February 19th

On This Day in 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing nation to give women the vote. To commemorate the anniversary of women being recognised as sentient human beings, we here at the FeedBack felt it appropriate to look at when other nations gave women the vote, and which still, to this day, deny them it.


The petition to gain female suffrage received 32,000 signatures in New Zealand, equivalent to around 4.6% of the population at that time, though it should be clear that the indigenous Maori would not have participated, meaning it was equivalent to around 8% of the electorate.

Firstly, you may have noticed the self-governing line in the above paragraph. That was not by mistake because it was in fact the Crown Dependancy of the Isle of Man which first gave women the vote in 1881. However, the Manx Election Act retained the same property ownership clause that applied to men in Great Britain and as it was not self-governing it can hardly take the title of the first nation to give women the vote.

The first European nation to allow for female suffrage was the Grand Duchy of Finland, part of the Russian Empire, in 1905. Finland saw some of the earliest democratically elected female legislators with 19 being elected in the 1907 elections.

Many independent nations enacted female suffrage at the end of the First World War to thank them for their tireless service to their nations. Such nations included the United Kingdom (who had stringent requirements including a minimum voting age of 30 for women compared to 18 for men). The United States also passed the 19th amendment leading to nationwide participation for both genders. The federalist nature of the US had allowed many states to enact legislation prior to that, for example most East coast states like California and Washington had full suffrage prior to the constitutional amendment – indeed Wyoming had allowed women to vote since 1869!

Some other European nations were slower to adopt similar acts. In France, for example, it was only after the fall of the Vichy government in 1944 that women got the vote and in other places like the small nation of Lichtenstein it wasn’t until as late as 1984. The often overlooked dictatorships in Spain and Portugal mean’t that it wasn’t until the late 1970s until they even had democracy again, let alone female votes.

Even today however, democracy and female suffrage are not guaranteed. In December of 2015 the Saudi Arabian government – infamous for their patriarchal society which prevents women from driving – allowed some female participation in the municipal elections (the legitimacy of which is always in question given the influence of King Salman over political affairs and the rather undemocratic tenure of politicians).

Despite the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women from 1979, a number of largely African or Middle Eastern countries are considered to continue to infringe women’s rights. Places like Somalia, where the central government collapsed in 1991, were making significant progress in relation to female rights, however have since found their work reverted. With that said, their are hopes that the next election (currently delayed due to the ongoing civil war) will be held with full suffrage.

If there is anything that should be taken from today’s On This Day it is the realisation that, in many nations, female rights are still incredibly new. When people debate the wage gap or the representativeness of Parliamentary bodies, it is perhaps worth remembering that, 100 years ago, many who are currently arguing against those things would likely also have been arguing against women even having the vote.


One thought on “February 19th

  1. Pingback: Met appoints first Female Commissioner – A History of Women in the Police | The FeedBack

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