By Rebecca Wright
Rebecca Wright is a Barrister and Human Rights Lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University.
On February 6, 1918, British women – (well, the wealthy ones over 30) – were given the right to vote. And since the 1960s, women have been voting in British national elections at basically the same rate as men. But how is the rest of the world doing? Here’s a snapshot.
1. Ecuador: transgender friendly (at voting booths)
In Ecuador, men and women vote separately. The country was in the headlines last year when it decided to allow transgender people to choose the male or female line, according to the gender with which they identify. Diane Rodriguez, a transgender woman, described the harassment she would face in the male line and her relief that she could now vote without discrimination.
2. Vatican City: only place women can’t vote
The only election held in Vatican City is when cardinals vote for a new pope. Women cannot be cardinals (despite the hope a few years ago that Pope Francis might appoint female cardinals) and so this is an exclusively male electorate.
That said, the majority of Vatican City’s approximately 800 residents, including men, are excluded from this vote.
3. Saudi Arabia: latest place to let women vote
Saudi Arabia is the most recent country to grant women the vote. In 2015, they were given the right to take part in municipal elections.
Although this marked significant progress for Saudi women, a system of male guardianship makes it difficult in practice for women to vote. Saudi women are unable to drive themselves to the polling booths (though from June 2018 women will be granted driving permits). It’s therefore no surprise that less than 10% of Saudi’s voters in the 2015 elections were women.
4. Pakistan: one of the biggest gender gaps
Female participation in Pakistani elections is among the lowest in the world. Statistics from Pakistan’s 2013 elections showed that turnout for women voters was less than 10% in nearly 800 polling stations. In some areas, female voter turnout was as low as 3%. Although Pakistani women were given the vote in 1956, community and religious leaders in some of the most conservative parts of the country prevent women from voting.
5. Sexual violence against women on the rise
Human Rights Watch published a report in 2017 which documented the sexual violence against women in Kenya’s 2017 elections. These incidents were unfortunately representative of a growing rise in violence against women in elections. A recent United Nations report documents how women are increasingly victims of politically motivated rape and other forms of sexual violence, preventing them from participating freely in elections.
6. China: women voters vastly outnumbered by men
In 2017, more than 2,000 delegates attended the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China in order to plan a five-year strategy. These powerful delegates were elected but only Party members were able to vote – and 74% of those members are male.
Despite the gender imbalance, that means that nearly 23m women voters participated. The voter turnout among Party members was a staggering 99.2%. By comparison, the turnout for the British 2017 General Election was a measly 68.7%, with slightly more women voting than men.
A century on from votes for British women, progress has clearly been made around the world. The majority of the sexist laws that prevented women from voting have been repealed. However, there are still significant practical or cultural barriers that prevent female electoral participation.
Multiple international initiatives, including the United Nations programme on women’s political participation, focus on removing barriers so women can vote. Such barriers are complex and multi-dimensional but include illiteracy (nearly two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women) and childcare responsibilities which prevent women from leaving the home. Much more needs to be done before every woman can have a meaningful say about the way their nation is run.
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