslow, ed., Women, Politics and the United Nations, and Arnold Whittick, Woman into Citizen, with an introduction by Helvi Sipila (London: Athenaeum with Fredrick Muller, 1979).

[7] A/RES/27/3010, United Nations General Assembly, 18 December 1972.

[8] A/RES/30/3520, United Nations General Assembly, 15 December 1975 contains a report on the IWY conference, including in item 13, "Decides to include in the provisional agenda of its thirty-first session" an item entitled "United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace." A/RES/31/136, UNGA, 16 December 1976 set forth terms for a Decade program.

[9] A/RES/34/180 UNGA 18 December 1979. Historians will discover some confusion in the use of the acronym CEDAW. In UN parlance CEDAW refers to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women that receives and considers reports from countries that ratified the Convention; women's and other groups often use CEDAW to refer to the document. Also confusing, especially to Americans, is that the word convention implies a meeting; in UN terms it refers to an agreement contained in a document.

[10] See U.N. Doc. E/CN.6/575, at 5, Addendum. Interestingly, the term "birth control" is rarely, if ever, used in UN documents; family planning is the politically correct term. The International Planned Parenthood Federation, despite its origins, also took a more neutral name. The question of naming things, including the naming of organizations, so as not to offend sensibilities but still accomplish a goal is worthy of further study.

[11] A male colleague of mine reported seeing it on posters in remote areas of developing countries. I recall seeing it imprinted on fabric for women's costumes, especially in Africa. Once, at a conference, I pointed to the logo and smiled at the women wearing it. She smiled and nodded in return. We needed no common language to understand its significance.

[12] Whittick, Woman into Citizen, p. 92.

[13] The official version of the World Plan is contained in Report of the World Conference of the International Women’s Year. It is also found in Annex C in Tinker and Michele Bo Bramsen, eds., Women and World Development. For a condensed version and analysis of the Plan and the parallel non-governmental conference see Arvonne Fraser, The U.N. Decade for Women: Documents and Dialogue (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1987). In all versions the paragraph number for each provision is cited.

[14] United Nations, Report of the World Conference of the U.N. Decade for Women:Equality, Development and Peace, Copenhagen, 14-30 July, 1980, published as A/CONF.94/35. The Programme of Action is contained in pp. 2-59; the sub-section on women who alone are responsible for families is in paragraphs 208-09.

[15] United Nations, Report of the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace, published as A/CONG>116/28/Rev. 1.

[16] The archive includes more than 3,000 pages from Mildred Persinger's papers at Hollins College. A search under her name in Browse People will turn up much valuable material.

[17] In addition to the Tribune, two other on-going informative publications began during IWY. All dealt with the activities of women's groups worldwide. Fran Hosken of Lexington, Massachusetts edited the quarterly WIN NEWS. ISIS, a collective initially based in Geneva and Rome, and later in Santiago, Chile, and the Philippines, published ISIS's Women's International Bulletin, and organized international conferences. For a description of these publications and their origins see Fraser, UN Decade, p. 64-66. Further information on ISIS is in Ana Maria Portugal's chapter in Arvonne S. Fraser, Developing Power: How Women Transformed International Development (New York: Feminist Press, 2004), pp. 103-14. Women's World Banking, a group concerned with women's access to credit, had its impetus at Mexico City as Michaela Walsh, founding president, describes in her chapter in Developing Power, pp. 115-27.

[18] World Plan of Action, para. 21.

[19] World Plan of Action, para. 25.

[20] For more on the "free spaces" idea see Sara M. Evans & Harry C. Boyte, Free Spaces: The Sources of Democratic Change in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), especially pp. 17-25.

[21] Fraser, Developing Power, pp. 170-71

[22] Fraser, UN Decade for Women, pp. 141-58.

[23] A.RES/30/3520 United Nations General Assembly 15 December 1975.

[24] Typical of the new women's movement organizations of this kind is DAWN, Development Alteratives With Women for a New Era.

[25] See Shahani, "The UN, Women, and Development: The World Conferences on Women," in Fraser and Tinker, eds., Developing Power, especially pp. 31-32 for her description of drafting CEDAW.

[26] In developing countries where so many women were illiterate, street theatre and other means of oral communication were employed by indigenous women's groups to reach women who had no access to such publications. In effect, this was public consciousness-raising. Radio also was an important medium.

[27] An excellent description of this phenomenon and its results is Jo Freeman's article, "The Tyranny of Structurelessness." Freeman was criticized for writing the piece. As she says in her website: "The first official place of publication was in Vol. 2, No. 1 of The Second Wave (1972). Different versions were published in the Berkeley Journal of Sociology, Vol. 17, 1972-73, pp. 151-65, and Ms. magazine, July 1973, pp. 76-78, 86-89. This piece spread all over the world. Numerous people have edited, reprinted, cut, and translated the article for magazines, books and web sites, usually without the permission or knowledge of the author." A version of the article can be found at:

[28] Most Americans find it unbelievable that one cannot organize a group without government permission, including this author in the early days of the Decade. In many countries organizing without government approval is illegal.

[29] United Nations press release, "Special Session of Commission on Status of Women as Preparatory Body for 1985 Conference to Review U.N. Decade for Women," WOM/231, March 8, 1983. Also quoted in Fraser, UN Decade, p. 160.

[30] Fraser, UN Decade, pp. 201-03.

[31] World Plan of Action, para. 7

[32] The violence against women problem had been getting attention within women's organizations, directly and indirectly, since at least the aftermath of WWII. At the 1926 Congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (now the IAW) two of the 12 resolutions passed at that conference dealt with it, although obliquely. These were titled: Equal Moral Standard and against the Traffic in Women, and Women Police. The latter was a result of post-war conditions wherein prostitution and venereal disease flourished and the IAW promoted the expansion of women police to deal with the problem and its effects on women. (See Whittick, Woman into Citizen, pp. 73-74) Within the IAW at this time, a bitter argument was had over pacifism vs. feminism. (See Whittick, Woman into Citizen, pp. 94-100.) In the 1970s ISIS concentrated on the violence question and in its early Bulletin reported on the March, 1976 International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women held in Brussels, Belgium. (See Fraser, UN Decade, p. 67). Throughout the Decade, at the non-governmental forums paralleling the conferences, the issue festered. The first mention of the violence issue at a world women's conference was at Copenhagen. See paras. 65 and 131 in the Programme of Action.

[33] Full texts of the Convention, also known as CEDAW, are available from various sources including the U.N. Department of Public Information. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly in resolution 34/180, annex 18 December 1979. The International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW), organized at the 1985 conference in Nairobi was the first to publicize the Convention and monitor to

[34] Jill Ker Conway, When Memory Speaks: Exploring the Art of Autobiography (New York: Vintage Books, 1998).