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women's right to vote Paris 1945 © AFP

French women voted for the first time on 29 April 1945, during the municipal elections. © AFP

French women voted for the first time on 29 April 1945, during the municipal elections, and then a few months later, on 21 October 1945, they took part in the national ballot.

The order of 21 April 1944 adopted by the provisional government of General de Gaulle in Algiers stipulated that “women are voters and eligible under the same conditions as men”. Two and a half years later, the preamble to the Constitution of 27 October 1946 included this principle among the basic principles of the Republic: “the law guarantees women equal rights to those of men in all spheres”.

Although France had been one of the first countries to introduce universal suffrage for men, there was a long process until this right was extended to women.

The right to vote was initially reserved for male land-owners. Women were excluded because it was considered that their economic dependency prevented them from making free choices. Thus, under the Ancien Régime, only widows with a fief and Mother Abbesses could elect their representatives in the States General.

During the Revolution, women were considered “passive citizens” and despite the appeal by Condorcet, they were not given the right to vote. This exclusion was continued in the 1791 Constitution. The 1804 Civil Code admittedly gave women civil rights, but it refused to give them political citizenship.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the arguments put forward changed: the duties of mother and wife would be incompatible with exercising the right to vote but, above all, in a context of hostility between supporters of a secular Republic and the Catholic church, women were considered to be under clerical influence and politically immature.

From Olympe de Gouges' “Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen”  (1791) to the actions of the “suffragettes” and organisations such as the French League for Women's Rights (1882) and the French Union for Women's Rights (1905), women fought to obtain the right to vote, a major stage on the path to parity and equality with men.