Woolly, half baked and impractical? British Responses to the Commission on Status of Women and the Convention of the Political Rights of Women 1946-1967

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This article traces the relationship between women’s associations and the British
government with regard to the United Nations Commission on the Status of
Women (CSW), from its establishment in 1946 to British ratification of the
Convention on the Political Rights of Women (CPRW) in 1967. Whilst international
women’s associations were instrumental in articulating the legitimacy of
women’s rights as an international concern in the inter-war period, and in
securing the establishment of the CSW, appointment to the Commission was
controlled, not by these organizations, but by national governments. Whilst many
countries selected their delegates from women’s associations, the British
government rejected this approach and instead selected their delegates on the
basis of party political affiliation. These delegates were consequently less
interested in the promotion of the international women’s rights agenda than in
the protection of British interests and reputation. A lobbying campaign by British
women’s associations worked to secure more expert British representation and to
ensure that the British position was more sympathetic to the goals of the
Commission. This lobbying was not limited to the question of representation, but
included support for the work of the Commission: women’s associations and
their allies in government urged the UK to ratify the CPRW. This article argues
that successful ratification of the CPRW reflected both the persistence of the
women involved and also the changing context of both British domestic and
colonial rule and the British position on United Nations-sponsored human rights.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-495
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012