The women who went to Paris in 1919 and lobbied for Article 7 showed the type of change that could happen if women’s voices are heard. While this was insufficient to break the patriarchal grip on international law, women’s presence pushed debates on gender equality into the mainstream of international law.
Male domination of the formal worlds of diplomacy and international law had, prior to World War I, ensured that women were excluded, just as they were in the domestic sphere, from formally engaging in public international law. The Paris Peace Conference in 1919, which created the League of Nations, was the first occasion when women officially addressed delegates and, for a few women, took part in negotiations.
As a direct result of women’s lobbying at the 1919 Peace Conference, Article 7 of the Covenant of the League of Nations stated that its Secretariat – an international civil service – would be open to both women and men.
Women-led non-governmental organisations including the Women’s Peace Party, the International Women’s Congress for Peace and Freedom and the Inter-Allied Suffrage Conference (IASC), were at the forefront of pushing for legal and political change at the domestic and international levels in the decades before 1919. In Paris, these organisations held meetings (the first international NGO parallel conferences), sent petitions and representatives to push for changes on key issues such as women’s suffrage, employment rights, citizenship, and women’s roles in the new, and at the time novel, international organisation, the League of Nations. While some calls, such as those regarding suffrage, went unheeded, because of these women’s interventions women’s role as essential to the creation and operation of international law was finally recognised.
Today, gender inequality remains a critical issue at the international level. In 2016 the UN Secretary General admitted that 83 per cent of its entities have failed to hit gender targets with no overall progress since 2012 and only 33 per cent possessing a gender unit or equivalent to aid in achieving gender equality.
The full version of this landmark is written by Aoife O’Donoghue.
United Nations Gender Network, ‘Welcome to the United Nations Gender Network’ https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/united-nations-gender-network/
United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service, ‘Women at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference’ https://www.unngls.org/images/multilateralism/gender_part_3_main.pdf
United Nations Women http://www.unwomen.org/en