Association of Women's Museums

In 2000-2001, Pauline Cockrill, who was then curator of the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame in Alice Springs, was that year’s recipient of the Northern Territory Government’s Women’s Fellowship. She spent three months overseas studying the history, management and organisation of real and virtual women’s museums, identifying around 40 women’s museums around the world, dedicated to women’s cultural history or art. Pauline Cockrill described women’s museums as growing out of the international women’s movement of the late 1960s and developing in order to bring women’s history out of the shadows.

At the time of Pauline Cockrill’s research, there was only sporadic and isolated contact between women’s museums across the world. In 2000, the Women’s Museum in Merano, Italy learned of the Woman’s Museum “Henriette Bathily” in Gorée, Senegal, and so began an important collaboration. One of the outcomes of this collaboration was a congress of international women’s museums.

The International Association of Women’s Museums, and its forerunner the Network of Women’s Museums, was established by and grew out of a number of international congresses of women’s museums. The first of these was hosted by the Women’s Museum of Merano and the Women’s Museum “Henriette Bathily” in Gorée. The “godmother” of this first international congress was the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate (2003) and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi.

The collaboration “womeninmuseum”/Network of Women’s Museums was created at this first Congress, a loose union of women’s museums and initiatives dedicated to women which defined their common objectives as: increasing the visibility and acceptance of women’s museums; actively supporting each other; and making use of an internet platform in order to push ahead the work of the network.

A Resolution of the 1st International Congress of Women’s Museums was proclaimed which included a common definition of a women’s museum: “Women’s Museums are diverse; they reflect political, cultural, artistic, economic and social roles and situations of women in the past and present. They preserve and generate women’s cultures, remove prejudices and contribute to the respect of women and human rights. They are the mirror of society and also of the changing of the world”.

A year later followed the second international congress of women’s museums, held in Bonn, Germany, which had as its goal: “to make the network a strong instrument for women’s culture and women’s museums, to strengthen the exchange of knowledge and projects and to lead the way to mutual support. The enthusiasm shall spread from this conference to other countries and further the rise of new fascinating projects”.

The issues discussed at this congress included the ongoing coordination of the network and the importance,development and possibilities of an internet platform. A working group was established, consisting of at least one representative per continent. The working group’s tasks included researching the advantages and disadvantages of membership with the International Council of Museums and deciding on the criteria for admission of other museums to the network.

As part of the second congress, the first common exhibition of women’s museums worldwide opened, Women’s Museums Worldwide which included Idols – Role Models – Heroines, in which 28 museums participated.

The Third International Congress of Women’s Museums was held in 2010 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Five important topics were discussed at this congress. Firstly, it was decided that it would be advantageous to become members of the International Council of Museums and agreement reached on working towards an affiliated membership of the Council. This required the founding of an international association and for half of all the network’s members to join the International Council of Museums. Secondly, a new Council Committee was elected, with a single co-ordinator as well as representatives from each continent. Thirdly, in deciding on criteria for membership to the Network of Women’s Museums, it was agreed to accept any museum which would like to become a member. It was also decided to make two changes to the 2008 Resolution, so that museums which followed and signed that resolution would be invited into the network and that the network be opened to single persons as “friends of women’s museums”. Finally, it was agreed that the fourth international congress of women’s museums would be held in Alice Springs, Australia, in 2012.

Between 2010 and 2012 (the third and fourth international congresses respectively), a two-day “protocol meeting” was held in Berlin, attended by European members of the “International Network of Women’s Museums”. Funding was no longer available for the co-ordinator role (held by Astrid Schönweger) and so representatives at this meeting decided that all member museums would pay a set monthly fee to cover the part-time co-ordinator’s position while permanent funding was sourced and secured. It was also agreed that preparations were needed in the lead-up to the Australian congress for the creation of the international association, the formation of which had been agreed upon at the third international congress the previous year.

The fourth international congress of women’s museums was held in Alice Springs, hosted by the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame. At this fourth congress, representatives decided on a name for the international association, the International Association of Women’s Museums, as well as membership, voting provisions for the General Assembly and the structure of the Executive Board for the new association. 

The International Association of Women’s Museums has been established as a non-profit association, with its registered seat in Bonn, Germany. Its purpose is to promote “culture, arts, education and training from a female perspective” and it undertakes to realise these objectives “by research and development of projects, exhibitions, new initiatives, community activities, seminars and conferences”.

The ethos of the International Association of Women’s Museums includes actively supporting a global network of women’s museums; encouraging female solidarity; promoting gender-democratic societies; and strengthening the acceptance of women’s museums worldwide.

For more information, visit the International Association of Women’s Museums webpage at