Women’s suffrage: 100 years since millions of women got the vote around the world

The first countries to grant women the vote in 1918 include Ireland and Azerbaijan.

United Kingdom

But in the UK, it was only women over 30 who owned a property or had a university education that were allowed to vote.

The legislation granted some women in the UK the right to vote, but while its anniversary serves as a reminder of how far we’ve come, it should also underscore how much work still lies ahead.
The Act and what it achieved should also not be over-celebrated. While it marked an important beginning of a process, it was in many ways a feeble start. It gave females the right to vote, but only if they were over the age of 30, owned property, were a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register or were a graduate in a university constituency.
Most significantly, it paved the way for the Equal Franchise Act a decade later: an extension of the Act from 1918, which gave all women over the age of 21 the right to vote – property owners or not.
Despite the political reform of 1918 and 1928 that came as a result of the Suffragette movement led by Emmeline Pankhurst, it took several other pieces of legislation for real social reform to be achieved here in the UK, theoretically granting women rights on par with those enjoyed by men.

Azerbaijan became the first Muslim-majority (although secular) country to enfranchise women when it introduced universal suffrage in 1918. On paper, the genders share the same legal rights but the reality lived by many women in the former Soviet republic can betray that fact because they are often repressed by traditional social norms. This might explain its position of 98 out of 144 countries in last year’s Global Gender Gap Index. 
In politics, Mehriban Aliyeva was last year made vice president of the nation – but she is also the first lady, with her husband Ilham Aliyev having been president since 2003. Her appointment was hailed as a major stride forward for women’s rights.

Poland itself was an early supporter of women’s suffrage. After 123 years of foreign domination. As Poland had no independence between the end of the 18th century and 1918, both women's social role and their fight for suffrage was rather individual. Women's organizations that emerged in the 19th century was connected to the fight for national independence, and their members suffered for their political involvement. The best-known example was the all-female group 'Enthusiasts' ('Entuzjastki'), the first organized women's group working to improve women's status, particularly in education. Women's organizing was not only hindered by tradition, but also by legislation. In Poland, as in many other countries, the return of democracy and a real parliament in 1989 brought a decrease in the proportion of women MPs: from 20 percent to 13 percent in the first free elections. Debates regarding forms of democracy, including the introduction of a mandatory quota system, closely resemble the debates, disputes, and political processes taking place in other European countries.


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