In April of 1971, female activists throughout North America gathered in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada to meet female liberation fighters from Viet Nam and Laos. Some North American protestors had traveled to Southeast Asia to witness firsthand the U.S.-initiated wars in that region. Canada also had served as the site for previous international gatherings devoted to discussions about how to promote peace. However, the Indochinese Women’s Conferences of 1971 represented the first opportunities for large numbers of American and Canadian women to have direct contact with their “Asian sisters.” Commonly depicted in activist literature as peasant figures, holding a baby in one hand and a gun in the other, Asian women served as the primary symbol of third world resistance against the most powerful and technologically advanced nation in the world.
This talk examines the goals, events, and outcomes of the Indochinese Women’s Conferences of 1971 as a case study to understand how North American women sought to build an international and multi-racial movement based on anti-war politics. This study seeks to expand on existing scholarship on social activism of the long decade of the 1960s in three ways. First, it highlights the activism of women in the peace movement, even after the turn towards gender “separatism.” Second, the conferences offer an opportunity to analyze the opportunities for and obstacles against the formation of multi-racial and transnational alliances, i.e. “global sisterhood.” Conference organizers, guests, and attendants faced the challenges of how to communicate and work across national, racial, ideological, and cultural boundaries. Finally, the talk examines how North American activists both challenged and were influenced by orientalist understandings of Asia and Asian women. Specifically, the presentation will explore how idealized projections of revolutionary motherhood framed North American women’s understandings of their own lives, goals and strategies for social change.