Human Rights and the Rights of Women

06 December 2019

Gender and Sexuality | History | War and Conflict

This blog includes temporary free access to "Union Jack" (Central Italy edition), no. 628. Click here or on the images below to view this newspaper for free until 3 January 2020.

December 10 is Human Rights Day; it celebrates the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations. Certain to find a grand celebration of the Declaration I delved into our resources but was instead side-tracked by a page from "Union Jack" in Service Newspapers of World War Two.

Union Jack (Central Italy edition), no. 628, 30 May 1946, © Material sourced from The British Library; POPEYE © King Features Syndicate, Inc./™Hearst Holdings, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The issue from 30 May 1946 includes a short news story on moves to draft the UDHR, driven by Eleanor Roosevelt in her role as head of the Commission of Human Rights. The article also reports comments from Bodil Begtrup, the chairman of the Sub-Committee. She calls particular attention to achieving equality for women, urging “that the United Nations should make a world-wide, up-to-date, reliable and valid survey of the laws pertaining to the status of women, the application and actual status of women.”

Union Jack (Central Italy edition), no. 628, 30 May 1946, © Material sourced from The British Library; POPEYE © King Features Syndicate, Inc./™Hearst Holdings, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

It would be hard to doubt that this was a much needed and worthwhile call. However, if any doubt remained we need only read through the left-hand column of the page. In the “Britain in Brief” feature there are two small distillations of the prevailing circumstances of women.

Union Jack (Central Italy edition), no. 628, 30 May 1946, © Material sourced from The British Library; POPEYE © King Features Syndicate, Inc./™Hearst Holdings, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

“Divorced at 60” captures in a few lines the financial restrictions faced by many married women. The pensioner subject of the article has finally been granted a divorce, something that is clearly a novelty to the readership. This has only become possible to her once she has had access to her old age pension, presumably up until this point she has not had a personal income.

Union Jack (Central Italy edition), no. 628, 30 May 1946, © Material sourced from The British Library; POPEYE © King Features Syndicate, Inc./™Hearst Holdings, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Just two articles down and we’re once more presented with the subject of women’s pensions in “The Spinster’s Case”. The sentiment of the apparently misogynistic James Snowhill is a little unclear as he declares “The world does not need the work of women.” And then immediately “There is no earthly reason why a woman who if able to do a job should be pensioned off earlier than anyone else.” (Could you try to be a little more consistent in your denigration of women please James?) However, after a stinging rebuttal from a Miss Vera Clemo he withdraws his objection. Clemo’s case is to highlight the unpaid labour of women’s traditional roles.

The page isn’t entirely damning indictments on man’s treatment of his fellow man (or woman) though. My favourite, “Villagers come to the rescue”, covers the small village of Swardeston in Norfolk where the inhabitants are pulling together to get Jerry Spratt back on his feet after “his caravan fish and chip shop was burnt down on the opening day”. Let’s hope that Swardeston soon enjoyed a Friday chip supper once more. 

Union Jack (Central Italy edition), no. 628, 30 May 1946, © Material sourced from The British Library; POPEYE © King Features Syndicate, Inc./™Hearst Holdings, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

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About the Author

Sarah Birse

Sarah Birse

Since joining the editorial team at Adam Matthew in 2015 I’ve had the opportunity to work on some fantastic resources including Colonial America and Leisure, Travel and Mass Culture. My academic background is in literature and I have a background in acedemic publishing.