This Act was altered in 1928 and now there is equal franchise for men and women. Although the old prejudices against women suffrage are disappearing, yet some States still deny to their women the right to vote and the right to be elected to public office.
Female disfranchisement arose out of no rational consideration of women’s need to participate in political activity, but out of the general social position of women, as determined by sexual role, family life and religious tenets. Those who opposed women’s suffrage emphasised that woman was the ministering angel of home and maternity was her proper mission.
The exactions of political life are inconsistent with the duties of child-bearing and the rearing of families. Nature had not intended her for political life. Her participation in politics was sure to destroy the integrity of the home. If husband and wife differed in political views and supported opposing candidates, it might mean discord in family life.
Moreover, women would lose respect and honour which was naturally due to them, if they got themselves involved in the mud and mire of political controversies. Their participation in public affairs, in brief, would destroy their qualities as mothers and home-makers.
The opponents of women suffrage further pointed out that women had shown general apathy in public affairs wherever they were granted franchise. They were unable, being physically weaker, to perform the arduous duties of citizenship and, as such, they had no right to demand the privilege of franchise.
Besides, women would be guided by emotion rather than by reason in electing the representatives. And finally, their interest in public affairs would last only until the novelty wore off.
The demand for woman suffrage has worked simultaneously with the spread of democracy. Democracy, as a matter of principle, does not differentiate between man and man. Why should it then differentiate between sexes? Both on logical and rational grounds suffrage cannot be denied to women.
The right of voting is based upon moral and rational grounds rather than on physical considerations. “I see no adequate reason,” says Sidgwick, “for refusing the franchise to any self-supporting adult, otherwise eligible, on the score of sex alone: and there is a danger of material injustice resulting from such refusal so long as the State leaves unmarried women and widows to struggle for a livelihood in the general industrial competition without any special privileges or protection.”
The advocates of women’s suffrage argued that as they were physically weaker, they were more dependent on law and society for protection. They must have their own say on the laws which affected their status.
Moreover, men had, all through the ages, dominated womanhood, subjected their women to inhuman treatment and deprived them of their just rights and privileges. They could defend themselves against unjust class legislation only if they had the right to vote and their views got adequate representation. It was also wrong to say that their participation would deteriorate the domestic and political life.
In fact, the admission of women in politics would introduce in political life a purifying, ennobling and refining influence that not only would tend to elevate the tone of public life and bring about more wholesome political conditions in society, but also would insure better government. To deny her the right of suffrage was to deprive womanhood of the instinct of good citizenship.
Woman was the cradle of civilization and the future of every State depended upon her active participation in the affairs of government. If she was deprived of the civic sense, she had nothing to impart to her children. Finally, when women enjoyed all civil rights it was inconsistent and irrational not to give them political rights. Political rights must necessarily go with civil rights.
Democracy is a government of the people with the consent of the people. Both men and women living within a definite territory constitute the people of the State. If women are not given the opportunity to express their consent, it is a negation of democracy.
The old prejudices must necessarily disappear and women should stand at par with men in political life. Women in no way lag behind. They have proved their worth in the social and political life of every country. Why then should they be denied the right to franchise?
The enfranchisement of women has been followed by their election to public offices. The Congress Party in India fixed an appreciable quota of women candidates amongst its list of candidates, both for the Central and State legislatures, in the elections of 1957, and this principle were followed in the subsequent elections too.
In the course of legislative proceedings women members have everywhere shown special interest in health, housing, temperance, social security, education, international peace and other like problems.
They have also presided over various departments of government, and a woman was Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and a woman occupied the same august office in India and in Britain both for a long period of more than a decade. Even in Pakistan and Bangladesh, two Islamic countries, Prime Ministers are currently Muslim women.
Turkey, a secular Muslim country, has a woman Prime Minister. So was one in Israel. Herman Finer brings forward an interesting issue for deep consideration. It would be instructive to quote him in extenso. He says, “The wholesale entrance of women into politics must inevitably introduce complications, owing to the contact of different sexes.
No one who has an experience of co-education and cooperation in industry can avoid the conclusion that the minds of men and women are often diverted from objective considerations and are seriously affected by considerations of courtesy and the personal beauty and desirability of one of the opposite sex whose fate or interest is involved.
Boys and girls tell lies for each other, and turn in work in someone else’s name; pugnacity is aroused in the presence of girls, and discipline is audaciously rejected because it is humiliating.
Time is wasted in philandering, and the mind loses itself in idle fancies. In business women are often shielded from responsibility because of their sex; they are appointed because they are pleasing; they are dismissed and passed over in promotion because they are ugly.
Women become extraordinarily devoted to their work because they are devoted to a particular manager, and work badly for others in the firm.
We all know such facts, and they should not escape us in public life. And although the vast majority of people in a representative assembly, its committees, and the ancillary organizations may be married, and therefore presumably (but only presumably) less susceptible to the charms and wiles of the opposite sex, everyday experience teaches us to expect certain results.”
Whatever Finer says may be the result of his minute study of sex relations prevailing in the Western countries, but it cannot be true of the East where womanhood is held in high religious esteem and sanctity of relations between the two sexes is the main basis of the social order.