The Transnational Movement for Pan-American Sovereignty and Women’s Rights

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 1:50 PM
Room 603 (Colorado Convention Center)
Katherine Marino, Ohio State University
Multiple meanings of “sovereignty” – “sovereignty of the self” as well as national sovereignty – helped drive forward a transnational Pan-American feminist movement that, between 1915 and 1946, internationalized women’s rights. In these years, Latin American and U.S. activists in the Pan American Union’s Inter-American Commission of Women moved women’s rights from domestic into international law with the Equal Rights and Equal Nationality Treaties which also became the bases of wider transnational activism. In 1945, Latin American feminists, all of whom had cut their teeth on Pan-American feminism, pushed “women’s rights” into the United Nations charter and conception of international human rights. These innovations in the Pan American realm stand in stark contrast to their relative lack of traction in the League of Nations, which firmly established that women’s rights were a matter of national self-determination and sovereignty rather than the subject of international law. A close examination of the inter-personal, organizational, and ideological politics of Pan-American feminism reveals how it drew upon connections between national and individual sovereignty to push the internationalization of women’s rights. While some inter-American statesmen challenged the notion of international women’s rights on the basis that it would infringe upon national sovereignty, Pan-American feminists themselves drew upon a broader discourse of Pan-Americanism that saw opposition to U.S. hegemony, international multilateralism, inter-dependence of nation states, and sovereignty of citizens as vitally interconnected. This paper explores these connections, focusing on several pivotal moments, including a 1926 inter-American women’s conference in Panama when contests over U.S. hegemony and racialized arguments about suffrage helped spearhead the first articulations by Panamanian and Cuban feminists. Several decades later, contests over U.S. hegemony in the United Nations mobilized those at the 1945 conference that created the UN to combine advocacy for the rights of small nations with promotion of international women’s rights.