In Women, Empires, and Body Politics at the United Nations, 1946–1975 (University of Nebraska Press, 2023), Giusi Russo focuses on the first decades of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) to examine gender politics in the postwar period. The Commission was comprised of a diverse group of women whose ideas about equality often clashed. Shaped by Cold War politics and the process of decolonization, the CSW’s work grappled with issues like polygamy, family planning, FGM, and women’s role in development. Through its interactions with women and women’s bodies in the colonial world, the CSW moved from concerns with law to practice, and from formal public rights like civic equality and political participation to private rights concerning marriage and reproduction. Russo brings in the voices of a range of CSW delegates to highlight how women representing newly independent nations pushed back against narratives that rested on an imperial feminist foundation. Their rhetoric demonstrates how body politics were intertwined with broader geopolitical trends, and recenters prevailing understandings of the CSW that underestimate its influence prior to 1975. Russo argues that women living under colonial and postcolonial systems were key actors in defining the politics of women’s rights at the UN.
Rebecca Turkington is a PhD Candidate in History at Cambridge University studying transnational women’s networks.
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