Political participation through suffrage has gone through a long evolution on where we are now in the United States. Similarly to many other Western countries, the right to vote was initially provided only to white males who owned property. Gradually, the restrictions of one’s social status, sex, and race have stopped barring the right to vote. (Patterson, pp. 214-215) Among these many struggles for universal suffrage, the fight for women’s voting rights was particularly challenging. (Patterson, p. 234-237)
Currently, women of all races have the right to vote in the United States. We often forget that the situation with gender equality in political participation in other countries has been much grimmer in other countries. To illustrate the difference, one can take the noteworthy example of South Africa. The major victory of the suffragist movement in the United States took place in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was passed that guaranteed voting rights to American women. This was a remarkable achievement, which was preceded only by a handful of other nations in Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand, which granted the right to vote to women at the beginning of the twentieth century. (Ramirez, Soysal, & Shanahan, p. 737) Even though American women of color still faced institutional racism in gaining access to voter registration for decades after 1920, the situation in South Africa has been much less promising until quite recently.
In South Africa, women received the right to vote simultaneously with men of color in 1993. It is hard to believe that a country with a common law tradition has only realized at the end of the twentieth century that widening the boundaries of political participation is necessary and beneficial in a democratic society. However, context is everything: South Africa did not really experience a suffragist victory following several decades of persistence, as it was in the United States. (Ramirez, Soysal, & Shanahan, p. 735) The right to vote for South African women came with an end to the apartheid regime in the country.
The end of an undemocratic government and social order in South Africa also brought women’s political participation as an established and integral element of a healthy democracy. Thus, the first lesson learned here is that women’s voting right became an inalienable feature of any modern democratic country. Secondly, we have seen both in the United States and South Africa that women’s suffragist movement has been closely connected to the fight against racial discrimination. Therefore, this is strong evidence that protecting civil rights of all groups is a universal social cause worth fighting for in all corners of the globe.