Research Guides

Women and Global Diplomacy: From Peace Movements to the United Nations

The League of Nations

From the creation of the League of Nations, Article VII of the Covenant ensured women had the right to work for the League on all levels, including in the Secretariat. However, several women's organizations felt that the League could do more to reach for equality, and began a discussion about what role women would play as the organization grew.

"I have always told anyone who asked me that I felt the more help we could receive from women the better." --Sir Eric Drummond, first Secretary-General of the League of Nations

The Paris Peace Conference

Women's organizations lobbied to be included in the meetings of the Paris Peace Conference after the end of the First World War. Even after they were granted access to the 12th meeting of the League of Nations Committee, the women were limited to matters which the committee felt had a direct bearing upon women. Nevertheless, the group of women presented "The Women's Charter," in which they requested that a woman's nationality be declared independent of her husband, that the League ban the trafficking of women and girls, and that women be afforded the same labour rights as men. Many of the women present at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference would later become involved with the work of the League of Nations, either directly or through women's organizations.

"Women's Questions"

Should women be employed in international organizations? In what capacity? At the founding of both the League of Nations and the United Nations, individual women and women's organizations worked tirelessly to ensure women's voices would be well-represented in these major organizations.

"The Women's Charter" was presented at the January, 1919 Paris Peace Conference and included requests for courts to be set up to look for missing women, to internationally ban the sale of women and girls, and to make the nationality of women independent of men.

Women's organizations like the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the International Women's Suffrage Alliance, and the International Council of Women pushed for the League to bring more women into the employment of the League and to offer those women equal status within the organization. Even though the League of Nations Covenant did state in Article 7 that "all positions under or in connection with the League, including the Secretariat, shall be open equally to men and women," both individual women and women's organizations sought to achieve what they believed were more feminist ends. The International Women's Suffrage Alliance, for instance, wrote to the League in its early days to point out that progress was still to be made on giving women equal pay, giving women the same admissions exams as men, and not discriminating against married women.

Some suggested that a separate "Women's Bureau" or "Women's Section" be created in order to focus on the issues which most pertained to women. The International Women's Suffrage Association even went so far as to write up an agenda and objective for a Women's Bureau, which would be "to improve conditions of women and to provide for active citizenship in the League of Nations." Newspaper columnist Constance Drexel, for instance, wrote in The Times that women should be represented in the League of Nations because (1) they were far more numerous in Europe after the War, and (2) "[Women] will see more clearly than men the relation between international politics and daily human life, and they will more readily grasp the fact that a League of Nations cannot but improve human conditions of life." However, as Avril de Sainte Croix, of the French National Council of women, argued, a separate women's section within the League would mean that whenever the women approached the other sections for something, the men would tell them to go back to their own section. Generally, women's organizations were against a separate Women's Section for this very reason, and instead suggested better integration of women into the other sections of the League. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, for example, recommended a minimum of two women be placed on every committee, except the committee on naval, military, and air force matters.

International Council of Women

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