It’s been 100 years since women in Britain were first given the vote.
On 6th February 1918, the Representation of the People Act (1918) gave women the vote for the first time. However, only women who met certain property-related criteria over the age of 30 were allowed to vote. The Equal Franchise Act ten years later equalised voting requirements for women and men over the age of 21.
But how does the UK compare to these seven countries?
1. New Zealand
This Pacific nation is widely recognised as the first “self-governing” country to extend the franchise to women. The change took place at the end of the 19th century in 1893, a striking 25 years before any women in Britain got the right to vote. According to New Zealand History, change came following extensive campaigns from women’s suffrage activists “led by Kate Sheppard.”
The country’s current prime minister, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern is New Zealand’s third female prime minister.
2. Isle of Man
While New Zealand is credited for introducing votes for women first, it is worth noting that the Isle of Man gave property-owning woman the vote in 1881 with the Manx Election Act of 1881. To put that into context, that was a staggering 37 years before the Representation of the People Act 1918 in the United Kingdom.
A Women and Politics Journal paper by Butler and Templeton attribute women’s suffrage on the island to a combination of:
“the involvement of the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage and its liberal, middle class appeal, strategy and tactics; the personalistic style of politics on the island; and the absence of any party system.”
In contrast to the early birds of New Zealand and the Isle of Mann, the affluent and modern Switzerland did not introduce votes for women until the second half of the 20th century. According to History Switzerland, a referendum to extend the franchise to women was held in 1959, but was embarrassingly rejected by 67% of Swiss (male) voters. However, in the following years, several cantons individually introduced votes for women, but it was not introduced nationally until 1971 after a new referendum. This time the change was backed by 66% of voters.
As the UK celebrates 100 years of women’s suffrage on Tuesday, residents of Liechtenstein, the wealthy principality landlocked between Switzerland and Austria, will have to wait until 2084 to reach that milestone. That’s right, in 1971 a majority of Liechtenstein’s (male) voters rejected a proposal to extend the franchise to women. The result was close with 51.1% rejecting the proposal.
Thirteen years later in 1984, voters backed the change 51.3% - 48.7%.
6. Saudi Arabia
The extent to which democracy exists in Saudi Arabia is extremely limited, but women’s suffrage has made progress in recent years. In 2015, the country’s partly-elected local councils allowed women to vote (and run) for the very first time. According to US News, 130,000 Saudi women registered to vote and 979 stood for election.
This is a striking 97 years after women in the UK first won the vote, and 134 after women in the Isle of Mann.
7. The Pitcairn Islands
Where’s that? The Pitcairn Islands are a British Overseas Territory in the Pacific. According to APD, the population on the island is tiny – only around 60 people live there – but the territory claims to have introduced votes for women in the early 19th century. APD reports that the country’s constitution granted women the right to vote in 1838 – 80 years before mainland Britain introduced such a right.