Timeline: the women's movement (2022)

From Suffragettes to Spice Girls, take a look at how the women's movement has changed in Australia and around the world.


Getting the vote

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Australia, the land of blokes and sheilas, was surprisingly progressive, and shortly after Federation the government passed an act to allow women to both vote and stand in the 1903 federal election.

In fact, Australia was the first country to allow women to run for parliament.

But the situation was not so rosy for Indigenous women, who were not given the vote until much later, in 1962.



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What would a timeline of women's history be without mention of the Suffragettes?

Emmeline Pankhurst was the main player, founding the Women's Social and Political Union in the UK to push for the right to vote.

These women were tough, and under the slogan "Deeds not words" they employed some pretty militant tactics, like chaining themselves to railings, setting fire to mailboxes, smashing windows and even detonating bombs.

Fun fact: Suffragette was actually a derogatory label for the women's movement coined by Britain's Daily Mail, but women eventually reclaimed the term and made it their own.


World War I

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Women were eager to help when World War I broke out, but their attempts to take on many traditional male roles were mostly blocked.

Their presence in the workforce did grow, but mainly in fields they already worked in, like clothing, food and printing.

Australian women were not ones to rest on their laurels though, and they threw themselves wholeheartedly into volunteer organisations such as the Red Cross to help support their men at the front.

In the UK the shortage of male workers meant many more women went to toil in factories and mills during the war.

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Founding of the Country Women's Association (CWA)

The first branches of the Australian CWA were founded, giving women on the land a chance to fundraise for various causes, support local communities and of course - socialise.

Today there are more than 25,000 women involved in the CWA and its membership has expanded to not just include country women but women from the cities as well.


The Women's Weekly

That bible for Australian women - the Australian Women's Weekly - was founded by Frank Packer.

Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Dawn Fraser and Julia Gillard are among the hundreds of women to grace the cover, and the magazine's famous cookbooks are a feature of Australian home kitchens.

It was in 1975 that legendary Australian editor Ita Buttrose was appointed editor of the mag.


World War II


With so many men gone to war, Australian women were finally able to enter the workforce in men's roles in unprecedented numbers.

The Australian Women's Land Army was founded to recruit women to work on farms where there were no men left.

The Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) recruited thousands of women for military duties such as manning radios and anti-aircraft machinery, as drivers and in other clerical roles.

Thousands of Australian nurses also served overseas. Some of these women were taken as prisoners of war and 71 were killed while serving.


The pill

The contraceptive pill took Australia and the world by storm.

Initially it was only available to married women in Australia, and some Catholic doctors flat-out refused to prescribe it, but the feminist movement hailed the invention as an "equaliser" which gave them the same sexual freedom as men.

The pill meant women no longer had to choose between a career and having a relationship, and so more of them entered the workforce.

But of course there was a backlash. The old morality question was raised and some even feared women would be damned forever because of their uncontrollable promiscuity.

Turns out this wasn't the case.


Mini skirts

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In popular mythology, the 1960s were all free love and drugs and peace and mini skirts.

This defining piece of female fashion which has spanned the decades was invented by London designer and small business owner Mary Quant in 1962.


Women in pubs

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While many pubs in Australia had a ladies lounge for the ladies who liked a tipple, women were banned from entering the public bar.

Often women were only allowed in the ladies lounge when accompanied by a man.

But the feminist movement was ready to take on this fight, and ladies defiantly left the lounge in pubs around the country, marching into public bars and demanding drinks.

At Brisbane's Regatta Hotel they even chained themselves to the bar to get their point across, and eventually government legislation allowed for women to drink in any watering hole they wished.

Fun fact: Merle Thornton, one of the women who chained themselves to the Regatta bar, is the mother of actress Sigrid Thornton.


The Female Eunuch

I'm sick of being a transvestite. I refuse to be a female impersonator. I am a woman, not a castrate.

Everybody's favourite feminist and pot-stirrer Germaine Greer became a household name with the publication of her book The Female Eunuch.

The book was hugely controversial and caused many an argument at the dinner table, with some women even complaining they had to keep it hidden from their husbands.


Reclaim the Night

The first Reclaim the Night marches were held in Europe to protest violence and sexual assault against women.

The movement created a worldwide stir and similar events were held across Britain and the United States.

Many of the protests were held in red light districts and focused particularly on violence against prostitutes.


The Iron Lady

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Margaret Thatcher was elected British prime minister. She was the longest serving British PM and the only woman to hold the post.

Dubbed the "Iron Lady", her conservative financial policies won her no favours with workers and unions at home.

Her tenure was marked by major protests, notably the miners' strike in 1984, but to her critics both inside and outside the Conservative Party, she had just one message:

For those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase the 'U-turn', I have only one thing to say.

You turn if you want to. The Lady's not for turning.



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We'd had Rocky and Skywalker, but when Sigourney Weaver burst onto the screen as Warrant Officer Ripley in Alien, she paved the way for Hollywood's female heroes.

Alien's producers decided to make the lead a female so the film would stand out in the otherwise male-dominated genre of science-fiction.


Benazir Bhutto

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When she was voted in as Pakistan's prime minister in 1988, Benazir Bhutto became the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state.

Aged 35, the glamorous leader became known as Pakistan's Iron Lady and successfully portrayed herself as a refreshing contrast to the overwhelmingly male-dominated political establishment.

But she was plagued by claims of corruption and was twice dismissed as prime minister in 1990 and 1996.

After going into self-imposed exile, she returned to Pakistan in 2007 where she was assassinated at a rally for her Pakistan Peoples Party.


The Spice Girls

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They were the biggest thing since The Beatles and remain the highest-selling female group of all time.

Ginger, Posh, Baby, Scary and Sporty helped define a decade and inspired millions of pre-teen girls with "Girl Power", platform shoes and Union Jack dresses.

June 24, 2010

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Julia Gillard was sworn in as Australia's first female prime minister.

Ms Gillard took power from Kevin Rudd in a bloodless coup, and after elections later that year she managed to hold onto the role of PM by forming a minority government.

June 2011

Driving ban

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Social media helps spread the word about the women's movement around the world, and in 2011 a fight led by Saudi women to be allowed to drive gains global attention.

The women used Facebook and Twitter in the largest en masse action to challenge the driving ban for more than two decades.

There is no law banning women from driving in the oil-rich kingdom, but the interior ministry imposes regulations based on a fatwa, or religions edict, stipulating women should not be permitted to drive.

October 8, 2011

Nobel Peace Prize

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Three women win the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and compatriot Leymah Gbowee, who mobilised fellow women against the country's civil war, including by organising a sex strike, share the prize.

Also receiving the award is Tawakkul Karman, a leading women's rights and democracy activist in Yemen.

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