The Diplomatic History of Global Women’s Rights: The British Foreign Office and International Women’s Year, 1975
Journal of Contemporary History
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McCarthy, H. (2015). The Diplomatic History of Global Women’s Rights: The British Foreign Office and International Women’s Year, 1975. Journal of Contemporary History https://doi.org/10.1177/0022009415577002
This article explores the British Foreign Office's engagement with International Women's Year (IWY) in 1975, an event which has been viewed as a milestone in histories of transnational feminist activism, and a moment when the status of women became part of mainstream thinking about development, human rights and global security. Much of the existing literature on IWY dwells on the role of non-state actors, especially women's NGOs active at the United Nations (UN). In contrast, this article shifts the lens on to state actors, in order to ask what role diplomats, politicians and ministries of foreign affairs played in the construction of ‘women’ as a global political subject in the late twentieth century. It finds that the Foreign Office's reading of IWY was refracted through the prism of Cold War power politics and postcolonial struggles. Gender politics was conceptualised as essentially a proxy for these larger ideological battles, an approach dating back to Britain's semi-clandestine anti-communist propaganda campaigns after the Second World War. British women's NGOs, by contrast, insisted that women's activism should be accorded an independent dynamic of its own, imagining the possibilities of gender-based solidarities operating across political, social and economic divides. IWY and the subsequent UN Decade for Women tempered this idealism and set the international women's movement on a political learning curve. But, as the article will suggest, the 1970s was also a moment when state elites were forced to confront a new kind of global politics, the repercussions of which for the conduct of foreign policy and diplomatic relations only further fine-grained archival research can fully reveal.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0022009415577002
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/291176
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