On this day in history…

Black and white image of women protesting to demand vote
Suffragette Louise Weiss protests with other women demanding the vote in France in 1935

On April 21, 1944 – 73 years ago – French women were granted their right to vote, almost 100 years after men.

The law giving women the vote in France was passed by the Algiers-based provisional government of General De Gaulle but it was not until a year later, on April 29, 1945, in the first post-war municipal elections, that women could place their first votes.

For that first universal suffrage election, around 12million people entered the voting booths and it was said around half were women.

A few months later, during the October parliamentary elections, 33 out of the 586 members elected to the Assemblée Nationale were women.

France had already had three women in the government and one of those chosen in 1936 was Irène Joliot-Cure, the daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie who was made under-secretary of scientific research the year after winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Former French health minister Simone Veil was named the first president of the European Parliament in 1979 but it was not until 1991 that France had its first woman prime minister, when President François Mitterrand made Edith Cresson France’s first and, so far, only woman as head of government.

A law in 2000 required political parties to have an equal number of women and men up for election – the first country to do so – but today there are only 26% of female MPs, 27% female senators and only 16% of female mayors.

In the present government nine out of 17 ministers are women.

Women’s suffrage came late in France with New Zealand – still a British colony at the time – being the first to give women the vote, in 1893.

After that came Australia in 1902, Norway in 1913, Germany, the Soviet Union and Poland in 1918 followed by Sweden, the US and Netherlands in 1919. While the Soviet Union gave women the vote in 1918 the former Russian Empire had elected women to parliament in 1907.

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