A Brief History
On November 28, 1893, the women of New Zealand became the first women in the world to vote in a national election. Of course, women had voted in local and regional elections before this date, but never in a nationwide election.
Women in democratic countries had long, but largely fruitlessly, campaigned for the right to vote (suffrage), especially since 1804 when the International Woman Suffrage Alliance was founded in Berlin, Germany. By the late 19th Century the Women’s Suffrage movement was growing throughout the civilized world, and with it demands for other Civil Rights and equality for women. (Oddly enough, many women actually opposed “equal” rights and being allowed to vote, thinking their lives would become harder and more demanding, and less forgiving.)
Various states, cities, colonies and other sub-federal governments began to allow women to vote, but the women of New Zealand claim first prize as a national voting force. In Australia the 6 colonies became a single country in 1901 and in 1902 women there got the right to vote, but only “White” women, as Aborigines (including men) still could not vote. Finland (1907) and Norway (1913) led the way for European women, but in most countries of Europe and the Americas women had to wait until World War I was over.
Women in the United Kingdom (Great Britain) got a conditional right to vote in 1918, but only at age 30 and with a University degree! Not until 1928 did UK women have full suffrage. (Men could vote at 21 with no schooling required.) The US followed in 1920, and in Canada women voters went province by province from 1917 until finally Quebec in 1940. China, India and Japan all got women’s suffrage in 1947, while many Arab and Islamic countries did not grant women’s suffrage until much later if at all. Even now, many Islamic countries have only partial women’s suffrage. In a bit of a twist, Kuwait had women’s suffrage from 1985 until it was revoked in 1999, although it was reinstated in 2005.
A disappointing number of European countries did not have women voting until after World War II, with France (1944 during the War), Italy (1946) and Greece (1952) as examples. Switzerland did not permit women’s voting until 1971!
With women making up half or more of the population of most countries, on the surface women as a voting bloc would seem unstoppable, capable of passing any laws and electing any representatives they want, but this has usually not been the case as other factors are involved, such as race, class, religion and the like. These divisions have kept the United States from ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, the largest single women’s issue in American history, and possibly a future goal of women voters.
Today it seems to be “common sense” that adult women are human beings of equal worth as men and deserve equal rights such as the right to vote, but it was not always seen that way. Question for students (and subscribers): Do you disagree and think women should not vote? If so, please explain why. Should we pass the Equal Rights Amendment? Again, tell us why or why not in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Franz, Anne-Mareike. The women’s suffrage movement in New Zealand. GRIN Verlag, 2008.
Grimshaw, Patricia. Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand. Auckland University Press, 2013.
Hutching, Megan. Leading the Way. HarperCollins, 2010.