Last year, one thousand women were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, collectively, (in my opinion, almost all of them were eligible in their own individual right as well). Hero Ahmad was one of them.
Her words led me to think of the battles women have fought for their rights, over the last century or so. In India, we have had a woman prime minister, several women chief ministers and now, women are demanding a third of the legislature. Yet, the Women's Reservation Bill has been stalled again and again, since it was introduced in parliament in 1998. Despite the fact that there is no outright, outspoken rejection from major political quarters, governments come and go but the bill remains a bill.
Yet, we've been lucky in India; at least, we didn't have to fight to be allowed to vote on equal terms. In other places - places, mind you, such as the land of the free etc - suffrage was a hard-fought battle. It won't hurt us to remember how hard this particular battle was fought.
Let us take a brief, sweeping look at certain points in the history of the movement. According to the wiki,
'It is notable that New Jersey , on becoming a Federal State after the American Revolution, placed only one restriction on the general suffrage - the possession of at least £50 (~USD 250) worth of cash or property. The election laws referred to voters as "he or she." In 1790 the law was revised to include women specifically. (emphasis mine) Female voters became so objectionable to professional politicians, that in 1807 the law was revised to exclude them. Later, the 1844 constitution banned women voting."
Think of that.
In fact, when the state of Utah did give women the vote, in 1869, the US Congress took away the right again, in 1887. This was the year in which Susanna Salter was elected mayor of Kansas, although she'd been nominated as a 'joke'. The first woman mayor in a country that was refusing to allow women to vote.
This battle for political equality was not necessarily a demure affair. Let me pick out some of the more aggressive events recorded in the timeline of the movement, (sourced from the ever-useful wiki, again).
1905 – Militancy began ( Christabel Pankhurst interrupted a Liberal Party meeting and spat at a policeman)
1908 – Herbert Asquith became Prime Minister (personally opposed to votes for women)
1905, 1908, 1913 – 3 phases of militancy (Civil Disobedience – Destruction of Public Property – Arson/Bombings)
1910 – Lady Constance Lytton disguised herself as a working class criminal, Jane Wharton, was arrested and endured force feeding to prove prejudice in prisons against working class women. Lady Lytton was instrumental in reforming conditions in prisons. The force feeding shortened her life considerably.
1913 – Emily Davison threw herself under the King's Horse at the Epsom Derby
1914 – Mary Richardson slashed the Velasquez in the National Gallery with an axe, protesting that she was maiming a beautiful woman, just as the government was maiming Emmeline Pankhurst with force feeding.
1918 - The Representation of the People Act of 1918 enfranchised all women over the age of 30. This was probably so that women would not outnumber men in the voting process
1928 - Women received the vote on equal terms as men (over the age of 21).
In 1913, at least 5000 women marched in Washington DC, demanding the right to vote. But ...
"The crowd became abusive and started to close in, knocking the marchers around. With local police doing little to keep control, the cavalry was called in as 100 women were hospitalized. Many suffragists now concluded that public protests might be the quickest route to universal franchise. " (For the whole history)
It seems to me that things have not changed drastically in the US, as far as public attitudes to women and politics are concerned.
"Wal-Mart has even made anti-woman statements in the culture wars through products it chooses to sell, and those it chooses not to sell. Ten years ago, it pulled T-shirts that read, "Some Day a Woman Will Be President," featuring Margaret from "Dennis the Menace." Wal-Mart called the shirts "offensive" and "against Wal-Mart's family values." But it continues to sell violent video games such as the Grand Theft Auto series, where players get points for having sex with a prostitute and garner even higher scores for killing her to avoid payment."
Equality is not a joke. Equality is a rough road. A long journey. And we would do well to remember those who broke their backs laying out this road. Because 'Someone can only be strong for the future when they remember the suffering of the past'.