Life was very difficult in the nineteenth century particularly for the notoriously dissolute females. However, this was also the time that heralded great changes for women. A number of legislative changes took place to provide greater rights to women.

The nineteenth century was also the century in which the right to vote was enhanced and extended, first to disenfranchised men and finally to women. In England the campaign for women’s right to vote began towards the end of the nineteenth century, with the founding of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage in 1897. Women in Ireland also developed suffrage campaigns setting up organisations such as, the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association and the Munster Women’s Franchise League. In 1903 the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in England and in Ireland the Irish Women’s Franchise League was established in 1908.

In England, the suffrage campaign by women was interrupted by the outbreak of war and many of the call by many of their members to support the government in response. In Ireland, women had already begun to campaign for nationalism and in 1914 Cumann na mBan was established. Many women participated in the fight for nationalism in 1916 and beyond. With the introduction of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 the right to vote was granted to women over the age of 30 and Cumann na mBan campaigned heavily for the nationalist cause in the General Election of 1918.

Today women and men enjoy the same right to vote. However, statistics show that often neither men nor women choose to exercise this right that was so hard won by those nineteenth century campaigns. Much has changed for women today and many of these changes are a result of the campaigns begun in the nineteenth century. Each year International Women’s Day is held on March 8th to give women and opportunity to celebrate the economic, social, cultural and political achievements for women and it also presents women and men with the opportunity to question how much has changed in society and whether women have indeed found equal rights and an equal voice in the world.