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Women in History: Voting Rights

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In celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (March 8) we thought we’d try something a bit different for the blog. We asked the foreign law specialists, analysts, and interns at the Law Library of Congress to provide responses to a series of questions related to the history of women’s rights in various countries. Margaret also contributed information on the U.S. We particularly wanted to highlight some of the important milestones and people around the world in three areas: women’s suffrage, political participation, and involvement in the legal profession.

Today, in the first of three posts to be published over the next week, we look at women’s voting rights. In our next post we will examine the participation of women in national legislatures. Finally, our third post will cover women in the law, including the first women lawyers and judges in different countries.

Illustration shows a woman holding a flag labeled "Woman Suffrage" standing behind an angry hag labeled "Militant Lawlessness" with a Medusa-like face, wide-eyed and open mouth, rushing toward the viewer, carrying a bomb and a torch with smoke labeled "Arson."
The feminine of Jekyll and Hyde / Udo J. Keppler (Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, N.Y., June 4, 1913). “Illustration shows a woman holding a flag labeled “Woman Suffrage” standing behind an angry hag labeled “Militant Lawlessness” with a Medusa-like face, wide-eyed and open mouth, rushing toward the viewer, carrying a bomb and a torch with smoke labeled “Arson”.” Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,

QUESTION: When did women gain the right to vote?

ARGENTINA (by Graciela Rodriguez-Ferrand):  Law 13,010 on the Political Rights of Women granted women the right to vote in Argentina when it was enacted on September 9, 1947.

BRAZIL (by Eduardo Soares):  Regionally, in 1927 an Electoral Law issued by the state of Rio Grande do Norte determined that all eligible persons could vote and stand for election, without distinction of sex. As established in the law, in 1928 women from the cities of Natal, Mossoró, Açari e Apodi registered to vote. Women were granted the right to vote in national elections in 1932, when an Electoral Code was enacted through Decree No. 21,076 of February 24, 1932.  

CHINA (by Laney Zhang):  The first Electoral Law of the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China), promulgated in 1953, expressly stipulated that women enjoy the same rights to vote and stand for election as men. More than 90% of women cast their vote in the subsequent elections conducted at the grassroots level nationwide in December that year.

EGYPT (by George Sadek):  Article 61 of the 1956 Egyptian Constitution and article 1 of Law No. 73 of 1956 on the Exercise of Political Rights granted women the right to vote in Egypt.  Women participated in the national elections for the first time in 1957.

FRANCE (by Nicolas Boring):  While there appears to be evidence that French women had voting rights in medieval assemblies such as the General Estates, the regimes that came out of the French Revolution only allowed male citizens to vote. In 1944, after the liberation of France, women were allowed to participate in the national elections under an ordinance of the French provisional government. Two and a half years later, the Preamble to the Constitution of 1946 proclaimed that women would have the same rights as men in all matters, including the right to vote. The Preamble was incorporated by reference into the Constitution of October 4, 1958, which is France’s current constitution.

GERMANY (by Wendy Zeldin):  Women in Germany were granted the right to vote and to stand for election in 1918. The first government of the new German Republic, formed in 1918, introduced the principle of women’s active (right to vote) and passive (right to stand for election) suffrage which was reflected in article 109 of the Constitution of 1919, “Weimarer Reichsverfassung” (Die Verfassung des Deutschen Reichs).

GREECE (by Theresa Papademetriou):  Women were granted the right to vote and to be elected in parliamentary elections in 1952 by Law No. 2159/1952. However, women could not vote in the November 1952 elections because they were not registered in time to be included in the voter registration lists, as required by law.

INDONESIA (by Constance Johnson):  The 1945 Constitution, which was promulgated after Indonesia became independent in August 1945, granted Indonesian women the right to vote in national elections for the first time.

ISRAEL (by Ruth Levush):  Israeli women had the right to vote from the day the state of Israel was established in 1948. Israel’s Declaration of Independence provides that the State of Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

JAPAN (by Sayuri Umeda):  A December 1945 revision of the Election Law granted women the right to vote in Japan. Women then participated in the April 1946 election, the first general election to be held after the war.

MEXICO (by Gustavo Guerra):  On October 17, 1953, the Mexican federal government published the law, amending articles 34 and 115 of the 1917 Constitution, that granted women the right to vote in national elections.

NEW ZEALAND (by Kelly Buchanan):  On September 19, 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections when a new Electoral Act was signed into law. Women were then able to vote in the November 1893 election, with about 80% of women in the country registering to vote and 85% of those registered actually voting on election day – a higher percentage turnout than that of men, at 70%.

NICARAGUA (by Norma Gutiérrez):  On April 20, 1955, amendments to Nicaragua’s 1950 Constitution gave women the right to vote by removing all the previous legal restrictions. Women exercised their right to vote for the first time in the February 3, 1957, election.

A photograph in black and white of Emmeline Pankhurst wearing a black coat with a white ruffle.
English suffragist and political activist Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), leader of the British women’s suffrage movement. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,

PAKISTAN (by Tariq Ahmad):  Pakistan adopted universal adult suffrage for provisional assembly elections soon after it became independent in 1947. Pakistan’s first and second Constituent Assemblies were formed through indirect elections of provincial assemblies. In 1956, women were granted the right to vote in national elections under Pakistan’s first Constitution. However, due to political instability and cycles of military rule it was not until 1970 that Pakistan had its first direct general elections for the National Assembly. Pakistan’s current 1973 Constitution preserves the right of women to vote and includes provisions for reserved seats for both houses of parliament.

RUSSIA (by Peter Roudik):  The rights of women to vote and be elected to the national legislature were granted in August 1917 by the Statute on Election of the Constituent Assembly. In July 1918, this right was constitutionally protected by the first Russian Constitution, and women were represented in all Soviet legislative bodies.

SOUTH AFRICA (by Hanibal Goitom):  South Africa accorded women who were “wholly of European parentage, extraction or descent” the right to vote in 1930 through the Women’s Enfranchisement Act of 1930. “Coloured” women and Indian women (along with men in the same categories) were accorded the right to vote in 1984 under the Electoral Act Amendment Act of 1984. Black women and black men were granted franchise after the end of the apartheid era under the 1993 Interim Constitution.

THAILAND (by Ployparn Ekraksasilpchai): Thailand was formerly governed under an absolute monarchy and changed to a constitutional monarchy on June 24, 1932 (B.E. 2475).  As a result, the first Constitution was signed by the king in December of that year and this document permitted women to vote and stand for elections.

UNITED KINGDOM (by Clare Feikert):  A bill allowing women to vote was first presented before parliament in 1870, but it took almost fifty years until the Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918 for women to get a very limited right to vote. The 1918 Act only served to enfranchise women over the age of 30 that met certain property qualifications. In 1928, the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act gave all women aged 21 and over the right to vote.

UNITED STATES (by Margaret Wood):  The first state to grant women the right to vote was Wyoming when it was admitted to the Union in 1890 with a constitution that specifically included women’s suffrage. As a territory, it had granted suffrage through a bill signed on December 10, 1869, the first legislative body in the world to do so. Fourteen other states granted women the right to vote in state and national elections before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.

A black and white photograph of Missouri Governor Frederick Gardner seated and signing the resolution ratifying the 19th constitutional amendment surrounded by a large group of men and women.
Missouri Governor Frederick Gardner signing the resolution ratifying the 19th constitutional amendment; Missouri became the 11th state to ratify the “Anthony Amendment.” (Photo by Doug Deeg, 1919.) Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,

Comments (19)

  1. What a terrific idea this is! Thank you.

    Interesting that Wyoming was the first state to grant women suffrage, and New Zealand was the first sovereign nation. Also, Israel gave women the vote from the very first.

    Would seem that, when women are co-pioneers, they’re given more respect.

  2. Finland 1906, first in Europa.

  3. When did women gain right to vote in india?

  4. India gave women right to vote in 1950 when the Republic was formed (as per women held the highest respect and worshipped in Bharat since time immemorable

  5. I am wondering why it is not mentioned in this article that women in New Jersey had the right to vote (and used it) until that right was taken away in 1807. It seems to me a very important part of the history of women’s suffrage.

  6. In response to Salley, the reasons for giving the vote are important. From what I read in the past, women were considered “citizens” in Wyoming to meet the population threshold for statehood. Voting rights were subsidiary.

    “Would seem that, when women are co-pioneers, they’re given more respect.” ummm Women are always co-pioneers.

  7. You need to revise your date George Sadek. You are looking at Egypt post-independence. If you are to state the date (1956) you need to make it clear that it was that late because of the colonization of Egypt. However, women before since 1919 revolution has been active in politics and had a say. Don’t forget Safiya Zaghloul who successfully organized a demonstration of 500 women at that time. I see that date of 1956 to be misleading and is only looking at the official documents.

  8. why did it take so flippin long 4 females 2 vote in America ? i mean seriously come on and when did canada make female voting legal ???

  9. I find it very odd that Turkey is not even mentioned here? Turkish women were allowed to vote from date: April 3rd – 1930. Long before so many other countries, and yet it’s not even on the list. Wonder why it is totally ignored?

    • Hi Schule – each staff member contributed information for one country that they cover, so that we could have a sample from around the world. We love our readers to provide more information on other countries, so thank you for commenting about Turkey! Please feel free to expand on the history of women’s suffrage there.

  10. why were women not aloud to vote

  11. given voting rights to women

  12. What year were Kenya women get the right to vote?

  13. What year were Kenya women get the right to vote?

  14. In India the constitution that came in force with effect from 26 January 1950 mandated universal franchise: right to vote and to be elected to all citizens without any consideration of sex or religion.The women exercised their franchise at par with the men during the first general elections that began in 1951.

  15. You left out Australia. In 1894, South Australia was the first state to give women the vote. Australian feminists always claim South Australia was the first place in the world where women could both vote and stand for office (they acknowledge New Zealand’s 1893 vote, women were initially not allowed to stand for office there). When reminded about Wyoming, they then qualify the claim to state that their women were the first to be able to stand for office in a Westminster system, i.e, a parliament. The Wyoming example is unknown to most Australians.

  16. when did women get to vote in kenya

  17. Why is the embarrassing history of suffrage in Switzerland left off this list?? Swiss women weren’t granted the vote until 1971?!?

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