The right to vote and hold a political office is a fairly recent development for women. Read a timeline charting the milestones in equal rights for women from Clara Zetkin to Angela Merkel.
The first International Women's Day was held in 1911 as a way to attract attention to the cause of gender equality. In the nearly 100 years since the day's inception, the women's rights movement has made significant inroads.
In 1919 at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Denmark, the groundwork for the first International Women's Day was established. The annual conference, which was attended by more than 100 women from 17 countries representing unions, socialist parties and working women's clubs, agreed to the plans drafted by Clara Zetkin to set aside the same day every year in every country to draw attention to the women's rights movement. Zetkin, the head of the "Women's Office" of the Social Democratic Party in Germany, argued that a special day was necessary to unite the efforts of women around the world in pursuing their equal rights.
March 19, 1911: first International Women's Day. The 19th of March was originally selected to coincide with the anniversary of Germany's 1848 revolution, when the Prussian king was forced to recognize the rights of the general population, including the introduction of voting rights for women -- a promise he failed to keep. In 1913 the date was moved forward to March 8.
1975: During International Women's Year, March 8 was officially recognized by the United Nations as International Women's Day. The day is marked by a public holiday in China, Vietnam, Russia and several post-Soviet states.
1869: British MP John Stuart Mill is the first person in Parliament to call for women's rights to vote.
1893: New Zealand, at the time a British territory, grants women the right to vote.
1902: The newly established Commonwealth of Australia, which had just obtained independence from Britain a year earlier, becomes the first sovereign state to introduce voting rights for women.
1906: Finland is the first European country to allow women to vote. Russian women achieve this right in 1917; German women in 1919.
1920: The US passes the 19th Amendment giving women complete voting rights on the federal level.
1928: The United Kingdom grants women the right to vote. In 1934, Turkey introduces women's voting rights. In 1944, with the help of the Allies, France is liberated from Nazi Germany and introduces voting rights for women. India passes its first constitution and allows women to vote. Afghanistan introduces voting for women in 1963, but the right is taken away under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.
1971: Switzerland becomes one of the last countries in Europe to grant general voting rights for women. In 1984 the Duchy of Lichtenstein follows suit.
2005: Kuwait allows women to vote for the first time in general elections. Saudi Arabia and Brunei do not allow women to vote.
1966: The feminist organization NOW (National Organization for Women) is founded in the US by activist and feminist author Betty Friedan. It quickly leads to the establishment of political activist groups throughout Europe and the Western world.
1966: Indira Gandhi becomes India's first woman prime minister. Twelve years later, Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto becomes the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state.
1979: Britain's Margaret Thatcher is elected as the western world's first woman prime minister.
2005: Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf becomes Africa's first elected woman head of state.
2005: Angela Merkel is elected German chancellor. She is the first woman to hold this position and has been ranked by Forbes magazine as the most powerful woman in the world for the last four years. She was reelected in 2009.
2008: Hillary Clinton launches campaign for the US presidency. Had she been elected she would have been the first woman president.
Author: Kristin Zeier
Editor: Chuck Penfold