I went on 15th February to a meeting of the Handsworth choir which was commemorating some women, at last, getting the vote in the UK 100 years ago. The choir – and all present – sang Suffragette songs interspersed with short readings about women’s campaign for the vote nationally and in Birmingham. My job was to put the issue in a global context.
The woman’s suffrage campaign was was an international movement. In 1904 the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance was founded in Berlin. New Zealand was the first in 1893. South and West Australia were early but discriminatory restrictions for aboriginal people were not removed until 1962.
In Europe the first was Finland in 1902 then Norway 1913, Denmark 1915, Germany and Poland 1918, Austria and the Netherlands 1919. The late Europeans were Spain in 1933, France shockingly as late as 1944 and Italy 1946 and Greece 1952. Most shockingly of all women did not get the vote in federal elections in Switzerland until 1971.
In the Americas, Canada came in in 1917, the US in 1920 and most of South America in the 1940s.
In 2015 Saudi Arabia allowed women to vote in local elections. Elsewhere in the Arab region the women’s campaign for the vote was linked to the struggle for independence and a universal franchise – Egypt 1956, Iran 1963, Iraq 1958, Jordan 1974.
In many countries there was a limited suffrage for some women before all men got the vote. This is I think important, there was a class issue not just a women’s issue. When women over 30 with property got the vote in 1918 in the UK, for the first time all men got the vote. Having died in such numbers in the war this could hardly be denied.
In the Caribbean woman could vote in local elections in Trinidad in 1936. In 1944 Jamaica got adult suffrage and in 1962 independence in 1962. The women’s campaign for the franchise in the Caribbean was strongly linked to Pan-Africanism and the call for independence.
In Africa there were some variations but mostly women’s votes came with a universal franchise in the 1950s and 60s.
The important conclusion for me is that it was not a question of women against men but privileged men against all women and men of no property. It is important to remember this in an era of identity politics where hatreds and division based on religion and ethnicity are being stirred up. The case for women’s equality is based on the right of all people to dignity and respect. If we stand together we can all make progress.