Traditions - General Info Section

French Women's Right to Vote - 21April1944

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A few historical facts

French women obtained the right to vote only on April 21, 1944!

The Provisional Government of General Charles de Gaulle, then based in Algiers, passed the order to reward the French women for their role during WWII.

The order established that "women are eligible voters and under the same terms as men".

It was definitively adopted in the French constitution on October 27, 1946 and states that “the law guarantees women equal rights to those of men in all spheres”.

It sounds a bit patronizing, but this allowed women to become fully emancipated, as until then they were dependent on their husbands.

As a result, many politicians became worried.

They indeed considered that this 'unknown electorate', which then represented 55% of the population, could drastically change the balance of power with their votes.

Despite this victory, many women didn't vote (yet)!

Those who did, however, were able to cast their first vote for the municipal elections of April 29, 1945.

Revolutionaries against French Women's Right to Vote!

Just before the Revolution of 1789, the right to vote was restricted to representatives of the three orders (clergy, nobility, the third estate).

The common people were therefore not allowed to vote!

Between 1789 and 1791, voting was done by indirect census suffrage.

Only the citizens, whose total direct taxes exceeded a certain threshold had the right to vote.

This somewhat limited accessibility to the right to vote to the well-off!

Universal male suffrage was granted on August 11, 1792.

However, the revolutionaries didn't yet considered women as 'full-fledged entities' because they didn't have ‘proper jobs”.

They were 'only' cooking, cleaning and desperately trying to make ends meet while looking after their extensive families!

These 'revolutionary men' ignored that it was the women who marched on Versailles on 5 and 6 October 1789 in order to ask Louis XVI for bread after a poor harvest that resulted in a shortage of flour and the uncontrollable rise of price of bread!

They ignored that it was the women who also forced the king into signing the decrees confirming the abolition of privileges and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen!

They kept regarding these women as passive and non productive citizens!

Napoleon granted women civil rights

The emperor granted women civil rights in his Code of 1804, however, still no right to vote!

Universal male suffrage was eventually suppressed and replaced with Census Suffrage during the Bourbon Restoration.

However, the revolutionary men reinstated during the Revolution of 1848!

They once more relegated women to the lowest echelon of French society!

They obviously thought that being a mother and a housewife was far from the harsh realities of working life and therefore incompatible with the right to vote.

Not only did they consider women ‘passive citizens’, but also saw them too immature to be able to cast a proper vote!

Even the actions of the early Suffragettes had no influence on the Status of Women.

Olympe de Gouges indeed published a Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen in 1791 and various women's rights associations demonstrated for recognition.

Sadly, this had the same effect as ‘a plaster on a wooden leg!'

Not entirely though...

They indeed opened a breach in the system, however, nothing was to change for the decades to come!

WWII, the turning point

WWI still didn’t have any impact, despite the fact that France lost 10% of its active male strength.

Women took over; they farmed the land and ran the factories in order to replace the millions of men who died in the squalid trenches!

They mourned their dead and over the next two decades rebuilt and repopulated the country.

However, they were still not eligible to obtain the right to vote!

The turning point was WWII, when women contributed once more to the war effort by working in factories and supported the troops on the front.

General de Gaulle did them justice by recognizing their value and contribution to the Nation.

French women's Right to Vote was the first major victory of the 20th century towards men-women equality !

French women voted for the first time for the municipal elections of April 29, 1945.

They voted for the second time for the presidential of October 21, 1945.

The Status of Women in French society has continued to improve and blossom since.

The right to vote is defined in the French constitution as follow:

Tout Français majeur a le droit de voter sans distinction de sexe, d'origine, de religion ou d'idéaux politiques.

All  French adult has the right to vote regardless of gender, origin, religion or political ideals.

Photos Wikimedia Commons: Marie Olympe de Gouges - Declarations des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen - Women cleaning a locomotive in 1942

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