Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Michelle Brattain

Second Advisor

Kim Reimann

Third Advisor

Ian Fletcher


When the United Nations proclaimed an International Women’s Year in 1975, women members organized a conference of delegations from member-states and a parallel forum of advocates from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Mexico City. The highpoints of the United Nations Decade for Women that followed were two more meetings, in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1980 and Nairobi, Kenya in 1985. This dissertation project explores the last and arguably most decisive meeting that took place during the Decade, the United Nations Third Conference on Women and NGO Forum in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985. Without this event, the justly famous “women’s rights are human rights” gathering a decade later in Beijing in 1995 would have been inconceivable. This Decade’s finale answered the question of who belonged to, who counted in, who represented the actual diversity of women around the world? The agency and impact of transnational feminists is not just a matter of interest to historians of the 1980s. This dissertation historicizes what until recently seemed inevitable, going back to a transitional decade and highlighting the actions and visions of women who catalyzed another globalization whose meaning and merit we may only now be able to fully appreciate in the current geopolitical climate. This dissertation uses a wealth of primary sources to highlight individuals who took part in and helped plan the Nairobi 1985 meeting, the organizational records of key NGOs and UN agencies, as well as print and audio-visual material generated by mainstream and feminist journalists. This dissertation project shows that Nairobi 1985 was when and where a richer, transnational feminism came together before reverberating outward through feminist activism and media networks around the world.


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