International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated annually on 8 March, aims to forge a gender equal world. March is also ‘Women’s History Month’.

Women have come a long way since the below article of 6 August 1873 titled ‘Suffrage’. The Herald reported that the member’s motion to extend suffrage to females was ‘absurd’. Had the motion been moved, Australia, instead of New Zealand (from 19 September 1893), would have been the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections. The colony of South Australia allowed women to both vote and stand for election in 1894.

Many members of the Assembly waxed amusing last night, over Mr. Higinbotham’s proposition to extend the suffrage to females. It was pointed out how absurdities would be piled one upon another by the presence of lady members in the House, and the picture was too much for hon. members. The proposition was rejected by a large majority.

There would, however, be some advantages in having female members as well as male ones, especially during the continuance of payment of members. For instance, it would be very pleasant for an hon. member to use his influence for the return of his wife, and £600 a year would make a very comfortable joint increase. There would most likely be a very strong objection to this on the part of some hon. members. Their ladies would insist on remaining in the Legislative Chambers while their spouses did, and having to see one’s wife home every night would be a sad blow to little enjoyments that are now possible of achievement.

Seriously, though, Mr. Higinbotham’s motion is absurd, not because the ladies are unfitted mentally for legislative duties, but because they labor under physical incapacities, and because to give them political power would be to take from them the great, and, indeed, overwhelming, social influence which they now possess. The game would not be worth the candle.

The Australian Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 enabled women to vote at federal elections and also permitted women to stand for election to the Australian Parliament, making the newly-federated country the first in the modern world to do so, although some states excluded Indigenous Australians.

Contribution of Women Through the Years

400BC Greece: Agnodice courageously practised medicine in Greece when women faced the death penalty for doing so. Eventually caught, she was allowed to continue when patients came to her defence.

1691 Mexico: Writer and nun, Sor Juana Inésde la Cruz defended women’s rights to education stating “one can perfectly well philosophise while cooking supper”. She appears on Mexican currency.

1860 Russia: Women’s rights activist and Russian philanthropist Anna Filosofova, co-founded a society to provide affordable housing and decent work for women.

1893 New Zealand: With fellow suffragists, Kate Sheppard presented a petition of nearly 32 000 signatures to Parliament demanding women’s suffrage, leading to New Zealand becoming the first self-governing country to grant national voting rights to women.

1911 Japan: Japanese editor, writer and political activist, Raichō Hiratsuka co-founded Japan’s first all-women-run literary journal Seitō in 1911.

1951 Egypt: Doria Shafik with 1500 other women, stormed parliament demanding full political rights, pay equality and reforms to personal status laws, leading to women’s right to vote in 1956.

1951 England: Chemist Rosalind Franklin, paved the way for the discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure through the revolutionary use of X-ray diffraction. She captured the critical photo evidence through 100 hours of extremely fine beam X-ray exposure from a machine she’d refined.

2016 Zimbabwe: Former child brides Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi made history when Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court ruled that nobody in the country may enter into marriage, including customary law unions, before the age of 18.

And closer to home:

Edith Cowan: First woman Member of Parliament in 1921, she worked to advocate women’s rights and was committed to the betterment of education, health and justice issues. In 1894, she was involved in the suffragette movement that campaigned for women to gain degrees, jobs and roles equal to males.

Miles Franklin: Australian author and feminist, best known for her novel ‘My Brilliant Career’, was involved in the early Australian feminist movement. In her will she funded the ‘Miles Franklin’ literary prize for the ‘advancement, improvement and betterment of Australian Literature’.

Elizabeth Blackburn: 2009’s Nobel Prize winner for her study on the molecular nature of telomeres (chromosome ends which act as a protective tip to preserve genetic information) which found that those of an unusually short nature can indicate illness and sometimes allow prevention.

About Raine Biancalt 37 Articles
Raine Biancalt has a Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) and a background in both government and corporate worlds. She enjoys art, history, writing and old movies.