A historical perspective

he first country to grant women full voting rights was New Zealand in 1893. In 1902, Australian women were given the right to vote in national elections. Suffrage laws were enacted prior to 1893 in various states across America, but in some cases they were rescinded. In most instances, only women with substantial property or financial assets were permitted to vote. However, it was not until August 1920 that the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution granting women the right to vote was signed into law. Although the suffrage movement in Britain began in the 1860s, women were not granted full voting rights until 1928, despite the fact that until 1901 - the year in which Queen Victoria died - a woman had sat on the throne for 63 years. Other countries gradually began to give women the vote, but there are still countries in which women are less than second-class citizens. In Saudi Arabia, for example, women received voting rights only in 2005. The history of International Women's Day spans back to 1909 when National Women's Day was initiated in the US by the Socialist Party of America. The following year, International Women's Day was declared at a meeting in Copenhagen of the Socialist International. In 1911, International Women's Day was marked for the first time on March 19 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland with more than one million women turning out for rallies. In 1917, Russian women chose the last Sunday in February to strike for bread and peace. Russia at that time was still using the Julian calendar, but the date according to the Gregorian calendar - March 8 - has since become universally accepted as International Women's Day. Although women in many countries had voting rights well before World War II, during which many women took over the civilian jobs of men who had joined the fighting forces, it was not until 1960 that the world received its first woman prime minister. She was Sirimavo Bandraneika of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), who succeeded her husband Solomon Bandraneika after he was assassinated in office. She served as prime minister three times, receiving her third mandate from her daughter Chandrika Kumartunga, who became president of Sri Lanka in 1994. Indira Gandhi was the world's second female prime minister. She served twice in the position and was first elected in January 1966. She was assassinated in office in October 1984. Israel's own Golda Meir was the third woman to earn the title of prime minister, attaining the position in March 1969 following the death of Levi Eshkol. Since then, fewer than 40 women have been president or prime minister of their respective countries - but not of as many countries.