By: Vanam Tejasvi ( Author is post graduate in sociology with a passion in public goverance and administration. She is an avid reader and a part time social worker.)
Women constitutes more than half of the human race and play a crucial role in all spheres of life. The reality check of growth of any nation lies not only in its economic growth, but crucially in the status of its women.
Lets take a small tour at “Women and her Voting history”. It is well known that the possibility for all citizens to participate in the management of public affairs is at the very heart of democracy. A basic precondition for women’s participation in politics was recognition of her ‘right to vote’.
Women and her Voting history across the world:
Women rarely participated in the establishment of their governments or the creation of judicial systems,state powers or governmental norms and policies. It started with asking for equal treatment at work places. To recall, the up springs where from a movement for women’s suffrage in France in the 1780’s and 1790’s during the period of the French Revolution. By the 1880’s, women were working internationally to win more rights. In 1888, women activists from the United States, Canada, and Europe met in Washington D.C., for the International Council of Women. Most European, Asian and African countries did not pass women’s suffrage until after World War I. The very first to take step was New Zealand in 1893 a self-governing British colony, granted adult women the right to vote. Though Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 at the age of 18 and she was queen for 64 years, one of the longest reigns in history but Europe had a very long struggle before granting right to vote for women.
The first European country to introduce women’s suffrage was Finland, then part of the Russian Empire, which elected the world’s first female members of parliament in the 1907 parliamentary elections. Norway followed, granting full women’s suffrage in 1913. Others slowly joined.
On March 19, 1911, IWD (International women’s day) was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Women demanded that women be given the right to vote and to hold public office. Although there were some women-led strikes, marches, and other protests in the years leading up to 1914, none of them happened on March 8. In 1914 International Women’s Day was held on March 8, possibly because that day was a Sunday, now it is always held on March 8 in all countries.
Observance of the Day is dedicated to women’s right to vote but now as known its just a public holiday or a day to express greetings for women. One of the most recent jurisdictions to acknowledge women’s full right to vote was Bhutan in 2008 (its first national elections).
Coming to UN, The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, which went into force in 1954, enshrining the equal rights of women to vote, hold office, and access public services as set out by national laws. The UN theme for International Women’s Day 2014 is “Equality for Women is Progress for All”.
Women and her Voting history in India:
We ﬁnd that the sex ratio of voters which is deﬁned as the number of women voters to every 1,000 men voters, increased very impressively from 715 in the 1960’s to 883 in the 2000’s. The fact that more women are voluntarily exercising their constitutional right of adult suffrage across all states in India is testimony to the rise of self-empowerment of women to secure their fundamental right to freedom of expression. This is an extraordinary achievement in the world’s largest democracy with 717 million voters of which 342 million voters are women.
Travelling to history, When Lord Edwin Montague, Secretary of State for Foreign Policy India, came to India to join the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford to survey the political scene with a view to introduce constitutional reforms. Indian women saw an opportunity to demand political rights. This led to the foundation of the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) in 1917 by Annie Besant, Margaret Cousins and Dorothy Jinarajadasa, all three Irish women Theosophists, who had been suffragettes in their own country. A Memorandum signed by 23 women from different parts of the country, demanding votes for women on the same terms as men which would enable them to have a say in political matters was submitted to Montague and Chelmsford. The Indian National Congress at its session in Calcutta in 1917, over which Annie Besant presided, supported the demand of votes for women and so did the Muslim League. The Southborough Franchise Committee toured India in 1918 to gather information. It accepted women’s petitions but was initially reluctant to grant the franchise to women as it felt that Indian women were not yet ready for it. The Joint Parliamentary Committee of Parliament finally agreed to remove the sex disqualification but left it to the provincial legislatures to decide how and when to do so. Travancore-Cochin, a princely state, was the first to give voting rights to women in 1920, followed by Madras and Bombay in 1921. Other states followed. Franchise was of course extremely limited. Women could vote only if they possessed qualifications of wifehood, property and education. The Government of India Act of 1935 increased the number of enfranchised women and removed some of the previous qualifications. All women over 21 could vote provided they fulfilled the qualification of property and education. Women also became legislative councillors. In the elections held in 1926, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya stood for the Madras Legislative Council elections from Mangalore but was defeated by a narrow margin. Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy was the first woman to become legislative councillor in Madras in 1927. Women had to wait till after independence to get universal adult franchise.
The constitution of india guarantees to all women, equality [article 14]; no discrimination by the state [article 15 (1)]; equality of opportunity [article 16]; equal pay for equal work [article 39(d)]; renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women [article 51 (a) (c)] the constitution also allows the state to make special provision in favor of women and children [article 15(3)]; and securing just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief [article 42].
Women politicised the domestic sphere with the support and encouragement of nationalist leaders, and many significant activities were undertaken from within the domestic sphere. Women’s political action should not be limited to supporting men’s political aspirations.We ﬁnd that systematically the gender bias in voting is being reduced, over time and across all states of India. Women’s participation at higher decision-making levels is still limited and needs to be expanded if the practice of democracy is to be consistent with its theory and intent.