New Internationalist

A long and winding road

Issue 373

A snapshot of history as far back as 900 BCE (Before Common Era) shows that women have always struggled for their rights – and that progress is not a straight line. Many societies where women are most repressed today were the most enlightened in the past. History shows us that what has been won can also be taken away. These are some landmarks in the rights that women have struggled for through the ages.

900 BCE In ancient Sumer (Iraq), Egypt and Japan, adult women can own property, buy and sell in the marketplace and even be clerics. In the Andes, death in childbirth is seen to be as honourable as death in battle.

In the 1400s, trade brings new status to women in some countries. In Nigeria, Yoruba women elect their own female representatives to protect their trading interests.

1789 Working women march on Versailles to demand bread.

In 1791 French playwright Olympe de Gouges issues the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen’. She is executed by guillotine when the French Revolution rejects demands for women’s rights.

International Women’s Day celebrations, Asmara, Eritrea. Photo: Sami Sallinen / (http://www.panos.co.uk/)[Panos Pictures]

1759 - 97 In Britain, Mary Wollstonecraft writes A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which becomes a catalyst for much later feminist thinking.

1848 The world’s first women’s rights convention (attended by men as well) is held in Seneca Falls, New York, setting the agenda for the women’s rights movement.

1850s In Brazil, women’s urban newspapers like O Jornal das Senhoras (Ladies’ Journal) complain that marriage is ‘an unbearable tyranny’ and women deserve ‘a just enjoyment of their rights’.

1861 In Russia, the emancipation of serfs raises women’s expectations of equality.

1880 - 90 The Japanese Women’s Movement is founded. Kishida Toshiko is jailed for a week after calling for women’s horizons to be ‘as large and free as the world itself’.

1893 New Zealand/Aotearoa becomes the first country to give women the vote.

1896 In the US, the National Association of Colored Women, founded by Margaret Murray Washington, unites Black women’s organizations.

1890 - 1923 In the late 1800s Islam is used to justify the education of women. In 1923 Huda Shar’awawi founds the Egyptian Feminist Union. Women are at the forefront of the battle for independence from the British.

1911 Socialists observe 8 March as a day to honour the women who had organized strikes for better working conditions in the 19th and 20th centuries. In Mexico, La Liga Femenil Mexicanista (League of Mexican Feminists) is formed.

1913 In South Africa, traditional women’s organizations such as Manyano act as savings clubs for poor women. They are also at the forefront of the fight against apartheid.

1926 In Turkey, as part of his programme for modernization, Kemal Ataturk abolishes polygamy, makes schools and universities coeducational, gives women the vote and recognizes their equal rights in divorce, custody, and inheritance.

1947 Gandhi expresses strong opposition to male domination of women, and India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, calls for equal educational and work opportunities for women and men. The 1947 Constitution guarantees equality between the sexes.

1948 In Egypt, Doria Shafik forms the Daughters of the Nile Union. In 1951 she organizes an invasion of the Egyptian parliament by women and in 1953 creates a women’s political party that is then suppressed by the Government.

1959 In eastern Nigeria 2,000 women protest their declining status by occupying and setting fire to a market.

1977 Argentinean women whose children disappeared under the junta constitute themselves into the ‘Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo’ and become a radical force for change.

1975 - 2001 The growth of the modern feminist movement. The first international women’s conference is held in Mexico, launching the United Nations Decade for Women and the formation of women’s groups all over the world, including feminist newspapers, student organizations, professional women and lesbian feminists. Followed by conferences in Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995). 1990s Women’s rights become enshrined in law in many countries.

Sami Sallinen / Panos/ http://www.panos.co.uk
International Women’s Day celebrations, Asmara, Eritrea. Sami Sallinen / Panos/ http://www.panos.co.uk

This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7

Comments on A long and winding road

Leave your comment