- Editorial NoteWomen and the Global 1970s
What does the 1970s look like through the lens of women's history? The articles in this issue explore key markers of this decade—the expansion of the rights revolution that began in the 1960s, a loosening of previous restrictions on contraception and abortion, the broadening of women's healthcare and family planning organizations, and the growth of the environmentalist movement—to show how these developments touched the lives of women in Egypt, Australia, the United States, and Spain. Whether centered on national and regional studies or such global moments in 1970s women's history as the 1975 International Women's Year Conference in Mexico City, the articles highlight women's empowerment through bodily sovereignty, sexual exploration, state resistance, and traditional forms of high politics.
We open with two articles that examine the long 1970s with regard to family planning initiatives. The first, by Alissa Walter, focuses on Egypt under President Jamal 'Abd al-Nasir's modernization project while the second, by Teresa Ortiz-Gómez and Agata Ignaciuk, is located in Spain during late Francoism and the transition to democracy. Family planning centered on contraception became an important postwar social experiment, dovetailing with UN debates about population and resources. By the 1960s, the widespread availability of contraceptive technologies like the Pill and the IUD invigorated these programs, and often their primary objective was women's empowerment through the avoidance of unwanted pregnancies. But this was not necessarily the focus in the developing world where, as Walter shows, family planning reflected postcolonial anxieties about the strain that high birth rates placed on state resources, thereby hindering national development.
In Nasir's Egypt, contraception was part of an effort to modernize the lower classes. Walter illustrates rural women's spirited "non-participation" in this program, which was a key reason it failed in the 1960s and 1970s. In her account, ignoring the state constitutes resistance, and ignore the state they did: women declined to use any modern contraceptives at all, they rejected government-issued contraceptives, they used traditional herbal or barrier methods instead, or they adopted contraceptives provided by the government to space births, in the hope of increasing the number of surviving children in their families. This was not about religious objections, or women's refusal to act "rationally" by eschewing small families. As Walter concludes, rural Egyptian women "were not averse to regulating their fertility, they simply wanted to do so on their own terms." [End Page 7]
The Spanish family planning movement developed in a different context: the public debates on contraception and abortion that occurred in many Western states from the mid-1960s through the 1970s. By the end of the decade, Britain, France, Italy, West Germany, Canada, and the United States all had witnessed a loosening of legislation on birth control and abortion. As Ortiz-Gómez and Ignaciuk show, such liberalization also occurred in Spain where, under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, contraception was illegal. Birth control activism nonetheless emerged among progressive members of the medical profession in the late 1960s, in the outpatient clinics of public hospitals where doctors and nurses circumvented "hospital directives and contemporary legal norms" to advise in favor of contraception. They were joined by members of the burgeoning feminist movement that had sprung up after Franco's death in 1975. While for Spanish feminists, family planning was part of the "new sexual ethics" promoted by the international women's health movement, for doctors, it was generally a reflection of their support for the ideals of the World Health Organization and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Ideological differences between feminists and physicians did not deter cooperation, however. This successful grassroots coalition of doctors and feminists helped to bring about the decriminalization of contraception in 1978, during Spain's transition to democracy.
Women's healthcare is also central to Flannery Burke and Jennifer Seltz's analysis of "natural birth" in the United States. Their article reminds us that the rise of modern environmentalism—and the emergence of environmental anxieties about pollution—occurred in the decade of the 1970s as well. Burke and Seltz compare the perspectives of feminists and...