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Human Rights and Women’s Suffrage

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Human Rights has become a common topic of conversation within many social media platforms today. These important conversations help to educate us in what is happening around the world concerning the rights of human beings and also what rights we actually possess depending on where we live in the world. If we look at the demographics of women and men in this world we find that women are treated differently to men concerning their rights and freedoms. Throughout history women were not granted the same basic human rights as men. In order to have a voice in society women began to fight to be recognized both as a human being and citizen in society. Women believed in the importance of having their voices heard in suffrage and persevered through centuries of resistance to the cause they believed they deserved.

Over the past two hundred years many political and social changes have taken place in Europe and America. These countries both have had similar legal histories and events concerning women’s rights. New ideologies of the Enlightenment Philosophers such as John Locke were included in official decrees such as “The Declaration of Independence, ” written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776. America was seeking independence from British rule and desired more democracy in their government. Locke’s views on ‘natural rights’ explained that God gives every human being the right to “Life, Liberty and Property”. Jefferson included this reasoning in the declaration by stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. These rights were written by men for men. We see from the outside looking in the appearance of progress in society concerning human rights. When we look more closely we observe the ideology behind the words and there is a deliberate omission of women’s rights from being included as a person under this proclamation. The French Revolution was also underway in 1789 and the National Assembly were looking for ways to encompass a decree that would be widely accepted by the better part of society. Thirteen years after the Declaration of Independence was written, The Declaration of Man and Citizen of 1789. After more than a decade there was still no mention of women’s rights or any amendments. Women were not considered citizens or human under the law as they were not allowed to own property only certain men with status could be property owners. Once again women were denied the right to own property, yet the declarations indicate that men not women are born with unalienable rights to own property. Men were still over women as well and the criteria for being a citizen was marginalized. During the Enlightenment Period there were women who risked everything to speak out against the unequal treatment of women in all levels of society. Women like playwright Olympia de Gouges who aimed her writings towards social change and especially women’s rights. In this time period men did not want to include women in politics and had decided where women belonged. They were to be at home, caring for children and to be seen and not heard from. Men would speak for them. Olympia wrote “The Declaration of the Rights of Woman” in 1791. This was written only two years after the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789. A complete reverse declaration that was re-written substituting the word ‘man’ for ‘woman’. In the 2nd rights of woman she included men as well as women. “The purpose of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of woman and man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and especially resistance to oppression”. It is interesting to see that slavery and the treatment of women are combined issues in this Declaration but more importantly that Olympia included both men and women. She wanted to show it was about being equal. Unfortunately, the reward for her bravery in the eyes of men in 1793 she was sent to the guillotine. This was the price she paid for freedom of speech and thought in the Age of Reason. As a woman, men were hoping to silence this disturbing voice from reappearing as she was declared an “unnatural woman. Olympia’s writings live on and her cause continues to get stronger through the years long after her death.

In the Early Modern Period the majority of women were the responsibility of their husbands or families and not given equal rights to men. Women’s rights changed when a woman married, “in 1769 her identity would be suspended during their marriage. ” Many opposed the rights of women due to religious views because the belief was biblically based in scriptures such as “the head of every woman is the man” (Wall 649). Having the same equal rights as men would jeopardize the whole of society threatening the roles of “mother, home and heaven” if she was to do anything else especially in politics. It would take150 more years of small changes in the laws when the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920 allowing women to vote and regain their God given right. ” Considering legal changes in women’s rights in the UK prior to 1850 there were clear distinctions concerning marital status in society. Single women were beginning to exercise limited legal rights by signing agreements in their own name and also property ownership. When a woman got married however, all of the limited rights she had were then transferred over to her husband. Married women were virtually left with no rights. In 1928 after years of women’s suffrage and winning limited legal rights as a woman, “The Equal Franchise Act” was passed and provided the equal rights to men that they were seeking.

The Industrial Revolution was evolving during this time period and women and children had to work to live during early 18th Century. Men were profiting off their weaknesses being subjected to many basic human rights and there was no protection for this type of treatment for them under the current laws. They had no protection themselves under the law they had to have their husbands act on their behalf. There was no protection for these women under the current laws only for men who met the requirements and usually they had to be property owners and white. Those that were excluded were: minorities of race and colour, religious groups, younger adults, the wealthy and the poor. They were not considered human beings under the earlier modern legal system of the early modern era. The Industrial Revolution was also part of the backdrop to women’s suffrage. All of these concerns were not the current concerns to any of the men that were in power and women wanted this to change so they could be represented and have a voice. The United Nations wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 in Article 1 “All human beings are born free and equal indignity and rights”. This piece of historical rights was established to respect each person who enters into this world. Some have disagreed with this declaration because they believe human rights belong to the society and the country they live in and not be given just to the individual. Also, under Article 21 there should be ‘universal and equal suffrage’. It states that ‘everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives’.

There always seems to be changes made concerning the issues surrounding Human Rights. Women’s suffrage has been a fight for equality of God given rights that men have always received. It is hard to imagine today in the West that women had to fight for these rights when it seems unimaginable that there was a fight at all. Women of course are equal to men and human and are citizens. Through education and communication of human rights through whatever means the world is changing and speaking up for the rights of the person. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight because laws and rights are always being amended. Not all countries in this world have equal rights for women to vote or to be treated equal to men. Therefore the fight as long as there are women will continue.

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Human Rights and Women’s Suffrage. (2020, July 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 24, 2021, from
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