Saturday, 27 August 2011

Female suffrage? Equal rights anyone?

A friend posted something on FB about celebrating the anniversary of female suffrage.

The article was from an American newspaper dated yesterday because the 26 August 1920 was when women in America got the right to vote. (Link here and if you are really suffering from insomnia check out the comments)

Well that's good - America preceded the UK by some eight years. But being in a peevish mood I moaned about Americans celebrating their 81st anniversary of female suffrage. Hardly a 'special' anniversary, and as far as I could read - no-one died to further the cause of female suffrage in the USA.

One of my friends pointed out that we can all be parochial and it is good to share our experiences and history from different countries (OK she didnt say all that but I think that's what she meant - sorry A, if I misunderstood). I hold my hand up straightaway and confess to being parochial.

But who, British, has not sat in history classes studying 19th century social history for 'O' level without learning about the suffragettes? And that Emily Davison was killed under the king's horse at Epsom? And to be really honest, who remembers her name? - rather, we all remember the Pankhursts. If Emily died in the cause of women's suffrage, other women went to prison, went on hunger strike, and were force fed with tubes into their stomachs. These women fought and suffered to ensure that other women got the vote.

So my view of female suffrage is based - narrowly - on what I learned about my own country's history. The same friend who commented about our parochial mindsets also pointed out that perhaps the American suffrage was needed by the temperance movement to achieve Prohibition. Another interesting thought.

Anyway, moving swiftly on away from the UK and the USA - and onto New Zealand. For those of you who don't know, New Zealand has been a trail blazer in equal rights for women. Women in NZ were granted the right to vote back in September 1893, voting in their first election in November later that year.

Not only that but NZ can claim to having a woman mayor in the same year, the first time the office had been held anywhere by a woman in the British Empire. Good one New Zealand. For anyone interested in the right to vote, here is an interesting list of when women were granted suffrage across the world. I say granted, because - that's what it was/is - something that should be a right but happens to be granted by those in power who finally succomb to acknowledging they can no longer wriggle out of it. list

Back to NZ. If NZ was hot off the mark with giving the women the right to vote, they were hellish slow in giving women the top job of head of state - prime minister. Even the UK had managed it during the 20th century before NZ, although not, of course America, which still awaits a female leader in the 21st century. Confronting their prejudices head on, Americans chose a half black man in preference over the incredibly brilliant Hillary Clinton.

Hell, who wants a bright woman running the world? I did. And I was gutted when a load of my American feminist friends seemed to think that choosing a black man was such a right-on statement of their principles when they could have voted for Clinton. Bollocks. They should have worried less about their right-on racist-friendly credentials and just gone for the right person. I thought Clinton had some excellent ideas, was sound on so many issues and was such a serious contender to lead America - and truth be told, to lead the world, because let's not deny it, that's what America does. My perspective wasn't about - let's back the woman because she's a woman - or I would be espousing Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin as super duper candidates for anything and everything. Actually I wouldn't choose either of them to be the cashier at my local supermarket but that's just my view.

NZ's first woman prime minister was Jenny Shipley, came to power in 1997 and served until 1999. She was succeeded by Helen Clark who served until 2008. But if NZ was slow off the mark to have a woman prime minister, the country still managed to hit the record books as one of the few countries in the world to have had two female heads of government, and one of only two countries to have two female heads of government directly succeed the other.

A couple of soundbites about Shipley. A member of the NZ National Party, she was the first NZ PM to attend the gay and lesbian hero parade, and achieved the lowering of alcohol purchase age from 20 to 18. She now has business interests in China.

And on Clark - she was a member of the Labour Party and served as prime minister for three terms. In 2009 she became Administrator of the UN Development Programme - and the first woman to lead this. Another milestone for Kiwi women.

I had better mention Australia as they are pretty near neighbours. After NZ granted the vote to women back in the 19th century, the Australian states followed pretty soon afterwards. At this point I have to mention Julia Gillard - how many of you (non-Antipodean friends) have heard of her? I hadn't. She is the first woman prime minister of Aus. Born in Wales, I might add, Barry, actually. Only the second prime minister of Australia who was born outside Aus.

Gillard has some interesting views. Pro-choice ie supporting women's rights to abortion, but, she doesn't support gay marriage. She wants a sustainable Australia - which translates to anti-immigration. And she wants a republican Australia. Just to add, Quentin Bryce is the first woman Governor General of Australia. (Who she? I hear you ask)

When I was a kiddy in the 70s, women prime minsters were all the rage. Bandaranaike ( I never did know her first name), Indira Gandhi, and Golda Meir. I was indoctrinated with my father's skewed views - 'better a bad prime minister than a good woman pm'. This from the man who became a devoted follower of Margaret Thatcher. Of course, he dismissed Bandaranaike, Gandhi, and Meir. They came from third world counties or something like that.

Hello daddy. These third world countries, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and India, that were inhabited by wogs, happened to be part of the British Empire or supported by it, and well, the truth is, their populations weren't as sexist as you were. Electing a woman as head of state was not a marker of a country's stupidity. Israel was clearly an anomaly in the scheme of things, as my father had some good Jewish pals, and obviously they would never have knowingly voted for a woman prime minister.

But looking at the list of women leaders in the world, I am amazed to see that of the early prime ministers, the first one was an acting German Jewish woman in the Ukraine - Evheniya Bohdanivna Bosch, the next three were the trio I mentioned above, then, there was √Člisabeth Domiti√©n, from the Central African Republic, who was premier minister from 75/76 - I had never heard of her - and then, we get to Margaret Thatcher. Only the sixth woman prime minister in the world. And to be really blunt, the first one from an influential western country.

list here .... to be continued .... because this is enough for now

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