by Hannah Sroka, MUDEC student
Like Black History Month, Luxembourg does not have a designated month dedicated to women’s history, but it is still important to understand what women’s suffrage has looked like throughout the country’s past. Unlike most other Western countries, Luxembourg did not have separate voting rights acts for women and men—both were granted the right to vote in 1919, as long as they were over the age of 21.
At the time, this was much more progressive than nearby countries; Belgium, for instance, did not grant women the right to vote until 1948, and the right a man had to vote depended on his education and wealth. In Germany, women were given the right to vote in 1919, and France followed in 1944, although this was almost a full century after men were given the right to vote in 1848. And in Switzerland, the last canton to grant women voting rights did so in 1991.
The push for women’s suffrage in Luxembourg has its roots in the socialist movement, particularly with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the founding of the Sozialdemokratischer Verein (Luxembourg’s first socialist party). However, Luxembourg did not see a long or intense movement supporting the right of women to vote. Luxembourg’s first feminist organizations, the Organization for Women’s Interests (OFI) and the Luxembourg Catholics Women’s Association (Frauenbund), did not actively support women’s suffrage. The first groups to do so were from the workers’ movement, but this support began to deteriorate when World War I began.
After the war, Luxembourg narrowly avoided a political crisis, as the public was not happy with Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide’s pro-German sentiments. She was eventually abdicated in favor of her sister Charlotte, and a referendum to determine the future of the country was held. Interestingly, the socialists were now hesitant to support the idea of women voting in this referendum, while the conservatives were more open to the possibility. Ultimately, women were allowed to vote in the referendum.
But this did not mean that Luxembourgish women encountered no additional problems. Very few women were actually elected to government positions: Marguerite Thomas-Clement was the first, serving from 1919 to 1931, but also the last until the 1960s. In the 1930s, a woman who wanted to work outside the home needed her husband’s permission; and if she were to marry a foreign national, she would need to give up her Luxembourgish citizenship. She could also face prison time for adultery, and she could not open a bank account or sell, buy, or manage goods. A man, on the other hand, had sole legal rights to his children and could open his wife’s mail. He would face a fine for adultery if—and only if—he and his mistress met in his home.
Women’s rights movements revived slightly in the 1940s, but significant political change did not occur until the 1960s. Astrid Lulling became the first female MP in 1965, 34 years after Thomas-Clement left office. And in 1967, a law was passed that granted equal pay to men and women.
In the early 1970s, women were granted more rights regarding marriage, divorce, and pregnancy. Things continued to improve, but some more recent laws have caused controversy. For instance, first-trimester abortion is legal with a mandatory counseling session, which some see as patronizing. And some changes to domestic violence laws seem to protect the offender rather than the victim.
In the present time, women are still protesting in support of things like fair and equal treatment in the workplace. One such protest took place on March 7, 2020, and focused on women in the caregiving industry. Many women take care of the elderly, children, or otherwise dependent adults, sometimes for little to no pay. Supporters of the protest called for a change in mentality and culture that would allow female caregivers to receive more pay, benefits, and respect.
Luxembourg has certainly come a long way since granting women the right to vote in 1919, but it still faces many of the same problems that other Western countries face—namely, ensuring equality and fairness to women in all aspects of life.