The Definition of ‘Suffrage’
The political franchise, only franchise or suffrage, is the right to vote in public and political elections. The right to vote is known as active suffrage in some languages and sometimes in English. Passive suffrage, on the other hand, is the right to stand for an election. Many Americans think that the right to vote, known as suffrage, is the most important right of an American.
Who are Eligible to Vote?
Today, in most countries where elections are held, any citizen who is 18 or above has the right to vote in the local, state, and national elections. When a person votes, s/he makes their voices heard. It also helps to elect the leaders who will represent the masses in the governments of the local, state, and national levels.
The Battle of Women’s Suffrage
Anybody aged 18 or above should consider themselves lucky to be able to exercise power to vote. It was not the case since forever. You will be intrigued to know that some sections of society have not always had voting rights in America and other nations. For instance, women in the United States did not receive their right to vote before 1920. Sadly, there are still numerous places across the globe where women are still not allowed to vote.
The Long Battle for American Women’s Suffrage
In America, women’s suffrage was indeed a long fight. Activists such as Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as well as Susan B. Anthony fought for almost a century to win the right to vote. The efforts started even decades before the onset of the Civil War. Even though the movement got attention right in its earlier stage, the momentum was lost when America started focusing on the Civil War.
Once the war was over, the African-American men were given the right to vote by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 1870. It took another two decades before Utah and Idaho, two western states, gave their women the right to vote when the nineteenth century was nearing its end. The women’s suffrage battle continued at a slow pace as it received a lot of opposition and backlash from people who did not want to give women the right to vote. Even though another war, World War I, slowed down the movement’s progress again, the action itself benefited from the war and women’s contribution on behalf of the battle for arguing in support of women’s suffrage.
The First Country Which Gave Women Suffrage
In 1893, New Zealand became the first nation or territory that formally allowed women to vote in the national elections. The nation enfranchised all its female citizens. A minimum of 19 other nations followed after New Zealand and gave their women the right to vote before the United States’ passage of its 19th Amendment in 1920.
These nations are spread throughout Asia and Europe. Around half of them first gave women the right to vote while being under Soviet or Russian control or immediately after being independent of Russia. It was in 1917 when Russia itself extend suffrage to its women after various demonstrations. Around eight or more countries gave voting rights to some, not all women, during or before 1920.
The Important years in Women’s Suffrage
Over half of the territories and countries, 129 out of 198, gave women the right to vote between 1893 and 1960. Except for the six European countries, this would include all the other countries. Some European countries that permitted universal suffrage post-1960 are Switzerland in 1971, Portugal in 1976, and Liechtenstein in 1984. In other regions of the world, women acquired voting rights in national elections only after big governmental or cultural shifts.
For instance, 80 percent of nations in Africa granted universal suffrage to its citizen from 1950 to 1975. It was a period of “sweeping European decolonization” for the African continent and some parts of Latin America and Asia. A lot of newly independent countries also adopted universal suffrage with their new constitutions and governments.
Weird Restrictions of Voting
You will be shocked to know that gender was not the only concern for voting rights in the world. Initially, a minimum of nineteen countries, including the United States, restricted the rights to vote for women of specific backgrounds based on demographic factors like marital status, age, race, and education level. At times, it took decades before citizens of these nations were enfranchised.
For example, in the United States, over four decades after the 19th Amendment when finally, the Voting Rights Act came into existence in 1965. It targeted the discriminatory local and state restrictions intended to keep the Black Americans away from voting. (See What is the difference between a Senator and a Governor, and which is higher in rank?)
The Recent Status
Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Bhutan are the most recent territories or nations to permit women to participate in the national elections. However, it is more complex than it sounds. It was only recently that the UAE and Bhutan started holding national elections. It was not before 2007 that Bhutan became a parliamentary democracy from a monarchy.
In 2006, the UAE granted permission to only a small number of its citizen to vote in the nation’s first national elections. In 2015, in Kuwait, the Parliament of the country amended the election law. This change granted women the right to run for office and the right to vote. In 2015, women in Saudi Arabia were enfranchised in the local elections. The nation does not conduct any national election. The establishment of South Sudan took place in 2011. It is yet to be included in the most recent countries to grant voting rights to women.
This is because women were given this right in 1964. And, at that time, the region was a part of Sudan. When you keep people’s struggles for suffrage in mind, it is unfortunate to see people take their right to vote for granted. In the latest national elections of the United States, merely 51 percent of the eligible voters actually turned up to cast their votes. This means that just around half of America’s citizens select the leaders for the entire nation. It is quite unfortunate how the hard-won voting rights of the citizens are not taken these days seriously.