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.
QUESTION: When did women gain the right to vote?
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.
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.