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70 years of votes for French women

On April 21, 1944, women in France could vote for the first time - but they had to wait another year to exercise right

EASTER Monday 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of the date women in France were able to vote and stand for elections for the first time.

The Order of Algiers, in which General de Gaulle’s provisional government wrote female suffrage into French law, came into effect on April 21, 1944 - some 96 years after men in France were given the right to vote.

The anniversary was marked last week at the Hotel de Ville in Paris - where last month Anne Hidalgo became the first female mayor of the capital.

President François Hollande joined the commemorations. He described it as “a decisive day in the history of our country (...) where half of France joined the other half to exercise their rights”.

But France’s women had to wait another year before they could exercise their rights. The first municipal elections after the Occupation were held on April 29, 1945, when 12 million people voted - about six million of those who turned out were women.

The French lagged behind other nations in votes for women. New Zealand was the first country to grant women the vote - in 1893. Australia followed suit in 1902; Norway ordered universal female suffrage in 1913, Denmark and Iceland in 1915, Germany, Soviet Russia and Poland in 1918, and Sweden, USA and Netherlands in 1919.

In the first post-war elections, women were voted into office in Sables d’Olonne (Vendée) and Villetaneuse (now Seine-Saint-Denis) - but only 3% of those elected across France were women. In the first parliamentary elections a few months later in October 1945, 33 women were elected to the National Assembly of 586 members.

Even today, despite modern equality laws, 73% of MPs and 78% of senators are men.

In the last 20 years, however, female representation has improved markedly. In 1993, women made up on 5.7% of France’s MPs - little more than at the end of the Second World War.

Political parity was first written into French law in 2000, forcing political parties to present an equal number of men and women on polling lists.

But Christine Bard, professor of contemporary history at the University of Angers, told AFP: “Despite its age , and its recent twists, we can only note that the struggle for equality between women and men in politics is an unfinished battle.”

Photo: Wikipedia

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