Women’s Suffragette and Beyond: The Forgotten Movements
Unlike today, there was a time when women did not have rights that we consider basic now. Women were, according to the law of the Victorian era, property of their husbands or fathers, and as per the Rule of Thumb, could be beaten up with a stick the size of one’s thumb. Women did not have the right to vote, nor to participate in political activities, as they were considered as second-class citizens. With the realization of a few women about the fact that their lives should hold equal value to that of the men, and that they should have the right to have a say in the public sphere, a movement arose. The Suffragette Movements across the world were a form of resistance by the Suffragettes, or the militant women who asked for the right to vote. With this resistance, rose the first wave of feminism, a movement on its third wave now, finding relevance even in the modern times.
The most famous suffragette movement was the one which took place in Britain and Ireland. The lead runner of this movement was Emmeline Pankhurst, who founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, founded in 1903. The women who were part of this Union took radical action through protests and civil disobedience, like attacking police officials, setting empty buildings on fire, and going on hunger strikes. The World War I brought this movement to a screeching halt; however, in 1928 women gained the right to vote with the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act. This movement has gained a lot of recognition throughout the ages in the feminist discourse. However, there are many sister-movements which took place in various parts of the world, which didn’t gain as much popularity.
Peruvian Suffragette Movement
The female masses in the Peruvian society were uneducated, because the schools run for girls were either very expensive private school, or those run by nuns, leading to only middle and upper class women being enrolled into these schools. This extremely sex-segregated education system of Peru denied women the entry into the public sphere, let alone the sphere of politics. Since writing novels and poetry could be done from home, these were the first occupations women started engaging in. Around the same time, in the late 19th Century, these women also engaged in conversations with men through tertulias or gatherings, which opened women up to political ideologies as well. Here, not only were problems faced by women discussed, but also those faced by Indians and peasantry.
A brilliant woman and the ambassador of the Peruvian Suffragette Movement was Maria Alvarado. Her journey towards women’s emancipation began with a lecture she delivered on the women problem at the Geographic Society of Lima, which received mixed reactions, after which she went on to form the first women’s organisation in Peru, called Feminine Evolution who struggled for women’s enfranchisement. Even though this organisation grew internal inconsistencies, they continued to work towards women’s rights. They faced opposition from the Catholic Church, who claimed that women’s rights were against their institution. After mobilizing many women, the men of the Peruvian society finally decided that Alvarado had spoilt their women enough, and thus she was taken as a political prisoner in 1924, after which she was sent to Argentina on a 12 years long exile. Women finally received the right to vote in 1955, however, this level of organisation to fight for women’s rights would not have been possible without the efforts of Maria Alvarado.
Chilean Suffragette Movement
One of the main leaders of women’s movements in the Chilean society was Amanda Labarca who founded the Women’s Reading Circle in 1915, where women met for political discussions. Since women’s organisations sought to involve women in masses, not only men but also conservative women were against them, because of which the Women’s Reading Circle rose as a secular space. In 1917, a bill was proposed for women’s rights, the women who proposed it were terrorized in the name of excommunication. Only in 1944 was the first National Congress of Women was held, out of which arose the Federation of Women’s Organisation led by Labarca. Five years after this, the women received right to vote, after much hard work especially by Amanda Labarca.
In India, with the introduction of the Constitution in 1950, women were given the same rights as men with a universal adult franchise, in a hope to make India an equal society. However, it is important to give due credit to feminist uprisings, fighting to make the world more equal, and it is because of them that we were able to attain equal citizenship. Since then, feminists have risen for various other issues like violence against women, women’s work and labour, bodily autonomy, etc. Even though it’s been about a century since the first wave of feminism was witnessed across the globe, there are many fights still to be fought. Protests and resistance is a constitutional right which comes with being a democratic nation, so we must use these means and work towards gender-just society.
1) Pankhurst, C. (1959), Unshackled: The Story of How We Won the Vote. Hutchinson. London.
2) Chaney, Elsa M. “Old and New Feminists in Latin America: The Case of Peru and Chile.” Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 35, no. 2, 1973, pp. 331–343. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/350663.