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Women's Industrial Council

Women's Industrial Council

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In 1886 Clementina Black and Eleanor Marx, both became active in the Women's Trade Union League. For the next few years they travelled the country making speeches trying to persuade women to join trade unions and to campaign for "equal pay for equal work".

In 1889 Clementina Black helped form the Women's Trade Union Association. Five years later she merged this organisation with the Women's Industrial Council. Clementina became president of the council and for the next twenty years she was involved in collecting and publicizing information on women's work. Other members included Margaret Gladstone, Hilda Martindale, Charlotte Despard, Evelyn Sharp, Mary Macarthur, Cicely Corbett Fisher, Lily Montagu and Margery Corbett-Ashby.

Most members of Women's Industrial Council were also active in the suffrage movement. Organizations such as the NUWSS and the Women's Freedom League worked closely with the council and other groups campaigning for better pay and conditions for women workers. By 1910 women made up almost one third of the workforce. Work was often on a part-time or temporary basis. It was argued that if women had the vote Parliament would be forced to pass legislation that would protect women workers.

The Women's Industrial Council concentrated on acquiring information about the problem and by 1914 the organisation had investigated one hundred and seventeen trades. In 1915 Clementina Black and her fellow investigators published their book Married Women's Work. This information was then used to persuade Parliament to take action against the exploitation of women in the workplace.

The hours of employment permissible under the Factory Acts in 1901 were long. Women and girls over 14 years could be employed 12 hours a day and on Saturday 8 hours. In addition, in certain industries, and dressmaking was one, an additional 2 hours could be worked by women on 30 nights in any 12 months.

Workrooms were often overcrowded, dirty, ill-ventilated, and insufficiently heated. The employment of little errand girls, usually only 14 years of age, soon attracted by attention. Their work was very varied - running errands, matching materials, taking out parcels, cleaning the workrooms, and often also helping in the work of the house. To be at the beck and call of all employed in a busy workshop was arduous and fatiguing. They could work legally from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and often were sent out from the workshop a few minutes before 8 p.m. to take a dress to a customer living some distance away, which resulted in their not reaching home until a late hour. It was not surprising that the young persons in those workshops often looked weary and overdone; but there were plenty of girls to take their place, so they would not give in.

Trade unionism could not do for the unskilled trades and the sweated industries what it could do for other trades, and they must look to the law for protection. Surely the time was coming when the law, which was the representative of the organised will of the people, would declare that British workers should no longer work for less than they could live upon.

A very large majority of the women visited in their homes are kindly, industrious, reasonable, self-respecting persons and good citizens. The husbands in the main deserve the same praise… Parental affection seems to be the ruling passion of nearly all these fathers and mothers; they work hard with amazing patience in the hope of making their children happy… What is wrong is not the work for wages of married women, but the underpayment.

Fundamentally all social and political questions are economic. With equal wages, the male worker would no longer fear that his female colleague might put him out of a job, and 'men and women will unite to effect a complete transformation to the industrial environment… A woman needs economic independence to live as an equal with her husband. It is indeed deplorable that the work of the wife and mother is not rewarded. I hope that the time will come when it is illegal for this strenuous form of industry to be unremunerated.

Sweated labour may be defined as (1) working long hours, (2) for low wages, (3) under insanitary conditions. Although its victims include men as well as women, women form the great majority of sweated workers. The chief difficulty is combating this evil abuse is that nearly all sweated work is done in the homes of the workers. During the recent strike of Jam makers in Bermondsey the wages of the girls only just sufficed to provide them with food, and left no margin whatsoever for the purchase of clothes, for which they were entirely dependent on gifts from friends… Chief among these evils of sweated labour is the exploitation of child labour. Children of six years and upwards were employed after school hours, in helping to add to the family output and even infants of 3, 4 and 5 years of age work anything from 3 to 6 hours a day in such labour as carding hooks and eyes to add a few pence per week to the wages of the household.

At first, all I saw in the enfranchisement of women was a possible solution of much that subconsciously worried me from the time when, as a London child, I had seen ragged and barefoot children begging in the streets, while I with brothers and nurses went by on the way to play in Kensington Gardens. Later, there were agricuktural labourers with their families, ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-educated, in the villages round my country home, and after that, the sweated workers.

I made spasmodic excursions into philanthropy, worked in girls' clubs and at children's play hours, joined the Anti-Sweating League, helped the Women's Industrial Council in one of its investigations. When the early sensational tactics of the militants focussed my attention upon the political futility of the voteless reformer, I joined the nearest suffrage society, which happened ironically to be the non-militant London Society.

The growing unrest which culminated in the Dock Strike of 1889 stimulated the organised women to revolt in the sweated trades of matchmaking and laundry work. Meetings held by the Amalgamated Society of Laundresses to protest against their exclusion from the Factory and Workshops Bill of 1891, enlisted public sympathy on their side. Women's unions - some eighty or ninety - sprang up under the auspices of the League, most of which expired through lack of money and of co-ordinated direction. It was not until 1903 that the woman capable of supplying both those essentials to successful agitation appeared upon the horizon. Her name was Mary Macarthur.

In amalgamating all these isolated efforts in the National Federation of Women Workers, Miss Macarthur rendered an inestimable service to the cause of the woman worker. Without her opportune support the strike among women employed at Millwall Food Preserving Factory, and those of the Cradley Heath Chainmakers and the Kilburnie netmakers would have been doomed to failure. Relief from their starvation wages and intolerable conditions was largely due to Miss Macarthur's able championship of their claims. As a result the membership of the Federation rapidly increased, and the movement spread from the ranks of industrial workers to the equally underpaid but better educated women employed in the distributive trades. To the establishment of Trade Boards, in 1909, for the purpose of regulating women's as well as men's wages, Miss Macarthur lent all her energy and influence. This innovation had the double effect of imposing minimum wage-rates in sweated industries and of demonstrating to the workers engaged therein the value of Union backing.

9 Groundbreaking Inventions by Women

Female inventors have played a large role in U.S. history, but haven’t always received credit for their work. Besides the fact that their contributions have sometimes been downplayed over overlooked, women—particularly women of color—have historically had fewer resources to apply for U.S. patents and market their inventions.

Not all of the female inventors on this list received attention for their work in their lifetime, or were able to market their inventions. But all of them contributed innovations that helped advance technology in their respective fields.

Records of the Council of National Defense [CND]

Established: As an emergency agency by the Army Appropriation Act (39 Stat. 649), August 29, 1916. Consisted of the Secretaries of War, the Navy, the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor, assisted by an Advisory Commission appointed by the President, October 11, 1916.

Transfers: Resource and industry coordination functions to War Industries Board, which became independent of CND by EO 2868, May 28, 1918.

Functions: Coordinated resources and industries for national defense. Stimulated civilian morale. Coordinated the work of state and local defense councils and women's committees. Studied problems of postwar readjustment and reconstruction.

Abolished: Operations suspended June 30, 1921. Reactivated, 1940- 41. Presently inactive.

Finding Aids: National Archives staff, comps., Preliminary Inventory of the Council of National Defense Records, PI 2 (Dec. 1942).

Related Records: Record copies of publications of the Council of National Defense in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government. Records of the War Industries Board, RG 61.
Records of the Advisory Commission to the Council of National Defense (1940- 41, in Roosevelt Library), in RG 220, Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards. Papers of William H. McReynolds, 1939-46, Secretary of the Council of National Defense (1940-41), in Roosevelt Library.

Subject Access Terms: World War I agency.


Textual Records: General correspondence, 1917-18, with card index to correspondence with the War Industries Board. Minutes of meetings, 1916-18, with card index.

Microfilm Publications: M1069.


62.3.1 Records of the Director's Office

Textual Records: General and subject correspondence, 1917-21. Minutes of meetings of the CND, 1916-21, and the Interdepartmental Defense Board, 1919-20, with indexes. Reports of subordinate units, including the War Industries Board, 1917- 18, and reports on economic subjects, relating in part to the work of the Interdepartmental Defense Board, 1919-20. News releases, newspaper clippings, and publicity materials, 1917-20.

Microfilm Publications: M1069.

62.3.2 Records of the Secretary's Office

Textual Records: General correspondence, 1917-18. Correspondence with CND subordinate units and with the Committee on Public Information, 1917-18.

62.3.3 Records of the Chief Clerk's Office

Textual Records: Correspondence, 1917-21. General personnel file, 1916-21. Telephone directories for federal agencies, 1918, and selected cities, 1918-21. Miscellaneous payroll and accounting records, 1917-21.


62.4.1 Records of the Medical Section

Textual Records: Correspondence of the Chairman, Medicine and Hygiene Committee, 1917. Minutes of the Conference of the National Medical Council for National Defense, Washington, DC, January 6, 1917. Card files of membership of various state and local medical committees and societies, 1917-18.

62.4.2 Records of the General Medical Board

Textual Records: Minutes of board meetings, 1917-18. Correspondence of the Research and Legislation Committees regarding medical products and commissions, promotions, assignments, and recommendations for appointment to the Medical Reserve Corps, 1917-18. Correspondence and other records of the Committee for Civilian Cooperation in Combating Venereal Diseases, 1917-18. Reports of the Committee on Nursing concerning assignments of Student Nurse Reserve applicants to hospital training schools, 1918-19. Card records of the States Activities Committee relating to appointments to and eligibility for service in the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), 1918 and group and individual memberships in the MRC, n.d. Card records maintained by the Central Governing Board of the Volunteer Medical Service Corps of men and women who were members of or applicants for the Volunteer Medical Service Corps, and card records relating to women physicians, 1918-19. General Medical Board publicity material, 1918. Clippings file on the Volunteer Medical Service Corps, 1918-19.


62.5.1 General records

Textual Records: Central correspondence, with personal and subject card indexes, and correspondence of Anna Howard Shaw, who chaired the committee, 1917-18. Circulars and special letters sent to state divisions, 1917-19. Minutes of meetings, 1917-19. Activity reports, 1917-18. Reports given at the Woman's Committee Conference, May 13-15, 1918.

Microfilm Publications: M1074.

62.5.2 Records of the News Department

Textual Records: General correspondence and publicity correspondence with state divisions of the CWDW, 1917-18. Correspondence, publications, and other records concerning women and the war, 1916-18. News and publication files, including News Notes and Notes from the Foreign News Bureau, 1917-18. Records relating to the activities of state and local woman's committees, 1917-18, and to women's organizations comprising the Honorary Committee, 1916-18, including publications, photographs, posters, and biographical sketches. Card abstracts of information on the organization and work of state divisions of the CWDW and on social and economic conditions abroad, with emphasis on women's problems, 1917-18.

62.5.3 Records of the Educational Propaganda Department

Textual Records: General correspondence and correspondence with state divisions, 1917-18. Correspondence, reports, poems, plays, and other materials relating to Americanization activities and patriotic education, 1917-18.

62.5.4 Records of other departments

Textual Records: Summaries of state reports on registration of women by occupation, 1917-18, compiled by the Registration for Service Department. United States Food Leaflets produced by the Food Administration Department, n.d. Publications and card summaries of periodical articles on the employment of women collected or produced by the Women in Industry Department, 1917- 18. Correspondence of Child Welfare Department Executive Secretary Jessica Peixotto, 1918 and child welfare circulars, 1917-18. Weekly reports of the Information Department on activities of state divisions, 1917-18. Reports from state divisions and related correspondence of the State Organization Department, 1917-19.


Textual Records: Minutes of staff meetings, 1917-18. General correspondence and correspondence with state councils of defense, 1917-18. Correspondence relating to shipyard labor recruiting drives, use of the Lincoln Highway, appointment of state food administrators, and other subjects, 1917-18. Records of the National Defense Conference, May 2-3, 1917. Minutes of meetings of the Interdepartmental Advisory Committee, 1917. Miscellaneous issuances, reports, and posters, 1917-18.


Textual Records: General and subject correspondence, 1917-19. General and special letters and bulletins addressed to state councils of defense, 1917-18. Child welfare memorandums and circulars, 1918-19. Activity reports, work summaries, and weekly activity memorandums, 1918-19. Publicity material issued by state councils of defense, 1917-18. Reports of state and local councils of defense, 1917-20.


Textual Records: General correspondence, 1918-21, and correspondence with state governors and councils of defense regarding state readjustment activities, 1919. "Daily Digest of Reconstruction News," 1919-21, with gaps. Press clippings relating to economic and social problems, reconstruction, demobilization, and disabled soldiers, 1918-19. Summaries of articles and other publications relating to reconstruction and postwar problems, 1918-19.


Textual Records: Chairman's correspondence, 1916-19, with card indexes, 1917. Minutes of meetings of the committee and of its executive committee, 1917. Reports, 1917-19. Correspondence of the Welfare Work Subcommittee, 1918. General correspondence of the Industrial Training for the War Emergency Section, 1917-18 clippings file on labor problems, 1916-18 and card record of an industrial employee-training survey, 1918. General correspondence of the Women in Industry Subcommittee, and correspondence with state committees on women in industry, 1917-18.


62.10.1 Records of the General Munitions Board and the Munitions Standards Board

Textual Records: General correspondence of the board secretaries, 1917. Minutes of meetings of the boards and related committees, including the Committee on Army and Navy Artillery and the Cars Cooperative Committee, 1917-18.

62.10.2 Records of the Commercial Economy Board

Textual Records: Reports on the training of munitions workers and retail clerks, 1917-18. Newspaper clippings regarding the conservation of bread, 1917.

62.10.3 Records of the Statistics Division

Textual Records: Correspondence and card records relating to contracts of the Advisory Committee on Purchase of Public Animals and Remount Service, 1917-18.

62.10.4 Records of the Files and Records Division (Postwar

Textual Records: Administrative file, containing documents on the organization and history of the CND, 1917-20 (14 ft.). Correspondence, issuances, and miscellaneous material, 1917-21.

62.10.5 Records of committees

Textual Records: Correspondence of the Committee on Supplies, 1917-18. Correspondence of the Committee on Coal Production, 1917-18. Issuances of the Highways Transport Committee, 1918-19.


62.11.1 Records of the Planning Branch of the Procurement

Textual Records: Correspondence regarding personnel and other information in the CND records, 1919-33, and disposition of the records, 1921-26. Card records of physicians, dentists, and medical societies solicited for donations to the Gorgas Memorial Institute, 1923-28. Miscellaneous records include a statement of principles of storage applicable to Army supplies, a 1918 list of food statistics, a war worker's handbook, CND pamphlets, Field Division circulars, newsletters of the Women's Committee, reports on wire rope companies, and a 1917 report regarding the promotion of employment management.

62.11.2 Records of the Army Industrial College

Textual Records: Correspondence concerning the Secretary of War's annual reports on the CND, 1921-34, and the use of War Industries Board files, 1922-37. Minutes of sessions of the Allied Maritime Transport Council, 1918. Miscellaneous records concerning economic and supply aspects of the war, 1915-32.

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
3 volumes, 2428 pages.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1995.

Coordinating Council for Women in History

The Coordinating Council for Women in History is an organization aimed at supporting women in the historical profession as well as research in women’s history. It is a place where women historians can find a wide variety of resources, support, and a community to help them thrive.

50th Anniversary Fund

The CCWH is celebrating its 50th Anniversary by setting up an Endowment Fund to ensure the future of the organization and the annual CCWH awards. The Endowment Fund will remain separate from the general fund that pays for the general day to day costs of the organization and the $24,000 in awards given each January at the CCWH Awards Luncheon at the AHA. The funds in the Endowment fund will be invested and the income generated will contribute to the funding of the awards. … Learn more about CCWH Awards

CCWH Resources

The CCWH shares a variety of informational resources of interest to women in the historical profession. Please explore our extensive listing of Job Opportunities and other Professional Announcements, Panelists Seeking Panelists board, the CCWH University Representatives, Host Program, Mentorship Program, Conference Liaisons and shared History … Read more about CCWH Resources


We cordially invite you to join the CCWH and to devote time to CCWH activities as an award committee member, member of the executive board, contribute articles to our newsletter or write a film or book review. We especially encourage faculty members to invite your women graduate students and students of women's history to join CCWH by … Learn more about Membership Information

Women’s Political Council of Montgomery

The Women’s Political Council (WPC) of Montgomery, Alabama was founded in 1946 by scholar and Alabama State College professor Mary Fair Burks. The Council was a political organization meant to fight the institutionalized racism of Montgomery, Alabama, and an organization that provided leadership opportunities for women.

Burks was inspired to form the organization after a traffic dispute involving a white woman resulted in her arrest. In response she created a community organization that would teach local African Americans their constitutional rights and stimulate voter registration among them. Within a week Burks found forty women to join the organization, which they named the Women’s Political Council. They focused their efforts on the three areas of political action: education, and protest of segregated services. Burks was elected as the organization’s first president, a position she held for the next four years.

By the 1950s the WPC had become one of the most active civil rights organizations in Montgomery. All three hundred of its members were registered to vote, which was a significant accomplishment for African American women at the time.

Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, an English professor at Alabama State College, became president of the WPC in 1950. Under Robinson’s leadership, the WPC intensified their focus on bus reform. Members of the organization met several times with city officials throughout 1954 and 1955 in an effort to achieve better bus service. They had been considering a boycott of the Montgomery City Lines for years at the time of Rosa Parks’ arrest.

After Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man on December 1, 1955, the WPC decided to put their plans into action by initiating a bus strike. They announced December 5 as the day of the strike, and religious leaders within the African American community agreed to support the boycott.

The Montgomery buses were almost empty on the morning of December 5. Religious leaders met that afternoon and organized the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), electing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, as their leader. Robinson served on the executive board of the MIA and edited its newspaper.

In February 1956, four women, Aurelia Browder, Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, and Susie McDonald filed a lawsuit in Federal court, claiming that racially segregated buses violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Two of the three judge federal panel hearing the case sided with Browder, the lead plaintiff. The defense appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court, and the boycott continued. On December 5, 1956, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s earlier decision. The thirteen-month boycott had been successful in desegregating Montgomery’s buses.

After the boycott, the older generation of the WPC agreed to continue working to improve the difficulties faced by African Americans in the South, while at the same time teaching a younger generation of women to work for racial justice.

Women's Industrial Council - History

©1996 -2021

The Industrial Revolution in part was fueled by the economic necessity of many women, single and married, to find waged work outside their home. Women mostly found jobs in domestic service, textile factories, and piece work shops. They also worked in the coal mines. For some, the Industrial Revolution provided independent wages, mobility and a better standard of living. For the majority, however, factory work in the early years of the 19th century resulted in a life of hardship.

The following selections are testimonies from England and Wales collected by Parliamentary commissions who began to investigate the industrial employment of women and children in the early 1840s. Inspectors visited mills, mines and shops taking evidence from workers to see ways in which the Industrial Revolution affected women and families. The sources, along with illustrations and a workforce chart, reveal the following points:

Working conditions were often unsanitary and the work dangerous.

Education suffered because of the demands of work.

Home life suffered as women were faced with the double burden of factory work followed by domestic chores and child care.

Men assumed supervisory roles over women and received higher wages.

Unsupervised young women away from home generated societal fears over their fate.

As a result of the need for wages in the growing cash economy, families became dependent on the wages of women and children

There was some worker opposition to proposals that child and female labor should be abolished from certain jobs.

Questions follow each document.

Textile Workers:
1) The Courtauld Silk Mill Workforce
2) Testimony of Nottingham Textile Mill Workers

Miners :
1) Testimonies from a Commission of Enquiry in the Mines in South Wales
2) Illustrations of women and children in the mines.

1) Evidence on women in home-based English workshops
2) Song: "The Distressed Seamstress"

For resource information and help in answering some of the questions, CLICK HERE.

For more information on the Industrial Revolution:

1) The Industrial Revolution

2) Women's Work in Industrial Revolutions

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
Click for Author Information

The History of Women’s Public Toilets in Britain

We take single-sex public toilets for granted today. It is hard to believe that when public conveniences were first constructed, the vast majority of these toilets were just for men.

Great Exhibition 1851

The story in Britain starts in 1851, as the Great Exhibition show-cased the first public flushing toilet, created by George Jennings, who was a plumber from Brighton. The popularity of this invention was such that the first public lavatories opened the following year and were known as ‘Public Waiting Rooms’. The vast majority of these were men’s conveniences.

In the mid-19th century, many areas of life were sex-segregated and gendered the private sphere was for the women, the public sphere was for men. Whilst working-class women did undertake plenty of work, they did not own their own wages, their husbands did. The popular image of a woman was the ‘Angel in the House’ ideal, a woman who was devoted and submissive to her husband.

In Victorian Britain, most public toilets were designed for men. Of course, this affected women’s ability to leave the home, as women who wished to travel had to plan their route to include areas where they could relieve themselves. Thus, women never travelled much further than where family and friends resided. This is often called the ‘urinary leash’, as women could only go so far as their bladders would allow them.

This lack of access to toilets impeded women’s access to public spaces as there were no women’s toilets in the work place or anywhere else in public. This led to the formation of the Ladies Sanitary Association, organised shortly after the creation of the first public flushing toilet. The Association campaigned from the 1850s onwards, through lectures and the distribution of pamphlets on the subject. They succeeded somewhat, as a few women’s toilets opened in Britain.

Then a second group emerged called the Union of Women’s Liberal and Radical Associations, which campaigned for working class women to have public toilets in Camden. In 1898 the members wrote to The Vestry in Camden for toilet access for women in the already existing men’s toilets. However, the plans for a women’s toilet were set back by several years as men opposed the women’s toilets being situated next to the men’s.

In some cases, plans for women’s toilets were deliberately sabotaged. When a model of a women’s toilet was set up on the pavement in Camden High Street, hansom cabs (driven by men) deliberately drove into the model toilet to demonstrate that it was situated in a most inconvenient position!

Illustration from Punch magazine, 1852

Demands for public toilets arose against the backdrop of a desire for better sanitation, which resulted in legislation being passed by Parliament in the form of two public health acts, the First Public Health Act of 1848 and the Second Public Health Act of 1875. The 1848 act was passed in the wake of a cholera outbreak that killed 52,000 people and the Act provided a framework for local authorities to follow however it did not stipulate that the authorities had to act. The later 1875 Public Health Act allowed local authorities new powers such as being able to purchase, create and repair sewers, and to control water supplies.

However, there came a pivotal moment when women really did need to use the toilet.

Suffragettes are famous for campaigning for the right to vote but they also campaigned for the right to serve, achieved in 1915. By the end of World War One, over 700,000 to 1 million women had become ‘munitionettes’, slang for women who had gone into munition factory work to support the war effort.

Women munitions workers

However, as women were now entering previously male-dominated professions, they began to campaign for better facilities such as changing rooms and toilets. Some employers did not want to install women’s toilets, especially after the war, as they believed that women were stealing men’s employment: quite legal at the time, as there were only limited protections for workers.

Nowadays however, under the 1992 Workplace Regulations, not ensuring that men and women have separate toilet facilities is illegal for employers.

Women’s public toilets have always been somewhat political, either through moral objections, such as the Victorian ideal of a submissive, house-chained wife, or through the fact that women have campaigned for them. And the politics of women’s toilets is still present today within society: for example, UNESCO recommends single-sex toilets in order to boost women’s access to education. In Mumbai in India, there are fewer toilets for women than for men, and women must also pay more than men to use the facilities. This has led to the ‘Right to Pee’ campaign promoted by Indian feminists.

By Claudia Elphick. Claudia Elphick is a History, Literature and Culture undergraduate student at the University of Brighton.

Landmarks in the Global Movement for Women’s Rights: A Timeline

On January 21, 2017, the Women’s March on Washington, DC, drew a record-breaking public display of support for women’s rights and civil rights in a mass demonstration, estimated to be the largest one-day protest in U.S. history. With over 600 sister marches held in every major city and dozens of small towns across the United States—as well as at sites on every continent around the world—crowd assessments from police forces and organizers tallied up millions of participants globally. Participants from Boise to Nashville—and from Kolkata to Santiago—flooded the streets and airwaves, with an unprecedented 11.5 million tweets around the world to date using the hashtag #womensmarch.

The Women’s March joins other landmark historical events in the global movement for gender equality. And although the scale of the march signifies that the rights of women and girls have risen on the world stage, the persistent inequalities highlighted by marchers underscore the significant unfinished business that remains.

Women Around the World examines the relationship between the advancement of women and U.S. foreign policy interests, including prosperity and stability. 1-2 times weekly.

Here is a list of significant events in the global movement for women’s rights:

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

The English writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft penned a widely-distributed treatise entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but rather lack education. The essay suggests that women should have equal access to co-educational schooling and that women’s participation in society is essential to any nation’s wellbeing.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

July 19, 1848

Seneca Falls Convention

A group of abolitionist activists, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, to press for women’s rights. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” proclaimed the Declaration of Sentiments the delegates produced, “that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

March 19, 1911

First celebration of International Women’s Day

After the attendees of a 1910 meeting in Copenhagen proposed that one day each year be set aside to honor the women’s rights movement and build support for universal suffrage, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland in March of 1911. More than one million women and men attended rallies in support of women’s right to vote, hold public office, access vocational training, and enter the labor force and participate without discrimination.

Demonstrators in Berlin, Germany, demand women’s right to vote. (Getty)

April 28, 1915

International Congress of Women

In the spring of 1915, over one thousand women delegates from the U.S. and eleven European nations gathered in The Hague for the first International Congress of Women, which would later become known as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

December 10, 1948

United Nations Declaration of Human Rights

In 1948, the newly-formed United Nations (UN) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first international document to assert “the dignity and worth of the human person and [the] equal rights of men and women.” Only decades later, at the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women, would women’s rights become widely recognized as fundamental human rights.

Representatives of 50 countries gather at the 1945 conference in San Francisco, California. (AP)

June 19-July 2, 1975

UN First World Conference on Women in Mexico City

Coinciding with International Women’s Year, the UN General Assembly and Commission on the Status of Women called on representatives from 133 member states to gather in Mexico City for the First World Conference on Women. The conference resulted in a forward-looking World Plan of Action to achieve the objectives for the advancement of women over the next decade, and the UN General Assembly proclaimed 1976-1985 the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace.

Thousands of participants gather for the opening ceremony of the International Women’s Year Conference in Mexico City. (AP)

December 18, 1979

CEDAW: An "international bill of rights for women"

Adopted by the UN General Assembly, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is often described as an international bill of rights for women. It explicitly defines discrimination against women, establishes legal obligations for state parties to end discrimination in the public and private spheres, and outlines a vision of substantive equality between women and men. As of 2017, 189 parties have ratified the treaty, making it the second most ratified UN human rights treaty.

September 4-15, 1995

UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing

The landmark UN Fourth World Conference on Women brought an unprecedented 17,000 official participants and 30,000 activists to Beijing, China, and galvanized progress for the advancement of women worldwide. At the conference, which addressed issues of human rights, poverty, economic inclusion, and gender-based violence, then-U.S. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton famously proclaimed that “women’s rights are human rights,” which became a rallying cry around the world. The conference resulted in the unanimous adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action by 189 countries, and global reviews held every five years since the declaration’s passage have evaluated progress toward its realization.

Women hold the "peace torch" during the opening ceremony for the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum on Women in Beijing. (AP)January 21, 2017

January 21, 2017

Women’s March on Washington

On January 21, 2017, the Women’s March on Washington, DC, became the largest international mass demonstration in support of women’s rights. Affiliated marches ranging in size from several dozen to several hundred thousand people were held in towns and cities around the world, including Accra, Bangkok, Paris, Nairobi, Belgrade, Buenos Aires, Krakow, and even Antarctica. Many marches were accompanied by training sessions for women seeking political office, youth initiatives, and discussions of issues ranging from wage inequality to freedom from violence.

Demonstrators chant slogans and hold banners during the Women’s March inside Karura forest in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

A brief history of the Commission on the Status of Women

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) first met at Lake Success, New York, in February 1947, soon after the founding of the United Nations. All 15 government representatives were women. From its inception, the Commission was supported by a unit of the United Nations that later became the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) in the UN Secretariat. The CSW forged a close relationship with non-governmental organizations, with those in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) invited to participate as observers.

From 1947 to 1962, the Commission focused on setting standards and formulating international conventions to change discriminatory legislation and foster global awareness of women&rsquos issues. In contributing to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the CSW successfully argued against references to &ldquomen&rdquo as a synonym for humanity, and succeeded in introducing new, more inclusive language.

Since the codification of the legal rights of women needed to be supported by data and analysis, the Commission embarked on a global assessment of the status of women. Extensive research produced a detailed, country-by-country picture of their political and legal standing, which over time became a basis for drafting human rights instruments.

The Commission drafted the early international conventions on women&rsquos rights, such as the 1953 Convention on the Political Rights of Women, which was the first international law instrument to recognize and protect the political rights of women and the first international agreements on women&rsquos rights in marriage, namely the 1957 Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, and the 1962 Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages. The Commission also contributed to the work of UN offices, such as the International Labour Organization&rsquos 1951 Convention concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value, which enshrined the principle of equal pay for equal work.

In 1963, efforts to consolidate standards on women&rsquos rights led the UN General Assembly to request the Commission to draft a Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which the Assembly ultimately adopted in 1967. The legally binding Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also drafted by the Commission, followed in 1979. In 1999, the Optional Protocol to the Convention introduced the right of petition for women victims of discrimination.

As evidence began to accumulate in the 1960s that women were disproportionately affected by poverty, the work of the Commission centred on women&rsquos needs in community and rural development, agricultural work, family planning, and scientific and technological advances. The Commission encouraged the UN system to expand its technical assistance to further the advancement of women, especially in developing countries.

In 1972, to mark its 25th anniversary, the Commission recommended that 1975 be designated International Women&rsquos Year&mdashan idea endorsed by the General Assembly to draw attention to women&rsquos equality with men and to their contributions to development and peace. The year was marked by holding the First World Conference on Women in Mexico City, followed by the 1976&ndash1985 UN Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace. Additional world conferences took place in Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985. New UN offices dedicated to women were established, in particular the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).

In 1987, as part of follow-up to the Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi, the Commission took the lead in coordinating and promoting the UN system&rsquos work on economic and social issues for women&rsquos empowerment. Its efforts shifted to promoting women&rsquos issues as cross-cutting and part of the mainstream, rather than as separate concerns. In the same period, the Commission helped bring violence against women to the forefront of international debates for the first time. These efforts resulted in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women adopted by the General Assembly on 20 December 1993. In 1994, a UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences was appointed by the Commission on Human Rights, with a mandate to investigate and report on all aspects of violence against women.

The Commission served as the preparatory body for the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women , which adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. After the conference, the Commission was mandated by the General Assembly to play a central role in monitoring implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and advising ECOSOC accordingly. As called for in the Platform for Action, an additional UN office for the promotion of gender equality was established: the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI).

In 2011, the four parts of the UN system mentioned on this page&mdashDAW, INSTRAW, OSAGI and UNIFEM&mdashmerged to become UN Women, now the Secretariat of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Women's Industrial Council - History

The International Council of Women (ICW) is the first women’s organization to work in the international scene at the beginning of the 20th century. Ever since its establishment, the organization has been at the forefront of bringing worldwide attention to the issue of women’s rights and leading the battle against gender based social injustice. In that sense, the ultimate goal is the creation of a happier, safer and more egalitarian world for all.

During the second-half of the 19th century, the emergence of industrial societies in Europe and America contributed to the formation of a range of social movements. Among these movements, an awareness of gender based discrimination and injustice in virtually all aspects of society began to emerge. Well educated, insightful, determined women began to press for the formation of specific associations to advocate equal rights which would lead to improved status and better living standards.

ICW, founded in 1888 in Washington D.C., coincided with the establishment of the first national council, the National Committee of the United States. Founding members included Susan B. Anthony, May Wright Sewall, and Frances Willard, among others. Fifty-three women’s organizations from nine countries were represented at the first gathering.

ICW aims to bring together women’s organizations from all countries. The goal is to promote human rights, equality, peace and women’s involvement in all spheres of life through the establishment of an international federation, or umbrella organization, of National Councils. Only one council is admitted for each country.

ICW is integrated into a system of international governmental organizations. Over a period of 128 years, ICW has succeeded in building and maintaining an outstanding reputation of professionalism both within the League of Nations, and subsequently, within the United Nations.

During the time of the League of Nations the principle of equality of men and women was already the primary ICW concern. ICW was on solid ground in 1945 when the United Nations was established and formed the Commission on the Status of Women. Thanks to ICW and other women’s NGOs, equality between men and women became a universal value henceforth promoted by the United Nations.

After the establishment of the United Nations, ICW became one of the original nongovernmental organizations in general consultative status with various UN agencies.

Since its birth, ICW has been an apolitical and neutral international organization. Its concept of feminism is a broad commitment to change every aspect of life so as to create a more harmonious and happy life for women.

ICW work is not limited to reducing political, economic and civil inequities, but encompasses a moralization of the world so that it can be transformed into a good place for all women and children to live. ICW firmly believes that there is an ideal situation of well-being, happiness and justice that is common to all women, irrespective of social class, ethnicity or religion.

In the beginning, the feminists of ICW saw their international contacts as a means of achieving understanding between nations. The global network of ICW is a potent symbol of intercultural dialogue and cooperation, certainly a prerequisite for international peace and security.

ICW sees emancipation of women and the struggle for equality as a matter relevant to all women. Women in all nations can be victims of violence, discrimination, trafficking and poverty.

ICW played a major role along with other women’s NGOs in the UN’s 1975 proclamation of the International Women’s Year. Likewise, ICW was active in the World Conferences on Women in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), and Beijing (1995). It has always been at the forefront in the fight for establishing gender equality as an international norm. Working together with women from throughout the world, it has represented women’s views at national, regional and international levels, mobilized world public opinion, and implemented MDGs and SDGs.

ICW continues to work closely with the United Nations on issues of health, welfare, peace, equality, education, environment, migration, violence, discrimination, trafficking, poverty and the rights of women, children, refugees and minorities.

Today, the challenge is still going on. The 2015 ICW General Assembly in Izmir, Turkey adopted “Transforming Society through Women’s Empowerment” as the triennial theme (2015-2018). As such, national councils of ICW have undertaken various projects to empower women in many ways. Its future task is to share and promote the values of women’s empowerment with women in other parts of the world where they still suffer from social injustices.


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  3. Svend

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