Suffrage has not been an automatic stepping stone to full equality for women. One problem was that once suffrage was achieved, the common ground among women fighting for it was lost. Fears that participation in politics was unladylike remained, as did the old resistance and hostile attitudes against it.
This means that major changes in womens political activities, other than exercising their right to vote, have been long in coming. Today, women are struggling to gain equal participation in political office alongside men. Of interest is the use in over 41 countries of parity quotas and quota laws to achieve political gender balance. Responding to strong pressure by womens organizations, gender quotas have appeared in many new constitutions, like the one of Rwanda, and recently in the constitution of Iraq. This means that a certain number of parliamentary seats are reserved for women. The seats are distributed among the political parties in proportion to the number of seats awarded in parliament. In South Africa, a municipal law stipulates that 50 percent of all candidates for the local office have to be women. India in 1992 enacted a 33 percent policy to reserve seats for women in Parliament and throughout the State Government. The final effectiveness of this policy is unknown, but so far, as many as one million women have gotten an opportunity to enter institutions as members and office bearers; many more have participated in elections and as campaigners for state legislatures. Most dramatic has been the change in the landscape of local politics. In some cases, women for the first time have sat with village leaders, and sometimes even had a turn heading village affairs.
Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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Women in World History Curriculum