Sunday, April 3, 2011

Women’s suffrage in Western countries

When talking about women’s right to vote, such countries as Saudi Arabia or Brunei are always mentioned because women cannot vote there. It is true: some countries ban the participation of women in any kind of election and this is abhorrent (there are many countries in which neither men nor women can take part in elections, but this topic will be discussed in another post). However, it is also true that we often talk about these countries as if, democratically speaking, they were light-years behind us, and maybe we should take a look at women’s right to vote in western democracies to check that, in fact, it is not such an old, well-rooted tradition among us.
To begin with, there are only three countries (New Zealand, Australia and Finland) where women have been casting their votes for more than one hundred years, but not longer: New Zealander women were first allowed to vote in 1893, but they could not stand as candidates. In 1902 in South Australia and in 1903 in Tasmania women could take an active part in elections. The rest of western democracies accepted women’s suffrage later on –the last country was Liechtenstein in 1984. In Switzerland women’s suffrage was not accepted until 1971, after it was put to the vote in 1959 and two thirds of Swiss men voted against the law that allowed women to cast a vote.
Moreover, some of these countries fiddle with their democratic past: the US and South-Africa granted women’s vote in 1920 and 1930 respectively, but only for white people (until 1965 in the US and 1994 in South Africa). In Spain, women’s suffrage was introduced in 1931 (during one of the two really short periods of Spanish history in which there was no king or dictator running the country), but then there was a period of 40 years in which no-one (neither men nor women) could exert their right to vote.
It is obvious that democracy does not progress at the same rate around the world, but it would not be fair to believe that we are so far ahead. There is much work to do to be considered fully democratic countries, for our democratic attitudes and for the universality of vote. We feel ashamed when we realise that, not long ago, women did not have the right to vote… Will we also feel ashamed in a future when we will be reminded that, in 2011, immigrants had no right to vote and be part of our society like the rest of us?

  1. Women’s vote in Saudi Arabia:
  2. List of countries with women’s suffrage in chronological order:
  3. Women’s vote in Switzerland:


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