Tuesday, September 19, 2006



Suffrage Day

Today, September 19th, is Suffrage Day. On this day in 1893, the Governor Lord Glasgow signed the Electoral Bill into law, granting women the right to vote in Parliamentary elections. It wasn't full equality - New Zealand women did not gain the right to stand for election until 1919, 17 years later than those in Australia - but it is still a date worth remembering and celebrating.

This year, it is also worth remembering that the global struggle for universal suffrage irrespective of gender is not yet complete. Fortunately, according to Wikipedia's women's suffrage page, the list of countries which do not allow full universal suffrage is short. Quite apart from monarchies like Brunei and the UAE where no-one is allowed to vote, women are now only expressly denied the vote in Saudi Arabia. In Lebanon, they are subject to an education test while men are not, while in Bhutan, democracy means "one vote per household", which is almost always cast by a man. For these inequalities to persist into the twenty-first century is appalling, and the sooner they are eliminated, the better.

10 comments:

Hear, hear!

Posted by Lewis : 9/19/2006 07:09:00 PM

Don't forget the many "empty democracies", where the right to vote exists, but only for approved candidates. Iran for example. As one of the Tammany Hall bosses once said, "I don't mind if the people get to vote as long as I control who the candidates are".

M'lud

Posted by Anonymous : 9/19/2006 07:16:00 PM

Or Uzbekistan. But note that now even dictatorships and tyrannies feel the need to cloak themselves in democratic legitimacy (they have elections, but they limit the candidates, or fix the result). It's victory, of a sort...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/19/2006 07:22:00 PM

When I think of this stuff I remember that women only got the vote because the national party and their followers had more wives than the labour party and their supporters. I think we'ed all be better off remembering why women got the vote as opposed to the simple fact they did. I think it tells us more about what we need to know. At the moment it's just another false pat on the back we give ourselves along with Rutherford,Hillary,Snell and even Blake. Yet another instance of "lest we forget" where the people who really knew are forgotten.

Posted by artyone : 9/20/2006 07:22:00 AM

Artyone: the National Party did not exist in 1893; it was formed in (I think) 1936.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/20/2006 07:53:00 AM

Anon: neither did the Labour Party; it was formed in 1916.

The Electoral Act 1893 was passed under a Liberal government, and by accident; the Premier, Richard Seddon, had expected the bill to be rejected by the conservative-dominated Legislative Council (we had an upper house in those days), but his lobbying on the issue annoyed enough MLCs for the bill to pass.

(How did the bill pass in the first place if the Premier didn't like it? Because party discipline was a lot weaker in those days - the Liberals had barely been established, and most of their members supported womens suffrage)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/20/2006 01:19:00 PM

I suspect artyone that Maia might disagree with your analysis:
http://capitalismbad.blogspot.com/2006/09/won-not-given.html

I sure as hell know I do. Anything women have ever gained has not been without (often decades and decades of) asking, organising, fighting, lobbying, etc etc.

Posted by Span : 9/20/2006 01:30:00 PM

And not wanting to undermine the achievement of universal suffrage, let's not forget that politcal elites only granted universal male suffrage a few decades prior, after at least 200 years of trying to avoid it (I am thinking of the Levellers, but I know there were groups prior to that campaigning for suffrage. The Leveller's weren't interested in giving women the vote though, for that matter).

Posted by PabloR : 9/21/2006 02:56:00 PM

And let's not forget that universal suffrage is still rare even in supposedly democratic countries - evrey single one I can think of has excuses for why certain people can't vote becuase of their past hiostory (or lack of it), their sexuality or race, their wealth or location.

I mean, the US has universal suffrage (except for criminals, children, the insane, people not living in the country (except their military) and the mentally incompetant). Many other countries have similar definitions of "universal".

I like the way Australia is held up by you (and other racists) as a leading example despite only granting aborigines (and aboriginal women) the vote in 1968. Some "universal" that was for most of the 20th century. At least NZ had the decency to grant property-owning men the vote back in 1866, not 1957 like the UK or 1968 like Australia. The argument that Aborigines who were not citizens could vote before 1968 is AFAIK largely theoretical, since in order to vote you had to prove that you were a registered taxpayer, and for many Aborigines that meant providing documents that they could not get. This is something of a contentious issue even today. I am making enquiries with friends at the moment.

Posted by Moz : 9/25/2006 08:30:00 PM

OK, try this for size. Australia had universal suffrage from 1894 to 1902, when it reverted to white suffrage only:
South Oz Govt history

"It was a logic which also had extensions that the South Australian legislators did not shirk. Manhood suffrage in South Australia had, at least in principle, also enfranchised Aboriginal Australian men. The 1894 legislation enfranchising women extended the suffrage to Aboriginal Australian women too. In 1896, Point McLeay, an Aboriginal settlement near the mouth of the Murray River, had its own polling station with more than 100 people on the rolls; 70 per cent of them voted in the election that year. Ironically, perhaps, these electors also voted for the representatives who attended the Federal Convention of 1897. One of several held to draft a constitution for the federation of the separate colonies into the Commonwealth of Australia, this was the convention which resolved, despite protests from the South Australians, that Aboriginal Australians would not be counted in the censuses of the Australian population. So began the process by which Aboriginal Australians were excluded not only from the federal franchise, but also from the definition of human beings-until 1962."

Posted by Moz : 9/25/2006 08:45:00 PM