France marks 70 years of women’s voting rights
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France marks 70 years since women first gained the right to vote on Monday – a step that came many years after a number of other Western countries.
Although the measure was signed into law on April 21, 1944 under a provisional government led by Gen. Charles de Gaulle, French women did not actually cast their ballot for the first time until April 29, 1945, in what were the country’s first general elections since it was liberated from German occupation.
News reels from that historic day showed such prominent figures as Irène Joliot-Curie, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1935, and Gilberte Brossolette, the widow of French Resistance hero Pierre Brossolette, at the polls, sliding their votes into the ballot boxes.
Yet compared with many other Western countries, women’s suffrage came late to France. Although still a British colony at the time, New Zealand was the first nation to grant women the right to vote in 1893. Other countries followed suit over the course of the next two decades, including Australia in 1902 (although Aborigines were not allowed to vote until 1962), Finland in 1906 and Norway in 1913.
After decades of campaigning and protests, the women’s suffrage movement in the United States finally paid off in 1919 when Congress passed the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote. The amendment was officially ratified one year later.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom made gradual progress towards women’s suffrage. After a first law was introduced in 1918 giving women over 30 who met a property qualification the right to vote, a second one was later passed in 1928granting women and men equal rights.
It would take France, however, another 16 years to catch up. Since then, the role of women in French politics has grown slowly.
In 1993, only 5.7 percent of seats in France’s Parliament were occupied by women – barely more than that after the end of World War II. The lack of women in politics prompted France to pass a law in 2000 requiring political parties to present an equal number of men and women on voting lists, making it the first country to do so.
Although things have improved in recent years, men still heavily dominate French politics. Seventy-three percent of the National Assembly is comprised of men, while the Senate is 78 percent men.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)