Women’s Right to Vote in Sweden
May 24, 1919
Number of female heads of state to date: 0
Why didn’t everyone in Sweden enjoy the right to vote? From the 1860s a lively debate emerged on the question of voting rights, and demands for universal suffrage became increasingly vociferous. The first private member’s motion on equal political rights for women and men was put before the Riksdag in 1884, but it was rejected. In later years, the issue was raised persistently in various motions, but in vain.
In 1909, a reform was passed in the Riksdag giving Swedish men the right to vote in elections to the Second Chamber. The first Government bill on suffrage and eligibility for election to the Riksdag for women was submitted in 1912 by the Staaff Government. It was, however, outvoted in the predominantly conservative First Chamber. Outside the Riksdag a powerful movement for women’s suffrage was taking shape, often through special suffrage societies. In a historical perspective, suffrage has been one of the women’s movement’s major issues.
Under the pressure of the revolutionary wave that shook Europe at the end of the First World War, the Riksdag approved universal and equal suffrage for women and men on 24 May 1919. The reform was implemented on the basis of proposals prepared by a coalition government of Liberals and Social Democrats. After the election of 1921, five women entered the Riksdag; this is when the Riksdag finally achieved a system of democratic representation for the whole of the Swedish people.
However, it was still possible for certain groups to be excluded from the eligibility to vote after 1921. A requirement that continued to apply was that men had to have completed national military service in order to be able to vote. This requirement was abolished in 1922 following a decision by the Riksdag. Interns in prisons and institutions were not granted suffrage until 1937. Individuals who had gone into bankruptcy or were dependent on economic support in the form of relief for the poor did not acquire voting rights until 1945. The final limitation of the franchise disappeared in 1989 when the Riksdag abolished what is known as ‘declaration of legal incompetency’.
Alongside the universal franchise reform, a parliamentary system of government developed and gained acceptance. This means that the Government requires the Riksdag’s confidence and support in order to govern the country.