International Alliance of Women

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International Alliance of Women
Alliance Internationale des Femmes
FormationBerlin, 3 June 1904; 119 years ago (1904-06-03)
FounderCarrie Chapman Catt
PurposePolitical advocacy
Over 50 organizations world-wide
Official language
English and French
Alison Brown
Miranda Tunica Ruzario
AffiliationsGeneral Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, Participatory Status with the Council of Europe

The International Alliance of Women (IAW; French: Alliance Internationale des Femmes, AIF) is an international non-governmental organization that works to promote women's rights and gender equality. It was historically the main international organization that campaigned for women's suffrage. IAW stands for an inclusive, intersectional and progressive liberal feminism on the basis of human rights and liberal democracy, and has a liberal internationalist outlook. IAW's principles state that all genders are "born equally free [and are] equally entitled to the free exercise of their individual rights and liberty," that "women's rights are human rights" and that "human rights are universal, indivisible and interrelated."[1] In 1904 the Alliance adopted gold (or yellow) as its color, the color associated with the women's suffrage movement in the United States since 1867 and the oldest symbol of women's rights; through the Alliance's influence gold and white became the principal colors of the mainstream international women's suffrage movement.

IAW is traditionally the dominant international non-governmental organization within the liberal-bourgeois women's rights movement, i.e. the liberal-progressive wing of the broader bourgeois women's movement. The basic principle of IAW is that the full and equal enjoyment of human rights is due to all women and girls. It is one of the oldest, largest and most influential organizations in its field. The organization was founded as the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) in 1904 in Berlin, Germany, by Carrie Chapman Catt, Millicent Fawcett, Susan B. Anthony and other leading feminists from around the world to campaign for women's suffrage.[2] IWSA was headquartered in London, and it was the preeminent international women's suffrage organization. Its emphasis has since shifted to a broad human rights focus. As part of the liberal women's rights movement IAW maintained a clear pro-Western stance throughout the Cold War.[3] Today it represents over 50 organizations world-wide comprising several hundred thousand members, and has its seat in Geneva.

From 1926, the organization had strong ties to the League of Nations. Since 1947, IAW has had general consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the highest UN status possible for a non-governmental organization, the fourth organization to be granted this status. IAW also has participatory status with the Council of Europe. It has representatives at the UN headquarters in New York, the UN office in Geneva, the UN office in Vienna, UNESCO in Paris, the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. It also has representatives to the Arab League in Cairo and the Gulf Countries Council in Riyadh, and is a member of the European Women's Lobby in Brussels. IAW's working languages are English and French.

IAW understands LGBT rights as an integral part of feminism and has expressed concern over "anti-trans voices [that] are becoming ever louder and [that] are threatening feminist solidarity across borders."[4]


Colorized picture of Women from the Swedish National Association for Women's Suffrage (LKPR) (with student caps) in front of IWSA's (now IAW's) banner at the suffrage conference in Stockholm in 1911. Gold and white were the primary colors of the mainstream or liberal international women's suffrage movement, and had been used by American liberal suffragists since 1867
IAW's first President Carrie Chapman Catt
Co-founder and Vice President, Dame Millicent Fawcett

The International Alliance of Women, formerly the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, is historically the most important international organization within the bourgeois-liberal women's rights movement. The decision for the establishment of the organization was taken in Washington in 1902 by suffragists frustrated at the reluctance of the International Council of Women to support women's suffrage.[5] As such the Alliance was a more progressive organization that emphasized legal and political equality between women and men from the onset. The Alliance was formally constituted during the Second conference in Berlin in 1904 as the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA), and was headquartered in London for much of its history.[6] Its founders included Carrie Chapman Catt, Millicent Fawcett, Helene Lange, Susan B. Anthony, Anita Augspurg, Rachel Foster Avery, and Käthe Schirmacher.

Amongst subsequent congresses were those held in Copenhagen (1906), Amsterdam (1908), London (1909), Stockholm (June 1911), and Budapest (1913).[7] The French Union for Women's Suffrage (UFSF), founded in February 1909, was formally recognized by the IWFA congress in London in April 1909 as representing the French suffrage movement.[8] IWSA also started its own monthly journal, the Jus Suffragii. IWSA, influenced by moderate liberal feminist Millicent Fawcett against the militancy of suffragettes in the style of Emmeline Pankhurst, refused membership to the WSPU at their 1906 Copenhagen meeting.[7]

In the interwar period, the organization was one of the three major international "bourgeois" women's organizations, alongside the International Council of Women (ICW) and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Of these, IWSA (IAW) was more progressive and oriented towards legal equality and equal citizenship than ICW. At the same time, IWSA was more conservative than WILPF. The organization's members were often associated with liberal parties and movements, but some were also progressive conservatives or liberal conservatives. Most IAW members held "similar views of society and societal change, which assumed a top-down approach, where the elite were cast as the true agents of development." At the same time IAW claimed to speak on behalf of all women.[9]

In the late 1920s, the organization changed its name to the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship, and in 1946 this was altered to its current name, International Alliance of Women.[10][11] The first executive board included Carrie Chapman Catt (President), Anita Augspurg (1st Vice President), Donovan Bolden (2nd Vice President) and Rachel Foster Avery (Secretary).

The organization's first President Carrie Chapman Catt also founded the League of Women Voters in the United States during her presidency.

Since the onset of the Cold War the alliance's liberal internationalist outlook was strengthened. The alliance held firm anti-communist views and maintained a clear pro-Western stance throughout the Cold War.[3] Its second President, Dame Margery Corbett Ashby, wrote that "it was us or the communist women who would organize the Near East." In the alliance's journal International Women's News it was stated in 1946 that the support of the United Nations and democracy must "remain in the forefront of our programme."[9] Its third President Hanna Rydh worked actively to build cooperation in developing countries, partially to counteract communism.[9]

IAW's members in the Nordic countries were also members of the Joint Organization of Nordic Women's Rights Associations.


Political equality[edit]

IAW was founded to advocate for women's suffrage and political equality remains one of its traditional core issues.


Girls' and women's education has been an important focus of the liberal women's rights movement since the 19th century, and remains one of the core issues of IAW and its affiliates.

Legal and economic equality[edit]

Legal and economic gender equality have been core issues of the liberal women's rights movement since the 19th century. For example, IAW works to strengthen women's land and property rights, especially in developing countries.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights[edit]

Sexual and reproductive health and rights is another focus of IAW and its affiliates, that has become more important since the postwar era.

Violence against women and girls[edit]

Violence against women and girls, both conflict-related violence and domestic violence, is also a significant focus of IAW and its affiliates.

Sexual and gender diversity[edit]

The IAW family belongs to the mainstream or liberal women's rights movement and thus shares the mainstream feminist position on LGBT+ rights, which understands sexual and gender diversity and the struggle for LGBT+ rights as an integral part of contemporary feminism. The mainstream feminist movement's emphasis on an intersectional understanding of women's rights and gender equality in the 21st century is in line with developments in international human rights law as they relate to women's human rights, including the CEDAW Committee's increasing emphasis on an intersectional interpretation of the CEDAW. Both mainstream feminists and international human rights bodies view the anti-gender movement as a grave threat to the human rights of all women and girls. In line with this, IAW affiliates such as Deutscher Frauenring advocate for trans-inclusive feminism.[12] In 2021 IAW and its affiliate, the Icelandic Women's Rights Association (IWRA), co-organized a CSW forum on how the women's rights movement can counter "anti-trans voices [that] are becoming ever louder and [that] are threatening feminist solidarity across borders," where IAW's 16th President Marion Böker discussed her trans-inclusive position.[4] IWRA has stated that "IWRA works for the rights of all women – feminism without trans women is no feminism at all."[13] IAW's Danish affiliate, the Danish Women's Society, has said that it takes homophobia and transphobia very seriously, that "we support all initiatives that promote the rights of gay and transgender people" and that "we see the LGBTQA movement as close allies in the struggle against inequality, and we fight together for a society where gender and sexuality do not limit an individual."[14] IAW's Norwegian affiliate, the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights, supports legal protections against discrimination and hate speech on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.[15][16] The Icelandic Women's Rights Association has published a report on improving the situation of non-binary people in Iceland.[17] The IAW family's inclusive and intersectional position is aligned with other large mainstream feminist organizations such as the National Organization for Women[18] or the League of Women Voters,[19] itself founded by IAW's first President.


The original version of the logo of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, now IAW
Plate with the symbol and motto of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA). Text: "Jus Suffragii" (the right to vote). Lady Justitita holding a balance in her right hand.

The organization adopted gold (or yellow; Or in heraldry) as its color in 1904. The color, derived from the sunflower, is the oldest symbol of women's rights. It had been adopted by American suffragists in 1867 and became the principal color of the American women's suffrage movement, typically used alongside white.[20] Through the influence of the Alliance, gold and white became the principal colors of the mainstream international women's suffrage movement.

Colors were important in the iconography of the suffrage movement. The use of the color gold began with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony’s campaign in Kansas in 1867 and derived from the color of the sunflower, the Kansas state symbol. Suffragists used gold pins, ribbons, sashes, and yellow roses to symbolize their cause. In 1876, during the U.S. Centennial, women wore yellow ribbons and sang the song “The Yellow Ribbon.” In 1916, suffragists staged “The Golden Lane” at the national Democratic convention; to reach the convention hall, all delegates had to walk through a line of women stretching several blocks long, dressed in white with gold sashes, carrying yellow umbrellas, and accompanied by hundreds of yards of draped gold bunting. Gold also signified enlightenment, the professed goal of the mainstream U.S. suffrage movement.

— Amazons, Bluestockings, and Crones: A Feminist Dictionary[21]


  • 1st, Washington, D.C., 1902
  • 2nd, Berlin, 1904
  • 3rd, Copenhagen, 1906
  • 4th, Amsterdam, 1908
  • 5th, London, 1909
  • 6th, Stockholm, 1911
  • 7th, Budapest, 1913
  • 8th, Geneva, 1920
  • 9th, Rome, 1923 [22]
  • 10th, Paris, 1926
  • 11th, Berlin, 1929
  • 12th, Istanbul, 1935
  • 13th, Copenhagen, 1939
  • 14th, Interlaken, 1946
  • 15th, Amsterdam, 1949
  • 16th, Naples, 1952
  • 17th, Colombo, Ceylon, 1955
  • 18th, Athens, 1958
  • 19th, Dublin, 1961
  • 21st, England, 1967
  • 22nd, Konigstein, West Germany, 1970
  • 23rd, New Delhi, 1973


An International Congress is held triennially in the home country of a member organization, and elects the executive board. The current President and Chief Representative to the United Nations is Alison Brown. The executive board also includes the Secretary-General, the Treasurer and until 20 other members, including two Executive Vice Presidents as well as Vice Presidents for Europe, the Arab countries, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Africa, and Regional Coordinators for North America, Pacific, and South East Asia.


  1. Carrie Chapman Catt (USA) 1904–1923
  2. Dame Margery Corbett Ashby (UK) 1923–1946
  3. Hanna Rydh (Sweden) 1946–1952
  4. Ester Graff (Denmark) 1952–1958
  5. Ezlynn Deraniyagala (Sri Lanka) 1958–1964
  6. Begum Anwar Ahmed (Pakistan) 1964–1970
  7. Edith Anrep (Sweden) 1970–1973
  8. Irène de Lipkowski (France) 1973–1979
  9. Olive Bloomer (UK) 1979–1989
  10. Alice Yotopoulos-Marangopoulos (Greece) 1989–1996
  11. Patricia Giles (Australia) 1996–2004
  12. Rosy Weiss (Austria) 2004–2010
  13. Lyda Verstegen (The Netherlands) 2010–2013
  14. Joanna Manganara (Greece) 2013–2020
  15. Cheryl Hayles (Canada) 2020–2021
  16. Marion Böker (Germany) 2021–2022
  17. Alison Brown (USA) 2022–

Current status[edit]

The IAW represents about 45 organizations world-wide as well as individual members. The IAW was granted general consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the highest level possible, in 1947,[23] and has participatory status with the Council of Europe.[24] The IAW has permanent representatives in New York, Vienna, Geneva, Paris, Rome, Nairobi and Strasbourg and addresses the European Union through its membership in the European Women's Lobby[25][26] in Brussels. The IAW's current representative to the UN headquarters, Soon-Young Yoon, is also chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, New York.

The IAW pays particular attention to the universal ratification and implementation without reservation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol. The current IAW Commissions deal with the topics: Justice and Human Rights; Democracy; Peace; Elimination of Violence and Health.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Principles of the International Alliance of Women
  2. ^ "International Woman Suffrage News (Centenary edition)" (PDF). Women Alliance.
  3. ^ a b Francisca de Haan, Rosa Manus (1881–1942), p. 17, BRILL, 2016, ISBN 9789004333185
  4. ^ a b "Transfeminism and the Women's Movement". Icelandic Women's Rights Association. 15 March 2021. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  5. ^ Liddington 1989, p. 37.
  6. ^ Liddington 1989, p. 56.
  7. ^ a b Liddington 1989, p. 63.
  8. ^ Hause 2002.
  9. ^ a b c Gerdov, Christian (2022). "The 'World-Embracing' Hanna Rydh: An International Feminist (c. 1945–1964)". NORA: Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research. 30 (1): 7–19. doi:10.1080/08038740.2021.1987981. S2CID 243924763.
  10. ^ Women, International Alliance of. "International Alliance of Women Records, 1906-2009 (bulk 1913-1973) Finding Aid". Archived from the original on 2010-04-01. Retrieved 2019-06-07.
  11. ^ Boles & Hoeveler 2004, p. 21.
  12. ^ "Transgender Day of Remembrance – Internationaler Gedenktag für die Opfer von transfeindlicher Gewalt" (PDF). Deutscher Frauenring. 2021-11-20. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2022-01-19.
  13. ^ "IWRA works for the rights of ALL women. Feminism without trans women is no feminism at all". Icelandic Women's Rights Association. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  14. ^ "Køn, sex og seksualitet". Dansk Kvindesamfund. Archived from the original on 18 March 2022. Retrieved 2 January 2022.
  15. ^ "Norwegian Association for Women's Rights". Archived from the original on 15 March 2022. Retrieved 15 March 2022.
  16. ^ Karin M. Bruzelius (12 November 2018). "Høring – utredning om det strafferettslige diskrimineringsvernet". Norwegian Association for Women's Rights. Archived from the original on 11 August 2020. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  17. ^ "Being non-binary in Iceland: How is gender equality for non-binary people?". Kvenréttindafélag Íslands. 4 November 2022. Retrieved 2022-11-08.
  18. ^ "Even if Bigots Insist it is, Waging a Hate Campaign Against Trans People is Not Feminist". National Organization for Women. 25 July 2023. Archived from the original on 23 September 2023.
  19. ^ "The Status of LGBTQIA+ Rights in the US". League of Women Voters. 28 June 2022. Archived from the original on 21 September 2023.
  20. ^ Lumsden 1997, p. 162.
  21. ^ Cheris Kramarae & Paula A. Treichler (eds.), Amazons, Bluestockings, and Crones: A Feminist Dictionary, Pandora Press, 1992
  22. ^ Spriggs, W.M. (14 September 1923). "Branch Note - Edinburgh". The Vote. p. 295.
  23. ^ ECOSOC NGO database
  24. ^ CoE List of participatory NGOs
  25. ^ "The International Alliance of Women (IAW)". November 3, 2017. Archived from the original on 2018-09-23. Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  26. ^ EWL member organizations


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]