When women got the right to vote in 50 countries
When women got the right to vote in 50 countries
The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted American women the right to vote. While it might feel as though it’s been an inalienable right for as long as we can remember, it really wasn’t that long ago that women not only didn’t have the right to vote, but also couldn’t own land, travel freely, or work outside the traditional roles prescribed by society. The amendment was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified on Aug. 18, 1920. It was also incomplete, benefiting white women almost exclusively due to Jim Crow laws and barriers to citizenship for many women of color in the U.S. at the time.
While the United States was one of the earlier countries to grant the vote, they were by no means the first, with countries such as New Zealand and Australia leading the way in equal rights for women. Other countries fell far behind the rest of the world in granting women equal voting rights, and many are still fighting gender bias and cultural stigmas when it comes to equality for women.
Regardless, women everywhere continue to make strides, make history, and make changes. And while there is still much to be done before all women can experience gender equality, there is no doubt that the women’s rights movement is alive and well today, and progress will march on for those rights.
In celebration of the centennial milestone for the 19th Amendment, here is a look at women’s rights across the globe. Using news reports and historical websites, Stacker compiled a list of 50 countries, and when they gave the majority of women the right to vote. The countries are listed in chronological order.
This comprehensive list not only showcases the dates women gained suffrage but also how they did it and what their political standing looks like around the world today. Check out the timeline and see when women around the world earned the right to vote.
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1893: New Zealand
Led by suffrage activist Kate Sheppard, the women of New Zealand campaigned in the late 1800s, putting together multiple petitions that called for parliament to grant women the right to vote. While the women received a great deal of opposition, with many cabinet members concerned that women would vote for the prohibition of alcohol, their lobbying finally paid off and on Sept. 19, 1893, the bill was signed into law.
[Pictured: The National Council of Women in Christchurch, New Zealand, 1896.]
In Australia, the women’s suffrage movement was initially divided between two regions, South Australia and Western Australia. In the south, after a struggle for equal rights that lasted for decades, the South Australian parliament passed the Adult Suffrage act in 1894, which not only granted women the right to vote, but also to stand for parliament. In 1899, Western Australia followed suit, and in 1902, the Australian parliament passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act, granting voting rights to all Australian women. Unfortunately, that did not include Indigenous Australian women, who were not given the right to vote until 1962.
[Pictured: Women voters outside a polling place in Brisbane, Australia, on May 25, 1907.]
Women in Finland were granted the right to vote in 1906, making it the first European country to do so. After political unrest led to a general strike against the czarist regime in 1905, a decree was issued for the creation of a parliament based on universal suffrage in Finland. In 1907, 19 women were elected as members of parliament in Finland’s first parliamentary election, and women continue to play strong political roles in the country today.
[Pictured: The world’s first female parliamentarians in Finland, 1907.]
Long known for being a leader in equality, it’s somewhat surprising that women in Norway fought for nearly 30 years for the right to vote. Norway’s parliament first debated the issue in 1890, when it was said that women could actually lose their identities and be a degradation to home and family if they were allowed to vote. By 1910, however, women had won the same voting rights as men in local elections, and by 1913, the Norwegian Constitution was amended to include all Norwegian citizens in the right to vote.
[Pictured: Women vote in Oslo, Norway.]
In the 1800s, Denmark’s political activity was only allowed for men over the age of 30 who were the head of their households, which accounted for just 15% of Denmark’s population. Activist Matilde Bajer formed a women’s suffrage group in 1871, and became the leader of the political wing of the Women’s Progress Association, which fought for women’s rights until finally winning the right to vote in 1915.
[Pictured: Marie Lassen in Denmark, circa 1921.]
Iceland’s first political women’s group, The Icelandic Women’s Association, was formed in 1894. Although women had been allowed to vote in local elections since 1881, it took years of lobbying and petitions for them to win the right vote in national elections. They were granted those rights in 1915, but the law only applied to women over the age of 40. It wasn’t until 1920 that the age restriction was removed. Today, Iceland leads the world in gender equality, ranking number one by the Global Gender Gap Report for 11 years running.
[Pictured: A celebration of women’s suffrage in Reykjavík, Iceland, on July 7, 1915.]
The fight for women’s suffrage in Canada spanned across the provinces, and women fought for decades for the right to vote. In 1917, those rights were awarded to the majority of Canadian women, the exception being Indigenous Canadians, both male and female, who did not win the right to vote until 1960.
[Pictured: A group of women walking outside of Toronto in 1912.]
It took 40,000 women marching through the streets of St. Petersburg for Russia to concede on the right to vote. Organized by The Russian League for Women’s Equality, which was started in 1907, the march took place after Prince Georgy Lvov took over in 1917. Lvov had announced new government provisions, which did not include women’s suffrage. After the protest, Lvov amended his provisions to include the right to vote for women.
[Pictured: Women's Suffrage Demonstration on the Nevsky Prospekt in Petrograd on March 8, 1917.]
In 1918, Poland gained its independence after more than 100 years of subjugation by Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary. With that milestone came independence for Polish women as well, as the new government awarded women the right to vote and participate in elections for the Sejm, Poland’s parliament. Women went on to fight for and win rights in matters of holding office, civil law, and property ownership.
[Pictured: Legion of Polish women participating in artistic activities on Aug. 20, 1920.]
The women’s suffrage movement in Germany began in the late 1800s, with women gaining the right to vote in 1918. Activist Clara Zetkin was one of the most well-known leaders of the movement who campaigned to develop the women’s movement and organized the first international women’s conference. As Germany transitioned from imperial rule to the Weimar Republic, the movement gained momentum, and equality for all sexes was eventually included in the new Weimar Constitution.
[Pictured: A crowd of women outside of a polling station in Berlin, Germany, in January 1919.]
Suffragette groups in Britain spent years campaigning, marching, rallying, and protesting before women won the right to vote. One of the largest demonstrations took place in 1908 and was organized by the Women’s Social and Political Union with 250,000 attendees. Suffragettes at the rally showed their frustration with the system by smashing windows and tying themselves to nearby railings. Women over 30 were given the right to vote in 1918, but universal suffrage wasn’t granted until 1928, when the law was changed to allow anyone 21 and older to vote.
[Pictured: Women's Suffrage pilgrims gather in Liverpool, England, in 1913.]
In the Netherlands, the women’s suffrage movement gained ground in the late 1800s, when the feminist movements taking place in England and the United States inspired women in the Netherlands to also take up the cause. Women were granted what was called a passive right to vote in 1917, which meant they could run for office and get elected in politics, but couldn’t vote themselves. It wasn’t until 1919 that women won the right to actually vote in the elections.
[Pictured: Dutch women going to the polls for the first time in Amsterdam 1921.]
1920: United States
Women in the United States won the right to vote in 1920, a decision that came after decades of a women’s suffrage movement that began in the first half of the 19th century. Activists such as Susan B. Anthony worked tirelessly to promote women’s rights and convince the government that women should be allowed to vote. Unfortunately, Anthony did not live to see the women’s right to vote become law. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave women the right to vote was named the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” in honor of her work. But while the amendment marked a milestone, its main beneficiaries were white women. Jim Crow voting policies kept many Black from voting for decades after the amendment, while Asian Americans and Native Americans often had a difficult time obtaining citizenship from the federal government and therefore could not vote.
President Trump on Aug. 18, 2020, posthumously pardoned Susan B. Anthony, who was arrested in 1872 for voting illegally.
[Pictured: National Women's Party leaders watch as Alice Paul sews a ratification star on the suffrage flag.]
Swedish women were legally permitted to vote in municipal elections as of 1862, but even those rights were restricted to the rarity of women who owned property and paid taxes. This level of income-graded voting was eliminated in 1919, and women were granted universal suffrage, although they were not able to act on this new freedom until the national elections in 1921.
[Pictured: A demonstration for women's suffrage in Gothenburg, Sweden, in June of 1918.]
In the late 1800s in Ireland, women not only weren’t able to vote in local or parliamentary elections, they also were discouraged from work or higher education, had any property they owned conferred to their husbands after marriage, and were only able to claim custody of their children until the age of 7. The Irish Women’s Franchise League was formed in 1908, and suffragettes fought tirelessly, and sometimes violently, for women’s rights. Women over the age of 30 were granted some voting rights in 1918, and full voting rights to all women over the age of 21 were granted in 1928.
[Pictured: An Irish woman votes in the 1948 election.]
1930: South Africa
Suffrage for women in South Africa began in 1899, with the founding of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the first group to campaign for women’s voting rights. The group eventually became known as the Women’s Enfranchisement Association of the Union and through the support of Prime Minister Hertzog, won equal voting rights in 1930. The voting was restricted to just white people until limited suffrage was offered to other non-Black racial groups in the 1950s. Black citizens would not have full voting rights until the end of apartheid in the 1990s.
[Pictured: A scenic view of Cape Town, South Africa, circa 1930.]
The fight for women’s suffrage in Spain was spearheaded by activist Clara Campoamor, who, along with the Spanish Social Party, worked to improve the lives of women and campaigned for their right to vote. After the revolution of 1931 and the rise of Spain’s Second Republic, women won voting rights, but weren’t actually able to exercise those rights until the 1933 election.
[Pictured: Women vote in an election in Spain on Nov. 5, 1933.]
While women in Brazil had petitioned for equal rights since the late 1800s, the movement didn’t gain momentum until the early 1900s, when activist Bertha Lutz wrote an article for a Brazilian newspaper that called on women to demand the right to vote. Lutz went on to found the Brazilian Federation for the Advancement of Women, and the group led a successful campaign, winning suffrage in 1932.
[Pictured: Early elections in Brazil.]
The Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, and just seven years later, women were granted the right to vote in local elections. Suffrage on a national level didn’t come until 1934, however, when legislation was enacted granting full political rights for women. Women became more active in politics after this, with Turkey electing its first female government minister in 1971, and first female prime minister in 1993.
[Pictured: A woman in Turkey votes.]
Women in France began their fight for the right to vote in the early 1900s, when the French Union for Women’s Suffrage was formed. Suffrage campaigns ground to a halt with the advent of World War II and the German occupation, but after the liberation, women were granted universal suffrage.
[Pictured: Women stand for the the right to vote in Paris, France 1934.]
Italy granted women the right to vote in location elections in 1924, but they did not win the right to full suffrage until 1945. In 1951, Italy elected its first female secretary of state and by 1961, women judges and diplomats were allowed.
[Pictured: Actress Gina Lollobrigida exits the polls in Rome, Italy, 1953.]
Until 1922, women in Japan not only couldn’t vote, they were not allowed to attend political activities or even voice their opinions on the subject. While women were slowly allowed more autonomy in the political process over time, they weren’t granted full suffrage until 1945. More than 13 million women voted in 1946, the first general election after World War II. Since then, women have become more prominent in politics, although they still only represent about 22% of the government’s seats.
[Pictured: Hatoyama Ichiro, former head of the pro-American Liberal Party, is shown with his wife as they cast their ballots in Japan's National Election in 1952.]
Argentina’s congress granted women the right to vote in 1947, and it was signed into law by President Juan Domingo Peron, whose wife Eva Peron had been a big part of the campaign for women’s suffrage. Eva went on to establish the Peronist Women’s Party, which she headed until her death in 1952. Women were not able to exercise their newfound rights until the general election in 1951, when 3.5 million women turned out to vote.
[Pictured: Women of Buenos Aires pose with their identification cards as they go to the polls for the presidential election in 1951.]
Pakistan granted women the right to vote in 1947, which was reaffirmed in 1956 to include a provision for a certain number of reserved seats in parliament. In 1988, Benazir Bhutto was elected as prime minister, the first Muslim woman to hold this post, and in recent years, more and more Pakistani women are registering to vote, with a 24% increase in the registration of female voters in 2018 alone.
[Pictured: Two women from Pakistan travel on a train in 1953.]
The movement for women to vote started when India was a British colony, and some women were able to vote following reforms passed in the 1920s. But universal suffrage only really came into play after India gained independence in 1947, and when the Indian constitution was enacted in 1950. While women have continued to become more politically active, they are still underrepresented in India’s parliament, with men still occupying the majority of political seats.
[Pictured: Women in India stand in line to vote.]
Women in Greece campaigned for universal suffrage as early as the late 1800s, but Greece didn’t grant full rights until 1952. Previously, women who were educated and over the age of 30 could vote in local elections, but could not participate on a national level. Greece recently elected Katerina Sakellaropoulou as president, making her the first woman to fill that role.
[Pictured: Portrait of a woman in Metsovo, Greece, circa 1955.]
Women were able to start participating in municipal elections as of 1947, but the right to vote in national elections didn’t come until six years later, in 1953. A reform was actually passed in 1937 that granted full political rights to women, but it was never officially enacted, and it wasn’t until President Adolfo Ruíz Cortines was elected in 1952 that women gained universal suffrage.
[Pictured: People walk through a corridor in Mexico City, Mexico, circa 1952.]
Colombian dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla granted women the right to vote in 1954, despite opposition from the Catholic Church. Women were able to exercise that right in elections in 1957, and Colombia has since gone on to elect women for various government offices, although they are still underrepresented as a whole.
[Pictured: A woman votes in Bogota, Colombia, on March 18, 1962.]
Honduras was the last Latin American country to allow women to vote, granting suffrage in 1955. Women had been fighting for equal rights since the 1920s, when the Women’s Cultural Society was established and began to campaign for economic and political rights. As of 2017, just over 25% of political seats in Honduras were held by women, which dropped to just over 21% in 2019.
[Pictured: A woman sits on a bench in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 1952.]
After years of campaigning by the Egyptian Feminist Union, which was founded by activist Huda Sharawi, Egypt granted women the right to vote in 1956. Sharawi, who worked to reform women’s personal status and education as well as voting rights, is well known for removing her veil in a Cairo train station, an act of protest that prompted other Egyptian women to do the same.
[Pictured: Egyptian feminist Doria Shafik (L) meets with Egyptian Chief Army Commander Gen. Naguib on Aug. 8, 1952.]
Women in Malaysia, along with all other Malaysian citizens, were granted the right to vote in 1957, after the country gained political independence from the British regime. Activists had been fighting for women’s emancipation since the 1920s, with campaigns for higher education and equal rights. Despite continued lobbying for women to have more power in politics, the percentage of women holding seats has remained small. As of 2019, less than 15% of political seats in Malaysia were held by women.
[Pictured: Portrait of a Malaysian woman in the 1950s.]
The campaign for women’s rights in Zimbabwe was originally initiated by white women, and before 1957, only men and European women were allowed to vote. After 1957, Black women were included, but women didn’t gain the right to stand for office until 1978.
[Pictured: A polling station during elections in Southern Rhodesia, 1964.]
Algeria was under the rule of France until 1962, at which time it obtained its independence. With that freedom came independence for women as well, and they were awarded the right to vote. Despite this, women had to continue fighting for equal rights and are still underrepresented politically, with approximately 26% of political seats in Algeria held by women as of 2019.
[Pictured: Woman vote in an election in Algeria on Feb. 5, 1967.]
1962: The Bahamas
The women’s suffrage movement in the Bahamas took hold in the 1950s, when activist Mary “May” Ingraham founded and eventually became president of the movement. The group held public demonstrations and petitioned the secretary of state for the colonies, until a bill giving women the right to vote was eventually enacted in 1962.
[Pictured: A general view of the government house in Nassau, Bahamas.]
Women in Iran won the right to vote and run for parliament in 1963, as well as rights to obtain a divorce and keep custody of their children. By 1978, 22 women had seats in parliament and more than 300 served on local councils. That all ended with the 1979 revolution. Women were removed from office, made to observe the Islamic dress code, and could only work in more traditionally female fields. Iran is now under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, who appointed four women as vice presidents and had cabinet members appoint women as deputy ministers. Iran still ranks quite low insofar as women’s equality, coming in at #185 out of 187 countries in 2019.
[Pictured: Iranian schoolgirls walk in the streets of Ispahan on May 2, 1968.]
Morocco granted women the right to vote in 1963, but women weren’t appointed to any political seats until 1997. The state has since mandated that 30% of national and regional legislatures are to be filled by women, and as of 2019, 21% of parliamentary seats in Morocco are held by women.
[Pictured: A woman votes in Morocco on Dec. 11, 1962.]
Women in Libya were given the right to vote in 1964, and a prohibition against gender bias was issued. After the 1969 military coup of the Gaddafi regime, women were encouraged to become more involved in politics, but few women were elected or appointed to parliamentary seats. As of 2019, just 16% of political seats in Libya are held by women.
[Pictured: A street scene in Tripoli, Libya, in September 1969.]
Ecuador originally granted women the right to vote in 1929, when President Isidro Ayora allowed for literate Ecuadorian women to vote. Voting was required for men, but remained optional for women until 1967, when a new constitution made voting obligatory for both women and men. In 1979, the literacy requirement was removed, and in 1987 a law was passed that also gave women equality in divorce and property rights.
[Pictured: A mother and child are photographed near Cotacachi, Ecuador, in the 1960s.]
The suffrage movement started in Switzerland in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1971 that women were legally allowed to vote, and in some Swiss cantons, women couldn’t vote until 1991. The country has progressed exponentially since that time, and today more than 40% of national political seats are held by women.
[Pictured: Women stand with posters before the landmark February 1971 election.]
Bangladesh gave women the right to vote in 1971, after women fought alongside men in the Liberation War, helping the country to gain independence. Over time, women have become more prominent in Bengali politics, with female prime ministers regularly elected since 1988. Current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed has served since 2009.
[Pictured: President Hossain Mohammad Ershad and his wife go to the polls in Dhaka in March 1988.]
Jordan’s constitution was written in 1952 and asserts equal rights for all citizens, barring discrimination based on race, language, or religion. Those rights didn’t translate to women, however, and women were not awarded the right to vote until 1974. While women have rights for voting and education, societal norms still restrict them on many levels, and as of 2019, only 15% of political seats in the country were held by women.
[Pictured: A Jordanian woman lifts her burqa to be identified before voting at a polling station.]
While women in Portugal were awarded the right to vote in 1931, that right was restricted to women who had completed secondary or higher education, as opposed to men who only had to know how to read and write. Those restrictions weren’t fully lifted until after the 1974 revolution, and in 1976, full equality of the sexes and full voting rights were granted to all.
[Pictured: A view of a polling station in Lisbon before the presidential election on Dec. 8, 1980.]
Iraq granted women the right to vote in 1980, however after the Gulf War in 1991, and subsequent change in leadership, many women’s rights have been reversed and they continue to fight for equality. As of 2019, women occupied 25% of political seats in Iraq, and women continue to run for office, working to increase their political quotas.
[Pictured: An Iraqi woman votes in 1980.]
Women in Namibia won the right to vote in 1989, after a campaign that was tied to universal suffrage rights and racial equality. Today, women hold 43% of the political seats in Namibia, a combination of regional and cabinet seats. Namibia recently implemented training in female representation in politics as part of its goal to obtain full gender equality by 2030.
[Pictured: A Namibian woman at a voting station.]
1990: Western Samoa
Samoa, originally known as Western Samoa, gave women the right to vote under universal suffrage in 1990. Unfortunately, women’s involvement in politics remains low, with just 10% of political seats in Samoa held by women. Several advocate groups have been formed in recent years to advocate for Samoan women’s rights, including the Ministry of Women Community and Social Development, and the U.N.’s Human Rights Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
[Pictured: Members of the delegation of Samoa at the opening of COP23 United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2017.]
Kazakhstan awarded women the right to vote in 1993, and since then, women’s political activity has grown steadily. In 2006, just 10.4% of the seats in parliament were held by women, but by 2018, that percentage had increased to more than 27%. In 2019, the country had its first female presidential candidate, Dania Espaeva.
[Pictured: A woman casts her vote in a polling station in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Dec. 4, 2005.]
Women in Moldova won the right to vote in 1993, under universal suffrage, but there were no gender quotas for political seats until a new law in 2016. As of 2019, 27% of parliament seats belong to women, and while women in Moldova are considered some of the world’s most disenfranchised, gender equality groups continue to fight for progress in the women’s rights movement.
[Pictured: A Moldovan woman and a child exit voting booth.]
In 1994, Omani women were awarded the right to vote and stand in parliamentary elections. While all women of the Gulf can now participate in elections, only 2% of Oman’s political seats are made up of women, despite ongoing efforts to close the political gender gap.
[Pictured: Omani women get their ballots ready to vote at a polling station on Oct. 4, 2003.]
The first attempt to give women the right to vote and run for office in Kuwait was in 1973 when a bill was presented to parliament but was quickly overturned. Women continued to campaign for suffrage, and in 1999 a decree was issued by the emir, but was again overturned. In 2005, after multiple demonstrations and public rallies, the right to vote was finally granted.
[Pictured: Kuwaitis protest for women political rights in front of the parliament on May 16, 2005, in Kuwait City.]
2011: Saudi Arabia
The women of Saudi Arabia were not granted the right to vote until 2011, when King Abdullah issued a decree, ordering that women be allowed to stand as candidates and vote in municipal elections. Their first opportunity did not come until December 2015, almost a year after the king’s death in January. As of 2019, 20% of the parliamentary seats in Saudi Arabia are held by women.
[Pictured: A Saudi woman arrives at a polling station to vote for the municipal elections on Dec. 12, 2015, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.]
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