Gabrielle Duchêne – pacifist and feminist
by Isabelle Quercioli
Gabrielle Duchêne was a feminist who changed the status of women by denouncing the patriarchal oppression present throughout society, and gave women the chance to make their voices heard in the public arena by means of organisations specifically created for them.
The first stage of her involvement was as a trade unionist. Since 1908, Gabrielle Duchêne had devoted herself to the struggle against the exploitation of women home-workers in the clothes industry and for their increased pay, improved work conditions, for the introduction of a law fixing a minimum salary, for equal pay and to promote trade-unionism through worker education.
Aside from her position as president of the work section of the Conseil National des Femmes Françaises from 1913 to 1915, she founded several organisations, such as a production co-operative, the Entr’aide, the Office Français du Travail au Domicile, the Comité Intersyndical d’Action contre l’Exploitation de la Femme and the Office Français des Intérêts Féminins.
A feminist and a pacifist, she attended the Congrès International des Femmes which met in La Haye in April 1915, motivated by the American Jane Addams and feminist associations in America and Holland.
Then she joined the Comité International des Femmes pour la Paix Permanente.
Around 1919, Gabrielle Duchêne left trade unionist activity behind in favour of pacifist militancy, which she had espoused in 1915 when she set up the French branch of the Ligue Internationale des Femmes pour la Paix et la Liberté, founded at the Congrès de Zurich in 1919.
Gabrielle Duchêne played a leading role, both in the international organisation as well as the French division. She took part in most of the congresses, sat on executive committees and went on many conference tours. She published a large number of articles in, amongst others, the magazine published by the French division of the Ligue Internationale des Femmes pour la Paix et la Liberté entitled SOS (1929-1935) and then, until 1939, En Vigie.
She also attended the Congrès International de la Paix which took place from 10-15 December 1922 in La Haye, under the auspices of the Fédération Syndicale Internationale.
In the years which followed, she was in contact with many pacifist organisations and took part in several pacifist demonstrations – in particular the conference organised by the Ligue Internationale des Femmes pour la Paix et la Liberté in Frankfurt 4-6 January 1929, on modern warfare methods and the protection of civil populations, as well as the Conférence pour la Réduction et la Limitation des Armements (Geneva, 6 February 1932).
From 1932, Gabrielle Duchêne embarked on the final stage of her collaboration with the anti-fascist movement.
She organised the Rassemblement Mondial des Femmes in 1934 and presided over her Comité Mondial des Femmes contre la Guerre et le Fascisme which met in Paris (4-7 August 1934), with the aim of harmonising and uniting female strength and international feminists against the fascist threat.
The Comité comprised two elements in France, the Centre Féminin d’Initiative pour la Défense de la Paix, and the Centre pour la Défense des Droits des Femmes.
Then she took part in the first Congrès de Rassemblement Universel pour la Paix, which took place in Brussels from 3-6 September 1936, where she addressed the congress on the status of women.
Following the Congrès d’Amsterdam, a Comité de Lutte contre la Guerre Impérialiste was formed. She was among the first signatories to the Comité d’Action Anti-fasciste et de Vigilance, formed on 12 March 1934.
Gabrielle Duchêne was an influential figure who symbolised the merging of feminist, pacifist and anti-fascist ideologies.
Feminism was her driving force.
She led the Ligue Internationale des Femmes pour la Paix et la Liberté until her death in 1954.
Gabrielle Duchêne left a large amount of written material of exceptional worth, bearing witness to the extent of her international and national activity over more than half a century. Her papers (books, pamphlets, journals, files and posters) were donated by her daughter Suzanne to the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine in Nanterre.