Historically speaking, women's suffrage—the right of women to vote in elections—is a remarkably recent development in the modern world. Although the state of New Jersey experimented with women's suffrage from 1776 to 1807, the earliest permanent establishment of women's suffrage in a full province (Pitcairn Islands) did not appear until 1838—and most sources agree that no fully sovereign nation would follow suit until Norway in 1913 (Finland in 1906 and New Zealand in 1896 were both earlier, but were technically territories of other countries at the time), barely a century ago.
Today, the situation has changed. Women now have the right to vote in every country and territory in the world except for one: Vatican City, in which only Catholic Church cardinals, who must be male, vote to elect the pope.
The legal right to vote vs. the election day reality
Having the legal right to vote does not always guarantee a realistic opportunity to vote. In some countries or regions, women have the legal right to vote, but are prevented from doing so by societal norms, harassment and violence at the polls, or pressure from their husbands.
For example, although pregnant females are given priority access at the polls in Kenya, according to watchdog website Votes without Violence and a 2019 United Nations report on election-related violence, individual instances of harassment or violence against female voters remain a concern.
Similarly, all Egyptians are automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 years old. However, according to a 2022 report by the non-profit Borgen Project, the seemingly common-sense requirement to show a valid I.D. at the polls can suppress the female vote. Women in this traditionally male-dominated society are less likely than men to have an ID (as well as an education and equal pay). Even if they have obtained one, it is often carried by their husband—who can withhold it and thereby prevent them from voting if he so desires.
One indicator of whether a country is effectively empowering women to vote is the number of women running for or serving in public office. In places where few women hold public office, the rights for women to vote—and their experience at the polls—may merit additional scrutiny.
For example, Nigeria's 2019 presidential election featured 73 candidates, but only six females—all six of whom withdrew their candidacy before the election. Women currently occupy less than 7% of Nigeria's national governmental seats (compared to a global average of approximately 26%) despite the fact that 47% of registered voters are female. However, experts see a clear cause for this disparity: a patriarchal national attitude that condones the suppression of women in many ways.
One well-known example of this attitude took place in 2016, when President Muhammadu Buhari declared “I don’t know exactly what party my wife belongs to. Actually she belongs in the kitchen, the living room and the other rooms in my house.” Statements such as these are often an indication that women's rights in a given country have room for improvement.
Equal opportunity oppression
A handful of countries limit the voting rights of both men and women equally. For example, the absolute monarchy Brunei has not held a national public election since 1962, and a recent election in the United Arab Emirates granted suffrage to only 12% of all men and women, who were selected using undisclosed criteria.
The table below outlines the dates upon which women's suffrage was attained in the majority of the world's countries and territories. These range from countries in which women's suffrage is fully accepted and supported to countries in which women are legally allowed to vote, but in reality are often restricted from doing so.