Global Council for Tolerance and Peace

100 years ago British women won the right to vote

A century ago British women won the right to vote after years of struggle led by the suffragettes, whose spectacular actions shocked the country but changed the world.

On February 6, 1918 the British parliament adopted the “1918 Law on Popular Representation” which implied that eight million women, over 30 years, were added to the electoral registers.

It was still ten years before women were able to vote at 21, as men did.

Among the militants who fought for this right, the suffragists marked their actions by a violence unknown at the time, although their influence is still the subject of debate today.

– A ‘martyr’ –

Suffragettes are chained to the train tracks, break shop windows and sabotage power lines. They even detonate a bomb in the house of a minister.

The founder of the group, Emmeline Pankhurst, defended this strategy.

One of the most spectacular actions was the suicide of militant Emily Davison, who threw herself on the legs of a horse running for the king in the Epsom Derby in 1913.

Hundreds of militants were imprisoned and from prison they went on a hunger strike.

Many were forcibly fed, a practice prohibited by a 1913 law that forces the authorities to release prisoners who
are too weak. Once they recovered a little, they were sent back to prison.

Emmeline Pankhurst, for example, was imprisoned and released eleven times.

Opponents of women’s right to vote saw in these tactics signs of irresponsibility and emotional fragility of women.

In 1999, Time magazine placed Emmeline Pankhurst on her list of the most influential personalities of the 20th century.

“She shaped the idea of a contemporary woman in a certain way: she changed the social order, marking a turning point,” the magazine said at the time.

“The campaign of the militants was absolutely essential to advance the vote,” Krista Cowman, a history professor at Lincoln University in the United Kingdom, told AFP. “Before this, there were fifty years of pacifist campaign, in reality, it did not help at all.”

– In the rest of the world –

New Zealand was a pioneer in the matter approving the vote in 1893, followed by Australia in 1902, Finland in 1906 and Norway in 1913.

Later, a series of countries followed: the Soviet Union in 1917, Germany in 1918, the United States in 1920 and Uruguay in 1927.

Other countries such as France had to wait until 1944 and the Swiss women were able to vote only in 1971, while in the Gulf countries this right remains limited.

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