„Peace is too important to leave it solely to men“, Johanna Dohnal, Austria’s first Minister for Women’s Affairs.

In celebration of the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, the team of the Austrian Mediathek listened back in history to rediscover archived recordings of women’s voices and introduce to Europeana Sounds one of the most important political voices in the Austrian history of the late 20th century: Johanna Dohnal, who became the first minister of women’s affairs in 1990.

This is reflected in a new online exhibition curated by the Austrian Mediathek: „Frauenstimmen“ („Women’s voices“) presents a sound journey to historical voice recordings in music, literature and politics.

Online Exhibition „Frauenstimmen“ (in German)

„Online-Exhibition „Frauenstimmen“ („Women’s Voices“)  (Source: Austrian Mediathek)

„Online-Exhibition „Frauenstimmen“ („Women’s Voices“)
Source: Austrian Mediathek

Until the 1950s, recordings of women’s voices are very rare to be found in Austria. Of course, there are lots of music recordings with famous female opera singers and interpreters, but although the right for women to vote was established in 1918 there is hardly any female voice to be heard from the political sphere. In the second half of the 20th century the number of women gaining political power slowly increased and so did the number of recordings available today.

One of the most decisive voices in this time period belongs to Johanna Dohnal, the first Austrian minister of women’s affairs. Johanna Dohnal was one of the most important and prominent Austrian politicians dealing with women’s empowerment, improved protection from domestic violence or measures to ensure better compatibility of family and career.

Dohnal’s political career and her becoming an icon in women’s politics was far from being predestined: born as an illegitimate child to a sickly mother, she grew up mostly at her grandmother’s under modest conditions. Still a teenager, she joined the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and engaged in communal politics. Higher education was not affordable for her and she started working again soon after having children. Due to her commitment, the first women’s shelter in Austria was established in 1978. As a state secretary for women’s affairs, appointed by Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, Dohnal committed herself to improve the rights of working women. From 1990 on, serving as minister for women’s affairs, she ensured that sexual harassment was made a criminal offence and created the possibility to ban a violent husband from the joint household. She further campaigned for equality in public service. Maybe her own humble background made her receptive for injustices between sexes and classes.
She retired from politics in 1995 but continued her struggle for equal rights and worked with universities, NGOs, women’s organisations and labour unions.
Johanna Dohnal died in 2010 at the age of 71.

„Profile of Austria – Johanna Dohnal“ – Radio portrait of Johanna Dohnal, broadcast on November 11, 1989 on Austrian Radio International (in English)

by Eva Reder and Johannes Kapeller, Österreichische Mediathek