Full suffrage occurs when all groups of women are included in national voting and can run for any political office. In most cases women won the right to vote in uneven stages. New Zealand in 1893 was first. Liberalism was a strong force in this pioneering land which increasingly rejected what it viewed as archaic attitudes from the Old World. The support of social reform issues, including temperance, gave New Zealand suffragists the edge they needed. The now famous Womens Suffrage Petition is credited with being a major force for this success. Signed by close to one quarter of the female adult population, the petition was the largest of its kind in New Zealand and other western countries. It is comprised of 546 sheets of paper, all glued together to form one continuous roll 274 metres long, with the signatures of over 10,000 adult women. A few Maori women signed, but at this time they mainly were concerned with achieving political participation rights for the whole tribe.
A nativist argument also influenced the opinion of some in Canada, and in other parts of the world with large non-Northern European immigrant ethnic and racial minorities. One pro-suffrage argument in Canada was that white British Canadian women deserved the vote because the franchise had already been entrusted to naturalized male immigrants from Central Europe. In the United States the same argument was used, as was the fact that African American males had already won the vote before white women. The same reasoning was used by some white settlers in New Zealand, anxious about indigenous peoples access to political rights when it was denied to white women.
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Similarly Iran, which had granted women suffrage in 1963 and passed numerous womens equal rights legislation in the 70s, repealed all these gains when the revolutionary government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. Women were eliminated from all decision-making positions within the government, dress requirements were enforced, and womens organizations were declared corrupt and disbanded. The future looks brighter today. A growing urban, middle class is making some progress by situating womens rights within the cultural framework of Iran, and noting that in order to modernize, Iran must improve the status of women.
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Suffrage Challenged the Existing Order: Custom and laws in many countries had placed men as supreme in public sphere and within the family. Deep cultural beliefs in male/female differences in altitudes and abilities supported this situation, and giving the women the vote posed a direct threat to male powers and privileges. Changes in womens reforms, such as access to education or property rights, were justified because they were viewed as an improvement in womens social position. Suffrage, on the other hand, challenged the existing order by threatening the basis of womens subordination in society. Granting suffrage was a revolutionary act.
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Conservative Kuwait lawmakers recently blocked womens vote by arguing that giving women would essentially double womens power. Citing claims that Islam and Kuwaiti custom bar women from holding office, the head of the Parliaments human rights committee in May, 2005, said that men are technically the head of the nation here.
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With an emphasis on positive role models and the importance of women from all backgrounds, the NWHP has developed a nationwide constituency of teachers, students, parents, public employees, businesses, organizations, and individuals who understand the critical link between knowing about historical women and making a positive difference in today’s world.
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Every year in March, the NWHP coordinates observances of National Women’s History Month throughout the country. The NWHP originated this widely recognized celebration and sets the annual theme, produces educational materials, and chooses particular women to honor nationally for their work. Women’s History Month programs, community events, plays, essay contests, and related projects often have wide-ranging effects.