Gender, power and disempowerment

Gender, Power, and Disempowerment: The Role of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) in Empowering Women through the United Nations

Francisca de Haan, Central European University


Over the last decade or so, scholars have begun to rethink the history of the global women’s movement by examining the history and contributions of socialist or left-feminist women’s organizations. Currently, we are in the process of uncovering their role in advancing a global women’s rights agenda since 1945, and to some extent even earlier. The Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), established in Paris in 1945, was the largest and arguably the most influential international women’s organization of the post-1945 world. The aim of this paper is to discuss the role of the WIDF in empowering women through the United Nations, in particular, by working towards CEDAW. CEDAW is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1979, and regarded as the UN women’s treaty. The paper will discuss CEDAW’s longer history and the role of socialist or left-feminist women, working together in and through the WIDF, in creating CEDAW.


Francisca de Haan is Professor of Gender Studies and History at the Central European University. Her research interests center on histories of inter/transnational women’s movements, socialist and communist women’s political activism, women’s work, and women’s archives. Publications include the co-edited Biographical Dictionary of Women’s Movements and Feminisms (CEU Press, 2006); Women’s Activism: Global Perspectives from the 1890s to the Present (Routledge, 2013); and Rosa Manus (1881-1942): The International Life and Legacy of a Jewish Dutch Feminist (Brill, 2017), and articles and chapters about the WIDF in German, English and Spanish. De Haan is Founding Editor of Aspasia: The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern and South Eastern European Women’s and Gender History

The Comfort of Numbers: Men, Women and Money
Dr. Katie Barclay, University of Adelaide

Numbers – from statistics to accounting to metrics – are routinely used to measure ‘the self’. Numbers and measurement practices can therefore produce anxiety and fear as people worry about meeting targets or defining in the ineffable. They can also provide profound comfort and security, as the recent pandemic crisis has suggested; measuring case numbers and death rates has provided people with a sense of control during the profoundly uncertain. That this is the case is not particularly novel to the modern. Indeed, practices of counting and measuring have long been used to define the human and its productive capacities, to judge and weigh value. As this may suggest, system of counting are not ‘neutral’, but deeply implicated in social power relationships. This is not least the case within families, where accounting practices and the management of money and household resources have informed in gender hierarchies, the operation of patriarchy and the maintenance and failures of intimate connections. Budgets have been used as mechanisms through which men control women, and parents discipline children. Taking control of the family finances has

been acknowledged as site of female agency in patriarchal systems. Analysis of such experiences has tended to focus on money as a key political and economic resource, tying interpretations of family dynamics to a particular accounting of the nature of power. Yet, as I suggest here, accounting practices are significant not just due to their relationship to resources, but because of the way they come to acts as a form of discipline on the body and the self, and as they becomes sites to negotiate intimacies and emotions. This paper uses a case study of accounting practices within British families during the industrial revolution (c. 1750-1850) to think through the relationship between numbers, gendered power and the production of the modern self. If measuring and counting have the capacity to produce emotion, emotion too shapes what it means to count and so the gendered power relationships that numbers inform.

Katie Barclay is Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in the History of Emotions and Associate Professor in History, University of Adelaide. She is the author of Love, Intimacy and Power: Marriage and Patriarchy in Scotland, 1650-1850 (Manchester, 2011); Men on Trial: Performing Emotion, Embodiment and Identity in Ireland, 1800-1845 (Manchester, 2019); and Caritas: Neighbourly Love and the Early Modern Self (Oxford, forthcoming), and numerous edited collections, articles and chapters in the area of family life, emotion and gender.

Read about Katie Barclays work here:

Power, Empowerment and Disempowerment in the Field:

Western Female Archaeologists, Writers and Travelers in the 19th and 20th Century Near East
Rubina Raja, Centre for Urban Network Evolutions, Aarhus University, Denmark

When the archaeology and history of the Near East came into the searchlight of the Western world in the 17th century, women also came to travel in the region in numerous capacities, among others as missionaries, explorers and tourists. However, it took a while before they truly emerged in the written records. In the 19th and 20th centuries, women become more visible in the written records, also in the records they produced themselves. Women travelled extensively for work and pleasure, with and without companions in the Near East. However, how much do we know about how their experiences shaped them? And more importantly what sort of freedom did they have as women in

this region often traveling in the company of western male companions or colleagues? What kind of power and what kind not? This paper gives an introduction to western female presence in the academic sphere and educated elite tourism of the 19th and 20 centuries. It zooms in on in particular three of these extraordinary women, their empowerment and disempowerment: Gertrude Bell (writer, political officer and archaeologist), Agatha Christie (writer), and Dorothy Hodgkin (interested in archaeology and later to become a Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry). The paper explores some of the ways in which their travels in the Near East impacted them, their careers and lives as well as the trajectories with which they were faced as women breaking ground in a region full of discrepancies – that were similar and yet so different to what they were used to at home.

Rubina Raja is professor of Classical Archaeology at Aarhus University, Denmark. She has since 2012 directed the Palmyra Portrait Project and since 2015 she heads the Danish National Research Foundation's Centre of Excellence for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet). Rubina Raja’s research focuses on urban development, iconography, self-representation and religious identities in the eastern Roman provinces and Rome as well as historiography. She directs archaeological fieldwork projects in Italy and Jordan together with Danish and international colleagues.

Read about Rubina Raja’s work here: