This article pieces together a complex genealogy of the multiple contexts that helped reshape women’s international organizing and create a global women’s human rights movement following the United Nations (UN) Decade for Women, 1975–85. It maps a multilayered history consisting of many different strands of women’s activities around the globe that increasingly converged in the 1970s, although in unanticipated ways. Through its broad focus on women in distinct social, political, and intellectual arenas, it links the UN human rights system and its oversight committees and commissions with the first two UN Development Decades of the 1960s and 1970s. And it interconnects these global structures, discourses, and activities with old and new patterns of women’s postwar organizing and with the emerging challenges to canons of knowledge and research methodologies from feminist theory and epistemology. Starting in the mid-1970s, four distinct yet overlapping endeavors converged: the work for international human rights, colonial and postcolonial expectations of economic development and well-being, women’s rights and liberation movements, and women’s studies in their global translations. This critical history, however, has all but been lost in the fraught contemporary debates about human rights as a vehicle for radical gender and social change.

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