International Women's Year: The Greatest Consciousness-Raising Event in History
The United Nations declared 1975 the International Women's Year, a time to focus on the issues facing all members of the female sex on a global level. The capstone event of the year was the International Women's Year conference, dubbed the greatest consciousness-raising event in history, held in Mexico City that summer. It attracted delegates from 133 countries, in addition to non-governmental organizations and press. The attendees included the famous-Betty Friedan, Jane Fonda, Angela Davis, and Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, among them; the royal-Princess Pahlavi of Iran; the politically connected-Leah Rabin of Israel, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirmavo Bandaranaike, and Egyptian first lady Jihan el-Sadat; and the grassroots. Splits were anticipated between white, Western liberal feminists and Third World /Communist/indigenous women, but what emerged from the conference was a far more complex realization that sisterhood was not more powerful than the issues that divided women, among them economic inequality, prostitution, reproductive rights, professional opportunities, Zionism, and disarmament. The conference was a major watershed in second-wave feminism, but in a larger sense, it marked the consolidation of transnational feminist organizing and a turning point in the role of NGOs in international activism, organizing, and governance. That this conference took place at the height of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and raised issues then being debated in diplomatic settings, heightens the importance of the IWY conference. Jocelyn Olcott has written a history of this event and its importance in a gripping narrative style that will appeal to those interested in international history, women's studies, and transnational movements.