2024 IFRWH Conference Theme

Reflections on Major Issues in Women’s History:

Gender equality, gender division of labor, political participation, sexuality, family, and society

The second decade of the twenty-first century has seen major upheavals that have threatened to reverse much of the progress made in achieving greater gender equality. On the one hand,

the global Covid-19 pandemic intensified reactionary trends as the closing of childcare centers and the shift to online classes, put strong pressure on women to stay at home and supervise children. The pandemic exposed the glaring gaps in income in many countries, focusing attention on the precarious working conditions among “essential workers,” many of whom were women engaged in important, but poorly remunerated, “care work.” 

At the same time the pandemic was spreading across the globe, new concerns were raised by the outbreak of war with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As the war continued it has not only brought disastrous losses of life and property but also has threatened the institutions that have stabilized the international system since the end of the Cold War. In country after country, governments have begun to give more attention to “national security” issues, military budgets are rising, and with them concerns that we are on the threshold of a new Cold War.

When we consider the current state of study of women’s history, although there has been much interesting new work, we cannot ignore the huge challenges we face, as political movements have mobilized in opposition to the expansion of the rights of women and sexual minorities, have blocked efforts to close gender gaps, and have waged campaigns to take away a woman’s right to control over her own body and reproductive choices.

In many countries, falling birthrates have led to calls for a return to more traditional gender roles. The decline in birthrates, which in many East Asian countries are now well below the “replacement rate,” has put pressure on social welfare systems and led to criticisms of the rise in women’s educational levels and an increase in the number of women pursuing independent careers. Conservative politicians have called for a return to “traditional family values” with their sharply gendered understandings of the appropriate division of labor tasks. 

The conservative reaction in opposition to the gains in gender equality made in recent decades is a global phenomenon, although the particular focus of debate varies from country to country. In North America and Australia attacks on gender studies programs have argued that programs in gender studies fail to prepare students for the job market. In the United States, conservative campaigns have challenged women’s most basic rights, including the right to control their own bodies in making decisions about whether to have a child. Other campaigns have challenged the progress that had been made in some US states regarding the rights of sexual minorities.

The current “cycle of reaction” has raised questions about how we understand fundamental questions in women’s history, including changes in the gender division of labor, the role of women’s political participation in making change, and understandings of sexuality, the role of motherhood, family, and social organizations. In setting the theme for the conference as “reflections” we especially welcome proposals for panels, roundtables, and papers that examine existing understandings of women’s history and suggest new approaches. 

Among the questions we would like to consider are the following: 

  • How have the rise of populist nationalism and post-Covid-19 societal changes impacted our understandings of women’s history? 
  • How have the rise of militarism, the threat of a new Cold War and post-Covid-19 societal changes impacted our understandings of women’s history?
  • How has the global backlash against gender equality changed our understandings of the central issues in women’s history?

  • How do advances in digital technologies such as AI or Siri create and perpetuate gender biases?