Women's suffrage is the right of women to vote in elections. Beginning in the mid-19th century, aside from the work being done by women for broad-based economic and political equality and social reforms, women sought to change voting laws to allow them to vote. National and international organizations formed to coordinate efforts towards that objective, especially the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (founded in 1904 in Berlin, Germany) and equal civil rights for women.
In recent centuries, many instances occurred where women were selectively given, then stripped off, the right to vote. The first province in the world to award and maintain women’s suffrage continuously, was Wyoming Territory in 1869, and the first sovereign nation was Norway in 1913. In the years after 1869, several provinces held by the British and Russian empires conferred women’s suffrage, and some of these became sovereign nations at a later point, like New Zealand, Australia, and Finland. Women who owned property gained the right to vote in the Isle of Man in 1881, and in 1893, women in the then British colony of New Zealand were granted the right to vote. In Australia, women progressively gained the right to vote between 1894 and 1911 (federally in 1902). Prior to independence, the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland women were the first in the world to gain racially-equal suffrage, with both the right to vote and to stand as candidates in 1906. Most major Western powers extended voting rights to women in the interwar period, including Canada (1917), Britain and Germany (1918), Austria and the Netherlands (1919) and the United States (1920). Notable exceptions in Europe were France, where women could not vote until 1944, Greece (1952), and Switzerland (1971). Now that Saudi Arabia has granted voting rights to women (2015), women can vote in every country that has elections.
Leslie Hume argues that the First World War changed the popular mood:
The women's contribution to the war effort challenged the notion of women's physical and mental inferiority. It made it more difficult to maintain that women were, both by constitution and temperament, unfit to vote. If women could work in munitions factories, it seemed both ungrateful and illogical to deny them a place in the voting booth. Nevertheless, the vote was much more than merely a reward for war work; the point was that women's participation in the war helped dispel the fears surrounding women's entry into the public arena.
Extended political campaigns by women and their supporters have generally been necessary to gain legislation or constitutional amendments for women's suffrage. In many countries, limited suffrage for women was granted before universal suffrage for men; for instance, literate women or property owners were granted suffrage before all men received it. The United Nations encouraged women's suffrage in the years following World War II, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979) identifies it as a fundamental right with 189 countries currently being parties to this Convention.
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