Agents of Emancipation and the ‘Moral Uplift’ of Austria? Democratization and Women’s Political Participation, 1918/19-1933
To begin with, this paper will discuss the process of democratisation and specifically that of the introduction of women’s suffrage as part of the founding process of the Republic of Austria after the fall of the Habsburg Monarchy in 1918; it will then turn to women’s attempts to reach full citizenship in the interwar period.
A specific issue to be discussed in line with the EIRENE project’s goals is the question in which relation women’s enfranchisement stood to World War I. Despite the rhetoric of women’s war effort that allegedly had made them fit for citizenship, political rights were hardly presented as a reward in the end. As indicated by government debates, Social Democratic pressure in the midst of political disruption helped to represent the issue as granted, so that it was not the problem whether women should be allowed to vote that dominated the debates, but rather the question of how to lessen their political impact.
Despite the proclamation of equality before the law in the constitution of 1920 enfranchisement did not actually change pre-war gendered concepts of citizenship. Women’s struggles to achieve legal reforms they had hoped to attain with the vote often resulted in disappointment. Their representation in parliament was low. Especially problematic for the liberal women’s movement was the fact that their political base – small progressive parties – did not achieve any political clout in the interwar period and only Social Democrats supported women’s bids for candidacy to some extent. These setbacks and the political fights bordering on civil war in the late 1920s induced the women’s movement to found a women’s party in 1929 that planned to end civil strife and to push through feminist goals. In the end, however, they were confronted with an authoritarian regime in 1933/34, in which these goals did not play any role whatsoever.
Birgitta Bader-Zaar is Assistant Professor at the Department of History of the University of Vienna in Austria. Her research interests include legal and constitutional history of Europe and North America with a special focus on suffrage and women’s and gender history from a transnational and comparative perspective. For her publications and projects click here.