The Role of the British and American Suffrage Movements in Achieving Women's Rights PART-4 LAST

(Afzal RAZVI, Adelaide-Australia)

While the “new woman” debate focused on issues and ideas which were surfacing for the first time in the late nineteenth century, it was accompanied by discussion and new perspectives on earlier feminist developments. This period saw a significant rehabilitation of Mary Wollstonecraft, with a series of biographies and critical studies as well as a number of new editions of the Vindication.35 In the 1890s Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia stressed open air campaigning, factory gate meetings, and street-corner speaking to bring the suffrage message to a wider audience, including working-class women.

Indeed, by 1915, women's suffrage again became an issue when electoral reform was being discussed due to the possible disenfranchisement of men who were away from their normal residences due to the war. A number of organizations and individuals turned their attention to including women in any proposed change. Moreover, a change in leadership in the country had affected the situation. In December 1916, David Lloyd George replaced Asquith as Prime Minister. By January 1917, the Conference on Electoral Reform recommended that some measure of woman suffrage be included in any changes. In March 1917, the proposed change regarding woman suffrage was approved by an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons.

The largest of the pre-war suffrage organization, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), was the central group in a number of conflicts throughout the 1920s. In 1917, Eleanor Rathbone, the distinguished philanthropist, followed Millicent Garrett Fawcett as president of the NUWSS. Her approach was suggested by her proposed motto of the society: “I am a woman and nothing that concerns the status of women is indifferent to me.”36In 1919 In 1919 Eleanor Rathbone played an important role in developing the six major demands of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, equal pay for equal work, equal suffrage and promotion of the candidature of women for Parliament, an equal work moral standard between men and women, equality in industry and the professions, widows’ pensions and equal guardianship and active support for the League of Nations.37

In 1925, Eleanor promoted new feminism and in her address to the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC) annual meeting, she explains that now the time has changed and we must not see our problems through the men’s eyes.38 Under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett, the NUWSS generated suffrage propaganda in a variety of printed forms -handbills, posters, pamphlets, and several suffrage magazines.39

Indian women and other “women of the East” were familiar topics to the readers of the Women’s Franchise and Common Cause, two of the suffrage periodicals supported by the NUWSS during this period.40 In the first quarter of the 20th century, the interest in having a woman’s perspective came from two sources. First, the European feminist challenge to political and social practices. Second, anthropology’s claim to a holistic perspective on society; more likely the systematic study of women’s role.41

Butler's Indian campaign focused on what had been decades of British feminist interest in Indian women on the necessity of women's suffrage at home for the sake of "our Indian sisters" in the empire. Knowledge about Indian women -- along with understanding, “the first condition of all mutual help” -- fitted British feminists for imperial service and made its social and political effectiveness contingent on votes for women in the imperial nation.42

Other than Josephine Butler and Eleanor Rathbone, Margaret Cousins devoted her life to the causes of Indian national independence and women’s rights.43 Educational improvements for Indian women were an outgoing concern among feminists until World War I and beyond. While presenting a tribute to Butler, Millicent Garrett Fawcett’s said:

Her Work and Principles, and Their Meaning for the Twentieth Century (1927) honouring the centennial birthday of the great organizer of the pan-European campaign against state-regulated prostitution. As one reviewer put it, Butler’s work and principles wrought a change in social ethics, not only in her own country but in the whole world greater perhaps than that affected by any other single person in recent times. 44

British suffragists also worked for Iranian women throughout the colonial period but particularly during the years 1906-1911. “Iranian women made gigantic leaps in articulating their social and political demands during these years and participated in a wide range of revolutionary and feminist activities.”45 In his 1912 The Strangling of Persia, the American W. Morgan Shuster concluded: “The Persian women since 1907 had become almost at a bound the most progressive, not to say radical, in the world…”46

A prominent Iranian reformer Yahya Dawlatabadi, who paid a concrete role in the constitutional movement in Iran during 1905-1911, visited London. He also went to the Women’s Social and Political Union’s (WSPU) headquarters – a political movement that had split from NUWSS in 1903 with a focus on militant action. He was very much impressed with the feminist work of leaders; Annie Kenney and Emmeline Pankhurst. He praised the leadership of Emmeline by expressing his views, “my familiarity with the affairs of the English [suffragettes] boosted my hope for the progress and exaltation womanhood everywhere.”47British suffragist commentaries on Iranian women’s appeals to British and other women are exemplary of the nascent global sisterhood of women that is still being shaped by dialogues between women of different feminist movements in various parts of the world.48

In conclusion, it can be said that the intertwined struggle of women’s movements in the Empire and the United States are paralleled through the eventual successful constitutional right to vote in the early Twentieth century. However, as highlighted by their struggles, it is apparent that basic rights to vote are still a concern in some regions today. Additionally, it is also notable that in some countries where women have been granted the right of vote, they continue to propose other rights equal to men. All in all, the influence of the suffrage movements and their struggle continues to popularize throughout the world.

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Note: References are available on request.


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About the Author: Afzal Razvi

Read More Articles by Afzal Razvi: 46 Articles with 9634 views »
Educationist-Works in the Department for Education South AUSTRALIA and lives in Adelaide.
Author of Dar Barg e Lala o Gul (a research work on Allama
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