When women won the vote

Wed, Oct 17, 2012, 01:00

From New Zealand to Saudi Arabia:The representation of People Act, 1918, that granted votes to certain Irish and English women came at a relatively early point in the trajectory of the history of female suffrage in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

There were, however, nations that extended that right earlier and other countries, in Europe as well as elsewhere, that did not extend the right until much later into the 20th century.

New Zealand was the first nation to grant female suffrage, in 1893, to all adult women, both Maori and pakehas (of European descent). In 1894 women in South Australia were granted the vote and also the right to stand for parliamentary elections. In 1899 women in Western Australia were enfranchised.

In 1902 the Commonwealth Franchise Act gave all white women in Australia the vote and the right to stand for election to the Australian Federal Parliament. Aboriginal women in Australia, as well as aboriginal men, did not receive the vote until 1962.

In Europe the Nordic countries were pioneers in women’s suffrage. The first European nation to give women the vote was Finland in 1906. Women in the Grand Duchy of Finland, then an autonomous part of the Russian Empire, won the right to be elected members of the eduskunta, the Finnish unicameral parliament, in 1907.

Women in Norway received the right in 1913 with Denmark following in 1915. Other Nordic countries, such as Sweden, enfranchised women between 1919 and 1921, women in that country receiving the vote at least a year later than enfranchisement of Irish and English women over the age of 30. The end of the first World War was an important time for the enfranchisement of women in many European nations. Austria, Germany, Poland and Russia granted the vote to women in 1918 with the Netherlands following in 1919. Spanish women received the vote in 1931. However, there were certain countries in Europe in which women did not gain the vote until during or after the second World War. In 1944 French women received the right to vote. In 1945 Italy followed suit. Other European countries were even later to grant women suffrage; Switzerland did not grant the right until 1971 and Portugal not until 1976.

Canadian women, with the exception of Canadian Indians, received the vote in 1917. The latter were not enfranchised until 1960. In the United States women’s suffrage was granted on a local and state level from the late 19th century. In 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution stated that the right to vote of all citizens could not be denied by the US or any state within on the basis of sex.

Elsewhere, Mexico, Pakistan, Japan and Argentina granted female suffrage in 1947. China granted the right two years later in 1949 and India in 1950. Examples of countries in which women have only recently been granted the right to vote are South Africa (black women, 1994), Kuwait (2005) and the United Arab Emirates (2006). Women in Saudi Arabia will not have the vote until 2015.

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