Women: Linking Lives with Democracy

Sheila Rowbotham


In Paris during May 1968, students protesting against their conditions were joined by young workers.  Over the course of the year the questioning spread internationally. Apparently spontaneously, women in this ‘new left’ were beginning to envision a democratic revolution that redefined the scope of politics. In September 1968, a young German student, Helke Sander, exploded at a left conference in Frankfurt: ‘Comrades your meetings are unbearable’. Women, she asserted, wanted more democratic forms of communication, the recognition of the links between personal, sexual life and public political participation, because the aim was the transformation of daily life. She described how men in the revolutionary student movement regarded these as ‘frontier trespasses’.

Later that autumn I wrote an article ‘Women: A Call to Revolt’ for the British left paper Black Dwarf. It was published in January 1969, and in the same year grew into the pamphlet Women’s Liberation and the New Politics. In it, I sought to understand why women and other oppressed groups appeared to acquiesce. I was preoccupied with silence and how it could be broken.  Encouraged by the beginnings of the women’s liberation movement, I started looking at how women had resisted in the context of past revolutions, struggles for reforms, and movements for national liberation.  This essay chronicles some of these struggles and explores the link between women's lives and the making of democracy.

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