7 Facts about the origins of women’s rights


Partial suffrage was first received by women of New Zealand. In 1893 they were allowed to vote, but not elected (this right they achieved in 1919). The key figure of New Zealand suffrage was the Englishwoman Kate Sheppard. Her image today can be seen on a ten-dollar bill of the country. The United Kingdom and the United States allowed women to elect and be elected in the 1920s, the Kingdom of Romania gave this right to women in 1938, during the autoritarian rule of Carol II, but France did this only in 1944, following a decree of the French Interim Government led by Charles de Gaulle.

Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg (Róża Luksemburg)

From 1790 to 1807 the right to vote for women was provided by the State of New Jersey. But the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, giving to the Americans active suffrage, was adopted only on August 18, 1920. The text of the amendment was written by American activist Susan Anthony, whose birthday (February 15) is celebrated in the country in memory of women’s struggle for voting rights.

The first speech in defense of women’s rights in the British Parliament began in 1865 with the filing of the politician and philosopher John Stuart Mill. By the beginning of the 20th century, there were already several political women’s organizations in the country (the most famous being the Social and Political Union of Women, led by Emmeline Pankhurst, who at the beginning of the activity enlisted the support of James Hardy). After a long struggle – in 1928 – women won, securing the granting of voting rights to all adults of the British regardless of gender. But the suffragettes were set on fire by the house of Lloyd George – despite the fact that the Prime Minister supported their movement as a whole.

Youngest parader in New York City suffragist parade

In Brunei, women have equal voting rights with men – they can elect and be elected to municipal authorities. In Saudi Arabia, women were granted suffrage only in 2015 (at the same time, a woman was elected to one of the municipal councils of Mecca for the first time). But in Vatican women do not have any voting right at all: the Pope of Rome is elected by the state, which is elected by the College of Cardinals. Neither a cardinal nor a Pope can become a woman.

Francisco Franco and his supporters adhered to traditional views on the family. The woman was considered primarily a keeper of the home, and therefore could not go to work, travel and dispose of property without her husband’s permission. At the same time, Spanish women could vote from 1931, and during the Francist Spain they were also allowed to polling stations – after that they turn 21. To vote, however, it was possible only at referendums: the dictatorial regime did not mean parliamentary elections.

In 1975, one of the biggest strikes in the history of the country occurred: 90 percent of Icelandic women took to the streets to demonstrate the importance of women’s work, undervalued by men. Five years later, Icelandic organizations for the protection of women’s rights insisted on nominating Vigdis Finnbogadottir to the presidency, which gained 33.6 percent of the vote and won, becoming the first woman president of a democratic state. And although Margaret Thatcher was the first woman to take the post of Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1979, it should be remembered that the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy (whose throne, however, is also occupied by a woman).

The former communist dictator of the Socialist Republic of Romania, Nicolae Ceaușescu banned the sale of contraceptives to women who had fewer than five children. The ban did indeed lead to an increase in the birth rate, but also to the number of abandoned children and the deaths of women as a result of clandestine abortions. In 1990, after the overthrow and execution of Ceausescu, the law was repealed. Since then, abortion and the sale of contraceptives in Romania are completely legal.

Text by Claudiu C. CREȚU

© The Bunget Arts & Culture 2019

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