HONOLULU, Hawaii– When it comes to women’s rights, one of the most commonly referred to issues is women’s suffrage. Societally, the right to vote has often been equated with definitive freedom. While getting the right to vote is a crucial element in the fight for gender equality, there are other issues that also oppress women, such as rape, domestic violence and reproductive rights. Even still, it is important that women are granted a voice during elections so that they can help decide who will influence laws that may limit or advance their rights.
According to Freedom House, an independent organization that researches the overall level of freedom in countries, many nations fall short in regards to gender equality despite women being able to vote. Freedom House ranks countries as, free, partly free or not free, depending on factors such as rates of nondiscrimination, autonomy, security and freedom of each person, economic rights, political rights and social/cultural rights.
While the thought of women not being allowed to vote may seem archaic, it has taken certain countries an exceedingly long time to grant women’s suffrage due to conservative and strict governments. The following is a list of the last five countries to grant women’s suffrage, or will be the last, and the level of freedom of that country.
5. South Africa
In 1994, all women in South Africa were granted the right to vote. This is a unique case, however, because actually white women were given the vote back in 1930. It took South Africa 64 years to grant black women suffrage. South Africa has seen a lot of turmoil and changes over the years, and according to Freedom House, has evolved into a free country.
Women were granted the right to vote in 2002. Even still, this country is not considered to be free according to Freedom House. In regards to the evaluation of autonomy, security and freedom of a person, Bahrain received a 2.6 on a scale of one to five. Women’s organizations within the country have been working towards achieving more rights in order for women to infiltrate the public and private sector. More assistance is needed, however, in order for women to have full autonomy over their lives, and for the country to be considered free.
Women were granted the right to vote in 2003. In regards to the rate of autonomy, security and freedom of a person in Qatar, Freedom House has ranked Qatar at 2.3 on the scale of one to five. This country is considered not free, and recent labor rights’ violations support this analysis.
Women were finally granted the right to vote in 2005. According to Freedom House, this country is considered partly free. Their ranking in regards to autonomy, security and freedom of a citizen in Kuwait is 2.4 on the scale of one to five. Kuwait has a successful economy due to vast amounts of oil, but the majority of the wealth and power remains in the hands of the nation’s leaders.
1. Saudi Arabia
There have been indications that women’s suffrage in Saudi Arabia may be on the horizon, however, as of now women cannot vote in any elections. During the elections held in 2011, women attempted to register to vote, but were denied the opportunity. Time will tell as to whether or not they will be permitted to vote in upcoming elections, as recently promised. There are other major limitations placed on women in Saudi Arabia, such as not being able to leave the country without permission and not being allowed to obtain a license to drive as well. The ranking of autonomy, security and freedom of a person in Saudi Arabia is quite low, at 1.3 on the scale of one to five. To no surprise, this country is considered not free.
To be thorough, it is important to note the case of Vatican City. Although it is not a country, it is still a place where women are prohibited from voting. In comparing this circumstance with the countries listed above, of which many are under Sharia or Islamic law, we can see a divergence in theological law. While the only real election in Vatican City is for the Pope, only Cardinals (who are men) may vote. Many have argued that since this is based on theocracy, it is not the same, yet some may view it as biased to support a Christian theology even when it limits women’s rights, and then reject Islamic theology when it limits women’s rights.
While these countries were late to grant women the right to vote, or still have not granted it, the overall fight for freedom persists in all five nations except for South Africa, according to Freedom House. With more intervention by international organizations, such as the United Nations (UN) and nonprofit organizations, women’s rights will advance and these countries will work towards achieving the full status of freedom. Women still face other issues that need addressing, but the fight for women’s suffrage is a vital movement that recognizes the notion that gender equality is essential for sustainable human progress.