Photo: Camilla Isene.Photo: Camilla Isene

Norway Celebrates the Centenary of Women’s Right to vote

Last updated: 03.01.2013 // Norway was the first independent country in the world to introduce universal suffrage for both men and women. 11 June 2013 is the 100th anniversary of Norwegian women’s right to vote.

The celebrations in 2013 will highlight the importance of 1913 in Norway’s history, as well as marking the democratic development that has taken place over the last century. But they will also look to the future and to what can be done to safeguard and further develop our democracy in our own time and in the time ahead.

The Struggle

The struggle for women’s right to vote in Norway began in the 1880s. Women campaigners and their supporters in the parliament had to fight against traditional ideas about women and the fear that traditional home life would be destroyed. Women’s right to vote was proposed in the parliament for the first time in 1886. In 1890, the proposal was debated and rejected by 70 votes to 44.

Opponents to women’s right to vote argued that it was unnatural for women to have the right to vote, and that it would lead to the disintegration of families and homes. Those who fought for women’s suffrage, however, considered women’s “motherly” nature to be an important asset in politics, particularly in relation to social issues, and the fact that women were different from men was yet another reason to give them political rights. Human rights principles were also an important element in the debate, and the members of parliament who supported women’s suffrage also argued that the demands for reform were a question of women’s human dignity.

 Once universal suffrage for men was introduced in 1898, many people thought it was very unfair that women were still unable to vote. In 1901, women gained limited rights to vote in local elections, and in 1907, this was also introduced for the general election, followed by full suffrage in local elections in 1910, and finally universal right to vote in the 1913 general election. In a global context, Norway was at the forefront in this respect.  It is true that there were three states that introduced universal right to vote even earlier – New Zealand in 1893, Australia in 1902 and Finland in 1906 – but these countries were not independent and the women could not be elected to political positions.

Women matter

In a ranking of the world’s parliaments according to their level of female representation Norway is in eighth place. For many years, the level of female representation in the Norwegian parliament has been between 35 % and 40 %. 

The UN’s Security Council resolution 1325 recognizes the need for women to participate on equal terms with men, at all levels and in all roles, to promote peace and security. The women, peace and security agenda has been a key priority for the Norwegian Government for several years, and is to be integrated into the design and implementation of all Norwegian peace and security efforts.

The centenary will include several major events in Norway, beginning with a large celebration of the International Women’s Day on 8 March, followed by a Women’s suffrage week in June, and an International Conference on Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality in Oslo in November.


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