A Global History of Women’s Shelters
01 February 2023 to 30 June 2023
This project examines the emergence and growth of the global women’s shelter movement. Centring on activism against gender-based violence in London, Berlin and Delhi, it explores how feminist ideas have traversed and evolved across borders and asks what the possibilities of feminism are in different social and political contexts. In doing so, it builds on my previous research on the history of domestic violence activism in divided Berlin, while also expanding it to a global context.
My first book, Feminist Transformations and Domestic Violence in Divided Berlin, 1968-1990 explores the history of domestic violence activism in and across Berlin. It reveals the significance of transnational feminist connections to German responses to violence against women. For example, the West Berlin shelter was modelled on Chiswick Women’s Aid in London and West German feminist ideas about violence and women’s inequality were forged at international events like the 1976 Brussels Tribunal on Violence against Women. This is echoed in much of the research on the women’s shelter movement. Scholars have emphasized the importance of transnational connections between activists to the global proliferation of domestic violence shelters. In particular, the origins of the movement have frequently been attributed to the circulation of British feminist Erin Pizzey’s book Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear, published in 1974. However, while these transnational connections may have shaped German (and global) feminist practice and thought, they were not directly transferred. As my research shows, domestic violence activists in Berlin translated and transformed feminist ideas and practices to suit their own political and social context.
Building on these findings, the first aim of this project is to examine the history of feminist activism against gender-based violence in London, Berlin and Delhi, exploring how feminists understood violence against women and how they sought to address it. Delhi will be used as an important counterpoint to the study of London and Berlin, as the project explores how the legacies of colonialism and impact of international development schemes have shaped the path of addressing violence against women. The second aim of the project is to evaluate the legacies of this feminist activism, asking how feminist agendas have been adopted politically and to what extent has this led to meaningful change.
Jane Freeland is a Lecturer in History and Fellow of the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen Mary University of London. She is an historian of women and gender, and her research focuses on the history of feminism in the twentieth century, with a particular focus on activism against domestic violence, reproductive rights, and feminism and the media. Her book, Feminist Transformations and Domestic Violence in Divided Berlin, 1968-1990, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.