A Brief History
The first International Socialist Women's Conference took place in Stuttgart, Germany on 17 August 1907, and it was attended by fifty-eight participants from Europe, India and Japan. At this conference it was decided to establish an Women’s International Secretariat with Clara Zetkin from Germany as the person in charge. The Conference adopted a resolution on women's right to vote, which was to become the starting point of an untiring struggle for women's political rights. At the time, only women in New Zealand and Finland had the right to vote.
At the second conference, which took place in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1910, a resolution was adopted to mark one day in the year as International Women's Day as a day to campaign for women's right to vote and for the political emancipation of women. The conference also adopted a resolution on peace.
In 1912 the Socialist International held an extraordinary conference in Basle, Switzerland to monitor peace and pledge to campaign for an end to the Balkan war. Clara Zetkin gave a much applauded speech at this conference:
“Socialist women of all countries, fight in unity with the Socialist International against the war. The modern war is mass destruction and mass killing. But war is only the expansion of the mass killing that capitalism is perpetrating every hour of every day against the proletariat. Year after year, hundreds of thousands of victims fall on the battlefield of labour in the capitalist developed nations – more victims than in any war. Women are a growing number of these victims. War is only the maddest form of mass exploitation through capitalism. It is the sons of the proletariat who are led against each other, to kill each other. Women and mothers deplore such a crime and do not think only of the mutilated bodies of their own relatives, but also of the harm to their souls. War threatens all that mothers have taught their children about solidarity and international community. Women can teach their children with profound feelings against war, but this does not mean that women are not willing to make sacrifices. They know that it is necessary to fight and to die in the struggle for freedom. The fight against war and the fight for freedom, cannot be fought without women”.
After the first world war in 1926 the women's movement was restructured and became known as the International Socialist Women’s Committee and Edith Kemmis took charge of the Secretariat in Zurich, Switzerland.
In 1928 Martha Tausk, a Member of Parliament in Styria, Austria, took over as the Secretary and she continued in this post until 1934. At the time many Austrian Socialists were persecuted and were forced to go into exile. A year later, the Secretariat was relocated to Brussels, Belgium and Alice Pels was the Secretary until 1940.
The themes discussed at the conferences between the two World Wars, were 'Women and Mobilisation', 'Women and Fascism' and 'The Economic Crisis'. The outbreak of the second World War made the work of the International Socialist Women’s Committee impossible. Once again the work of the organisation came to a halt. In March 1941, Mary Sutherland and the British Labour Women organised an International Women's Day where comrades of the countries under fascist regimes held speeches in their mother tongue. This would be the last international meeting of women for some time.
In 1955 the organisation was re-founded as the International Council of Social Democratic Women and relocated to London, United Kingdom, following a series of international conferences of women in which they demanded the renewal of the movement. In 1978 the name of the organisation was changed to its present name the Socialist International Women.
For an in-depth account of the history of the Socialist International Women please refer to the Publications page.