Women, Empires, and Body Politics at the United Nations, 1946–1975


Women, Empires, and Body Politics at the United Nations, 1946–1975

Giusi Russo

Expanding Frontiers: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Series

306 pages
7 photographs, 1 chart, index


March 2023


$30.00 Add to Cart

March 2023


$99.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

March 2023


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

March 2023


$30.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Women, Empires, and Body Politics at the United Nations, 1946–1975 tells the story of how women’s bodies were at the center of the international politics of women’s rights in the postwar period. Giusi Russo focuses on the United Nation Commission on the Status of Women and its multiple interactions with the colonial and postcolonial worlds, showing how—depending on the setting and the inquiry—liberal, imperial, and transnational feminisms could coexist.

Russo suggests that in the early stages of identifying discriminating agents in women’s lives, UN commissioners overlooked the nation-state and went through a process of fighting discrimination without identifying the discriminator. However, it was the focus on empire that allowed for a clear identification of how gender constructs were instrumental to state politics and the exclusion of women. An emphasis on colonial practices also generated a focus on the body and radically shifted the commission’s politics from formal equality to a gender-based equilibrium of rights that emphasized practice rather than law. Through a multidisciplinary approach, Russo looks at the women living under colonial and postcolonial systems as the key actors in defining the politics of women’s rights at the UN.

Author Bio

Giusi Russo is an assistant professor of history at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania.


"In recent years, a new wave of histories has documented the broad range and reach of women’s interventions in the international arena in the twentieth century. Giusi Russo’s Women, Empires, and Body Politics provides a welcome addition to this literature, exploring how women from a wide variety of countries engaged with the formal mechanisms created by the United Nations (UN) in the years before International Women’s Year (1975). Russo focuses, in particular, on the records of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), an archive that had largely been untapped to date."—Nicole C. Bourbonnais, Women's History Review

"Women, Empires, and Body Politics at the United Nations, 1946-1975 constitutes a very significant contribution to the study of the UN's gender politics, imperial feminism, and Cold War history, which will equally interest historians of women's and gender history and historians working on the global Cold War."—Chiara Bonfiglioli, H-Diplo

“Giusi Russo sheds light on the pivotal and until-now-overlooked role the UN Commission on the Status of Women played in defining international women’s rights between 1946 and 1975. During this era of the Cold War, decolonization, and economic development, the CSW developed the blueprint for what was later popularized as ‘women’s rights are human rights.’ . . . Demonstrating the inextricable links between ‘body politics’ and international politics, Russo’s book fills important gaps in global feminist, foreign relations, and human rights histories.”—Katherine M. Marino, author of Feminism for the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement

“An astute analysis. Giusi Russo provides a chronology of the emergence of body politics and the move from public (civic and political equality) to private (marriage and reproduction) discrimination that characterized this lingering period of imperial feminism. Russo has produced a theoretically sophisticated work that moves the discussion of feminisms in new directions by centering the Global South during and after colonial occupation.”—Eileen Boris, author of Making the Woman Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards, 1919–2019

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
1. Women of the World: Visible and Invisible Bodies
2. Imperial Encounters and Occupied Bodies
3. Cold War, Competing Womanhood, and Bodies in the Microcosm
4. The Sacred Trust and the Body in Pain
5. Bodily Rituals and the Dialectic of Foreign and Local Voices 
6. Bodies in Captivity, Gender Equilibrium, and the Shift from Liberal Politics
7. Reproducing the Nation and the Right to Control One’s Destiny

Also of Interest