Thursday, 20 September 2012

a suffrage day post

suffrage day is almost over, but i'll sneak in a post.  while it's a day we celebrate nz women achieving the vote, it's also a time to think of women around the world who don't get to vote, and all that this means to them.  the lack of political participation and the lack of voice.

there's not many countries where men can vote but women can't - mostly it's that both can't vote.  those are countries without democracy, some them embroiled in civil war.  for some women, voting is not so much important as is trying to stay alive, and keeping their children alive. the right to vote is much lower down on their list of needs.

there are women who live in democracies but are afraid to vote.  they live in countries which see a significant amount of violence around election time.  or because it's too much of a risk to vote for any but the ruling party.

there are women who live in democracies but won't vote because they believe that casting their vote won't make the slightest bit of difference to their lives.  who are we to say they are wrong, particularly in countries where political parties of both the left and the right are appealing to the middle class voter, and it's not politically expedient to improve the lot of the poor.  and because single mothers are easily the most denigrated of beneficiary groups, the so-called welfare queens who struggle to manage, who are working hard but whose work is not acknoweldged because it is unpaid.

there are women who live in democracies who won't vote because they can't read or write.  they've missed out basic education, maybe because the system didn't work for them or because of issues at home, or because of learning difficulties.  some won't vote because the voting system isn't accessible to them. they might be working 2 or 3 jobs, or living in countries where voter registration laws are being used to disenfranchise them.

they might not vote because no-one they know has ever voted, they don't listen to the news, and election day comes and goes without them paying the slightest bit of attention.  they are rarely involved in political debates, not in a way that politics, parties and policies can be translated into the minutae of their daily struggles.

it's not enough to just have the right to vote.  that vote has to mean something: until women see the potential to engage and to cause meaningful change through the electoral system, they won't be voting.  we're lucky here to have retained the MMP system, which means fewer wasted votes and a greater ability for women to get into parliament.  but there are still so many who don't vote, who won't vote.  and it isn't because they are lazy, it's because they are disengaged.

we won the right to vote many years back.  but the question of how to translate that vote into wins for all women, and for society as a whole, is one that still needs to be addressed.

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