Political and Social Movements

Suffragist Movement

Have all nations of the world granted women the right to vote?

No, in a few nations women remain disenfranchised. By the 1990s women had a legal right to vote everywhere in the world except in six Middle Eastern countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates) as well as in Brunei, a small oil-rich country in Southeast Asia. In 2001 Bahrain extended equal voting rights to women, and in 2003 Qatar did the same. But a traditional interpretation of Islamic law kept Muslim women from voting in a few conservative Persian Gulf states. Kuwaiti lawmakers proposed limited women’s suffrage in spring 2005, but the measure was not approved.

There was mounting pressure, from inside and outside the Muslim world, for this to change. The issue was an important focal point for the Human Rights Watch, an international watchdog group. In October 2004 a high-ranking Egyptian cleric spoke out on the contentious issue, saying, “It is the right of a Muslim woman to vote for and speak her opinion about whoever serves public or greater interests.” He went on to clarify that he was “talking about Muslim women in all Muslim countries, in Egypt, Kuwait, and others.”

Suffrage for women has been won country by country and decade by decade. Further, within many countries, rights have been extended only gradually; for example, beginning with local elections. The first nations to extend broad voting rights to women were New Zealand in 1893, Australia and South Wales in 1902, and Finland in 1906. In the 1910s women in several European and Scandinavian nations, including Austria, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Russia, won the right to vote—largely as a result of World War I (1914–18). The 1920s added not only the United States and the United Kingdom (to a voting status equal to men), but about a dozen other nations, including the former Czechoslovakia and Sweden. Every decade since added more nations to the tally, so that as of 2004 only a few nations denied women the right to vote.


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