Which was the first country to give women the right to vote?

Question: Which was the first country to give women the right to vote?

Show answer

New Zealand.

The first country to grant women the right to vote was New Zealand, a landmark achievement in the global movement for women’s suffrage. This significant milestone occurred on September 19, 1893, when New Zealand passed the Electoral Act of 1893, making it the first self-governing nation in the world to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

The journey to this historic moment was the result of vigorous campaigning and advocacy by women’s suffrage activists in New Zealand. A key figure in this movement was Kate Sheppard, a leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in New Zealand. Sheppard and her fellow activists organized petitions and public meetings, wrote letters to the press, and lobbied politicians to support women’s suffrage.

The movement’s most significant effort was a massive petition in 1893, which was signed by nearly 32,000 women, approximately a fifth of the adult European female population of New Zealand at the time. This petition was presented to Parliament with great fanfare and is often considered a crucial factor in convincing lawmakers to support the cause. The petition, a massive sheet of paper that spanned more than 270 meters, remains a powerful symbol of the collective effort put forth by the women of New Zealand.

The success of the suffrage movement in New Zealand was also due to a number of socio-political factors unique to the country. New Zealand society was relatively egalitarian, and there was a strong emphasis on social reform. Moreover, the indigenous Maori culture, which traditionally accorded high respect to women, influenced the broader social norms.

The passage of the Electoral Act was a progressive step not just for New Zealand but also set a precedent for the rest of the world. The impact of New Zealand’s decision reverberated globally, inspiring suffrage movements in other countries. Following New Zealand, several other countries began to grant women the right to vote, including Australia (federally in 1902, though women in South Australia and Western Australia had voting rights before this), Finland (1906), and the United Kingdom (partial suffrage in 1918, full suffrage in 1928).

New Zealand’s pioneering role in women’s suffrage is a point of national pride and an important part of the country’s identity. It highlighted the country’s progressive stance on social issues and set a standard for others to follow. Today, Kate Sheppard’s legacy is celebrated in New Zealand; her image graces the country’s ten-dollar note, and September 19, the day the Electoral Act was passed, is commemorated annually as Suffrage Day.

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