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Vorderwuelbecke, Janou

Taking the “Troubles” to East Berlin:  How the 1975 Women’s World Congress became a Transnational Forum for the Northern Ireland Conflict

This paper explores the interaction between women’s organisations and state authorities against the background of the Cold War by analyzing the World Congress of International Women’s Year. This event took place in East Berlin in October 1975. Organised by the Women’s International Democratic Federation and heavily financed by Moscow, it was very much designed to be a communist counter-draft to the official UN’s International Women’s year conference in Mexico earlier that year. Although many liberal women’s groups boycotted the World Congress participation from the West remained prominent.
This empirical case study first frames the Cold War context of this long-neglected Congress before focussing on the agenda of British participants who tried to mobilise support for the Republican struggle in Northern Ireland during their stay in East Berlin. The purpose of this approach is to explain how feminists negotiated ideological agendas across borders in this period. Close analysis of the relevant primary sources not only confirms that UK and GDR authorities closely watched these non-governmental activities but also reveals actual acts of co-operation between participants and state representatives on both sides. The empirical evidence thus suggests that international women’s solidarity turned out to be an ideal of primarily rhetorical value when other ideological agendas interfered. My paper thus calls for a fresh research perspective that allows scholars to conceptualise women not just as antagonists but also as advocates of governmental policies during the Cold War.

Friday 30 Oct, 9.00-11.00 SESSION 4
Panel: Women and the Cold War