Women suffrage

Arguments  against the Political Enfranchisement of Women suffrage.

Hand in hand with the spread of democracy and the extension of the Suffrage to the masses of the male population has gone the movement for the political enfranchisement of women. At the time of the French Revolution when the dogma of universal suffrage was at its height of popularity, a petition was presented to the National Assembly asking for an extension of the right of voting to women, and it received the support of men like Condorcet and others. It was said that if voting was a natural right of the citizen, it ought not to be denied to women.

For a long time, however, after the democratic movement had resulted in the political enfranchisement of the masses of the male population, women were wholly excluded from the suffrage in all countries, even the most democratic. Restriction of the right to vote exclusively to males was not regarded as at all inconsistent with the principle of democratic government, or with the doctrine of the consent of the governed.

The arguments against the political emancipation of women are no doubt familiar to the readers of this book and do not therefore need to be reviewed in detail. Briefly stated, one of the main reasons advanced against it was the allegation that the active participation of women in political life would tend to unsex them and destroy the qualities which distinguish them from men.

Those who held this view maintained that the function of maternity is woman’s peculiar mission, and that the home rather than the political arena is her natural sphere. Her nature unfits her for engaging in political affairs, if she allows herself to be drawn away from the home by the distractions of the political campaign, the household of which she is the guardian, and the young which it is her high mission to bear and rear, will be neglected.

In short, the exactions of political life are inconsistent with the duties of childbearing and the rearing of families. Woman suffrage strikes at the integrity of the home and leads to the lowering of family life,said Bluntschli, for upon the wife more than upon the husband depends the welfare of the family. It is impossible, he said, for man to revere and honor a “political woman.” Only man, he quoted Aristotle as saying, was intended for political life.

Moreover, since the family cannot be ,expected always to vote as a unit, female suffrage would tend to introduce discord and dissension in the home by setting each member against the other. On the other hand, if the wife voted according to the advice or dictation of the husband, her vote would be merely a duplication of his, and nothing would be gained by giving her the ballot. In this case, said Bluntschli, it would be wiser to give the husband two votes, leaving to the wife the rich of exerting her powerful influence but without the duty and responsibility of participating in the election herself. Both Bluntschli and Laveleye maintained that the enfranchisement of women in Catholic lands would open the way to the rule of the Jesuit class, since their votes would be effectually controlled by the priests of the Catholic church.

The Kulturkampf struggle between state and church in Germany, Bluntschli declared, abundantly showed that the opinions of women were easily controlled by Catholic priests and that had they possessed the suffrage equally with men the struggle would have terminated in favor of the church. This fear is one of the reasons why women are still unenfranchised in France and Italy.

It is said by some opponents of woman suffrage that since women are physically incapable of discharging all the duties and obligations of citizenship which devolve upon males, they have no right to demand the privileges. They cannot serve in the  army or the militia or the posse comitatus, or serve the state in many other capacities without violating the properties and safe guards of female virtue. Nevertheless, as Sidgwick aptly re« marked, the military argument has no force in states where military service is mainly voluntary and where men who are not, trained soldiers are rarely called into the service.

Defense of Women Suffrage :

In answer to these and other arguments it was replied that differences of sex do not constitute a logical or rational ground for granting or withholding the suffrage to a citizen who is otherwise qualified in short the criterion for determining the right to vote is not physical, but moral and intellectual.

“I see no adequate reason,” said Sidgwick, “for refusing the franchise to any self-supporting adult, otherwise eligible, on the score of sex alone, and there is a danger of material injustice resulting from such refusal so long as the state leaves unmarried women and widows to struggle for a .livelihood in the general industrial competition without any Special privileges or protection.”  In short,one capable citizen is as much entitled to participate in the choosing of those who govern as another, and sex should have nothing to do in determining the right.  John Stuart Mill, one of the first and most powerful advocates of woman suffrage, Said: “I consider it entirely irrelevant to political rights, as difference in the color of the hair . If there be any difference, women require it more than men, since, being physically weaker, they are more dependent on law and society for protection.”

The Argument of Self-Protection :

In the second place,it was urged that women should be given the franchise as a means of self protection not necessarily that they may govern, but that they may defend themselves against the unjust class legislation to Which it is alleged they are frequently subjected. Laws concerning the rights of women, remarked Laveleye, ought not to be made by men alone.

In short, considerations of justice require that government of both men and women should not be government by men alone. The force of this argument possesses added weight on account of the character of modern industrial and social conditions under which women live. They are today competing with men side by side in nearly every trade and occupation and in many of the learned professions. Therefore, the plea that the wage-earner Should be given the ballot as a defense against his employer applies with equal, if not stronger, force to the argument for woman suffrage.

Argument Based on Logic :

In the third place, it was urged that the political enfranchisement of women ought to follow naturally and logically their civil enfranchisement. Nearly everywhere the old civil and legal disabilities of women have disappeared , they are now capable of owning property, entering into contracts, and engaging in all gainful occupations equally with men. The arguments upon which they were formerly denied equal civil rights with men are largely the same as those which were recently relied upon to justify the denial to them of political rights and privileges.

If women are capable of managing their own business affairs, of entering into contractual relations, of competing with men in the professions and occupations, of teaching them in the schools and colleges, they are capable of sharing with men the exercise of political privileges and rights.

It is difficult indeed to defend a theory which permits the shiftless, improvident, and non-taxpaying male to have a voice in legislation, particularly when its effect is to impose burdens upon the taxpayers, but denies a voice to the self supporting unmarried woman who owns property and contributes to the financial support of the state.

The Purification Argument :

In the fourth place, it was argued that the admission of women to a share in the management of political affairs would inure to the common good by introducing into political life a purifying, ennobling, and refining influence that not only would tend to elevate the tone of public life and bring about more wholesome political conditions in society, but also would insure better government. In other words, society would gain by the change.

Many instances were cited by the advocates of suffrage for women to show that in countries where they had been given the franchise they had wielded a decisive influence in securing the enactment of advanced social legislation, particularly as regards such matters as child labor, the employment of women in factories, the public health, tenement-houses, the sale of liquor, public libraries, better educational facilities, pure food legislation, and similar matters.

Nobody, said Mill, pretends to think that women would make a bad use of the suffrage. “The worst that can be said,” he continued, is that they would-vote as mere dependents at the bidding of their male relations. If it be so, let it be. If they think for themselves, great good will be done, and if they do not, no harm. It is a benefit to human beings to take off their fetters even if they do not desire to walk.

It would already be a great Improvement in the moral position of women to be no longer declared by law incapable of an opinion, and not entitled to a preference,respecting the most important Concerns of humanity There would be some benefit to them individually in having something to bestow Which their male relatives cannot exact,a11d are yet desirous to have It would also be no small thing that the husband would necessarily discuss the matter With his wife, and that the vote would not be his exclusive affair, but a joint concern.

Regarding Esmein’s argument that the exclusion Of women from voting had its foundation in the natural law Of the division of labor between the two sexes, Professor Duguit pointed out that the law invoked merely ,leads to this, that upon neither men nor women may be confided functions which their sexual nature prevents them from performing. It would be necessary to prove therefore, that the physical and intellectual constitution of women rendered them incapable of exercising political functions a proof which no one had produced.

Early Extensions of the Suffrage to Women :

Mill  in 1861 prophesied that before the lapse of another generation the accident of sex, no more than the accident of skin, will be deemed a sufficient justification for depriving its possessor of the equal protection and just privileges of a citizen he prophecy proved true in part, and before his own generation had passed, experiments with woman suffrage on a limited scale were already being made in the United States.

Once introduced, it spread rapidly,  organized movements for the political enfranchisement of women, some of which were international in scope, were formed in America and Europe and before the outbreak of the World War the movement had achieved notable successes in many countries. In the United States women, had acquired an equal right to vote with men in a number of western states and in others, the right to vote in school elections municipal elections, or in the case of taxpayers, on proposed bond issues.

In Great Britain, they enjoyed the franchise equally with men in all except parliamentary elections and were eligible to most local offices Both the Conservative and Liberal parties at different times proclaimed themselves to be in favor of extending the privilege to parliamentary elections, and the rising Labor party made the enfranchisement of women a leading feature of its program.

In Australia women were given the full right of voting equally with men in the Commonwealth elections and were made eligible to seats in parliament. In most of the Australian states, including Tasmania, and in New Zealand, their were put on a footing of equality with men in respect to voting in state elections. In all the Canadian provinces widows and spinsters acquired the franchise either in school or municipal elections or both, and in some of the northwest provinces no distinction was made between married and unmarried women.

In Finland in 1907, all women 25 years of age who paid a small tax were given ,the right to vote, the effect of which was to enfranchise almost 300, 000 women. In 1908 the women of Denmark were given the right to vote in municipal elections and in 1915 the right was extended to all elections.

Spread of Women Suffrage since the World War :

The events of the World War gave a great impetus to the movement for the political enfranchisement of women everywhere, even in countries where it had formerly made little progress. During the war the women of most belligerent countries played an important role in the prosecution of the war. They filled many places left vacant by men who served in the armies, they worked in government offices and in ammunition factories, and contributed in numerous ways to the advancement of the cause for which the nations were fighting.

To many minds their full and equal political enfranchisement with men appeared to be a just and well-earned reward. In consequence, there was a general extension of the suffrage to women throughout America and Europe. In Great Britain by the Representation of the Peoples Act of 1918 the parliamentary franchise was conferred upon all women over 30 years of age who themselves, or whose husbands,  were entitled to be registered as local government electors.

The effect of this law was to add about 6,000,000 new voters to the British electorate. Ten years later (1928) the age requirement for women Voters in Great Britain was reduced to 21 years, the same as for men. The Russian Soviet constitution of 1918 (Art. 64) conferred equal suffrage upon women who had attained their 18th year. By constitutional amendment in the United States (1919) women were put on an equal footing with men in all state, national, and local elections.

In Germany, where before the war the political enfranchisement of women found few advocates, all women over 20 years of age were by the constitution of 1919 (Art. 22) given the full and equal suffrage with men in the parliamentary elections and the Prussian constitution of 1920 (Art. 4) gave the same right to women in the state elections.

The new constitutions of Austria (Art. :26), Czechoslovakia (Art. 9), and Poland (Art. 12) did likewise. That of Yugoslavia (Art. 70) left the matter to the legislature with an injunction that it should provide for woman suffrage. The revised Belgian constitution of 1921 (Art. 47) contained a transitory provision conferring the suffrage upon unmarried widows of soldiers who died during the war, those of Belgian husbands who were shot or killed by the enemy, and women who were condemned by the enemy during the war to imprisonment or internment on account of their political motives.

The amendment empowered the legislature by a two-thirds vote to extend the right of suffrage to women generally under the same conditions as applied to men. The constitution of Luxembourg (1920) proclaimed the political equality of both sexes. The constitution of the Irish Free State (1922) confers the suffrage equally on men and women 21 years of age, and of Romania (1923) and of Spain (1931) make no distinction between men and women.

By the Hungarian electoral law of July 5, 1925, women 30 years of age who have attended school for six years (four years in case of mothers of three children) and those who earn their own livelihood were made voters. Naturally the enfranchisement of women has been followed by their election to public office in nearly all countries where they have acquired the suffrage.

Countries in which Women Are Unenfranchised :

There still remain a few countries in Europe in which women have not yet acquired the suffrage at least not equal suffrage with men. They are the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Portugal, Italy,55 and France.

In none of the countries of Latin America and Asia has woman suffrage been introduced, even in limited form, although a strong plea was made in the Japanese parliament in 1925 in favor of the enfranchisement of women who were heads of families. In France women who are employers may vote for the election of members of the councils of prud hommes, and those who are engaged in business are entitled to vote for the election of judges of the commercial courts. By recent legislation they have been made eligible to practice law, to serve on the consultative ‘labor councils, and to participate in the election of members of the cantonal and departmental councils for technical instruction.

Recently the feminist movement in France has grown in influence and numbers and the demand for full parliamentary and local suffrage has become widespread. On May 20, 1919, the  Chamber of Deputies voted by a large majority a resolution proclaiming the electoral equality of all French citizens without distinction of sex and again in 1932 it voted to extend the suffrage to women but each time the proposal was repealed by the Senate.

Professor Duguit, a staunch advocate of woman suffrage commenting on the great role played by the French women in the economic and public life of France during the World War, has lately expressed the opinion that the present exclusion of women from the suffrage is only temporary and contingent, and that the evolution of modern society everywhere toward the political enfranchisement of women is profound and irresistible. There is at the present time a strong organized movement in France for the enfranchisement of women.

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SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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