Women’s Choice

The term women suffrage refers to women’s right to vote by law in national and local elections. Great social and economical movements were conducted by British women due to take the suffrage law and establish it as a legal right in the parliament. One of the earliest advocators in Britain was John Stuart Mill whose subjection of women (in 1869) was established as one of the pioneering works of that time. The first woman suffrage committee was formed in Manchester in 1865. One year later, Mill presented to Parliament this society’s petition, which demanded the vote for women and contained about 1,550 signatures. On the other hand, United State is commonly known as the women’s suffrage origin in 1820s, while New Zealand is credited as the first country by which women got the right to vote; (Campbell 1966) even Corsican Republic, sometimes, is considered as one of the first countries to grant female suffrage in 1788. Thus, one can claim that different countries and locals in the world, obviously, experienced such a movement at various times. With these historical points, as a woman who lived in Iran for most of her life and graduated from Law, I want to point to some social, historic and legal improvements and difficulties toward the women suffrage matter in the Middle Eastern countries and compare them to the situation in Scandinavian countries. Iran will be my ultimate focus as one of the problematic countries over women issues. Regarding this comparison between these two geographic regions, what can we grasp from the conclusion and what are the roots which make these two regions so different and even oppose to each other? And at the end to what extent, regarding this issue, we are able to improve the status quo conditions of countries like Iran?

o Women in Scandinavian countries

In this part I will, shortly represent some historical facts and points regarding women’s voting rights in some Scandinavian countries as well as giving some reasons to the improvement process in these countries. According to Dictionary of World History The first European nation to grant female suffrage was Finland in 1906, with Norway following in 1913. Sulkunen states that Finland’s thoroughgoing parliamentary reforms gave all adult men and women not only universal and equal suffrage, but also the full right to stand for elective office. In her analytical article looking for the reasons for the early enactment of voting rights in Finland and modern Finnish democracy, she points to some factors about the country’s overall cultural mould and how relations between the sexes were constituted in the field of conflicting pressures between a strong nationalist tendency, traditional agrarianism, and the democratization of social life. “No real place was left over for women’s issues per se, yet women were very visibly present in all reform-oriented activity. With the notable exception of the upper social classes, women also did not really perceive their social and political rights to be at odds with the rights of men in their own class. On the contrary, they considered themselves to be largely on an equal footing, seeing men as comrades and allies in the struggle to win a better life for all socially, politically and judicially downtrodden people.” (2000) Later in her article, she claims that the issue of voting rights thus did not offer a basis for the spreading of a conflict between the sexes in Finland. “Instead, it produced fertile ground for a snowballing socialist movement of which the Social Democratic Party, formed in 1899, took advantage.” Already by the mid-1890s, the workers’ movement together with the worker-led temperance movement had expressed its support for universal and equal suffrage for men and women. Their programme, which also included the demand for prohibition, was launched with panache amongst the masses during the so-called oppression years. In the year 1906 Finland made an almost revolutionary leap from having one of Europe’s most archaic systems of representation to having one of the most radical ones. As a result, all adult women in Finland were the first in Europe to receive full rights of representation. (ibid:2000)

Claréus believes that there are some clear evidences of the influence of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s giving rise to an increasing range of concerns and styles among Scandinavian women. (1989) According to Greg Hurrell, the battle for equal rights in Norway started in the Nineteenth century with the formation of feminist organizations. Struggle to get suffrage right was one on their earliest demands. In 1885 the female suffrage union (Kvindestemmeretsforeningen) was established. (1998) Blom claimed that the primary obstacle to obtaining voting rights for women was that constitutional reform could only be achieved through men, and therefore the champions of the feminist cause had to exercise their influence by means of petitions, demonstrations, publications and through their own husbands and male colleagues who were affiliated with political parties. Despite the difficulty of this task, Norwegian women succeeded many years in advance of most other European countries, (e.g. even those of feminists in Britain) mainly, due to their non-militant, cooperative methods, which on the whole sought to emphasis that the suffrage struggle was not a ‘conflict between the sexes’, but rather that women were mature and interested enough to take on the vote, and play an active, supportive role in shaping society. (1980: 8-14)

In Sweden, the campaigns for women’s suffrage had been slow to get under way and also lacked the radicalism that had come to mark the campaigns in the other Scandinavian countries. The association for women’s suffrage, föreningen för kvinnans politiska rösträtt, was founded in 1902 and became a national organization in 1903; in ten years the membership of the organization climbed to around 17,000. The association published a newspaper, Rösträtt för kvinnor (votes for women), arranged public meetings, and also supported the production of plays on the topic of votes for women. Members worked on converting liberal and social democrat members of parliament to their cause, and as early as 1909 there was a majority for women’s suffrage in the Second Chamber. Swedish women were finally granted the right to vote in national elections in 1919. By 1921, four out of the 230 members of Second Chamber were women, and in 1924, the first woman took her seat among 149 male colleagues in the First Chamber. (Forsas-Scott 1997:28) As I mentioned above, Scandinavian countries experiences women’s movements and the demand to get as equal rights as men in various times. Roughly speaking, the current women’s conditions in these countries, regardless to the historical events, represent a highly developed situation in which women achieved equal rights; they, even are considered as a roll model for many other countries. In the following part, I will go through the history of another geographical region, known as Middle East, to examine the events, developments and obstacles confronting women’s activists.