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Research Seminars



Nova Robinson
Seattle University "Sisters in Asia": The Struggle over Defining Women's Rights at the League of Nations and Early United Nations


12 Sept 2019

4:30 p.m.
4.36 Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus



Women's rights were internationalized at the League of Nations as individual rights. Aware of the negative consequences of classifying women's rights as individual rights, women from throughout Asia—Afghanistan, Burma, Ceylon, China, India, Iran, Java, Japan, and Syria— worked together to try to challenge Western hegemony in early discussions of international women's rights. Their efforts included convening conferences to rival those hosted in European capitals, lobbying the League of Nations, and working with anti-colonial nationalist leaders to expand international women's rights to include the women's rights systems found in Asia. Importantly, not all Asian women agreed about how to define and protect women's rights. The tensions among Asian women and with Western women illustrate the challenges of defining and protecting women's rights internationally. Uncovering international Asian women's activism in the 1930s and 1940s inserts Asian women into the narratives of early global women's organizing from which they are often excluded and reveals the multiple articulations of women's rights that circulated at the League and later at the United Nations. The exclusion of these alternative conceptualizations of how women's rights could be defined and protected through international governing bodies has had lasting impacts on the diffusion of women's rights today.


Nova Robinson is an Assistant Professor of History and International Studies at Seattle University. Her research is situated at the intersection of women's history, Middle Eastern history, and the history of international governance. Her manuscript Truly Sisters: Syrian and Lebanese Women's Transnational Activist Networks is currently under review at Stanford University Press. Recent articles have been published in the International Journal of Middle East Studies and the Journal of Middle East Women's Studies. Her research has been supported by several fellowships including a Fulbright and a grant from the American Historical Association.


Co-sponsored by Gender Studies Programme, HKU.


All are welcome. No registration is required.