Women and the UN

Course Description: 

This course explores how the improvement of “women’s status” became part of the agenda of the United Nations and how “women’s rights” gained recognition as “human rights,” but it also critically addresses what has been achieved and what not.

We will start with an introductory session about the longer history of the main international women’s organizations from the 1880s onwards and their role after 1919 in the League of Nations. We will then look at the role of women and international women’s organizations in advancing gender equality within the UN, including the UN Charter, the Commission on the Status of Women, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1952 and 1955 Conventions; the ways in which the concepts of emancipation and rights have evolved and become more encompassing; and the history and impact of International Women’s Year (1975), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979), and the four UN World Conferences on Women (1975, 1980, 1985, 1995). These issues will be discussed in the context of contemporary global politics, including the Cold War and decolonization.

The materials we will read and discuss include histories of the UN and some of its main agencies, biographies and autobiographies of major actors, UN documents and various internet resources.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will acquire knowledge of the key literature on women and/in the UN;  basic knowledge about the role of international women’s organizations in intergovernmental bodies; understand the long-term process of getting gender issues acknowledged and addressed at the international level; and understand the impact of global economic and political changes on international gender policies.



Your grade will comprise of the following elements:

  • Active participation in class:                 25% of the grade
  • One reaction paper:                               25% of the grade
  • Term paper:                                               50% of the grade