In many ways, World War I was a watershed when it came to women’s political rights. Before the war, women had the right to vote in only a few countries. In 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world in which women won the right to vote, although in Sweden some women had voting rights since the 18th century. The first female members of parliament were elected in Finland in 1907. Yet thanks to the suffragette movement – the 1910s saw the first International Women’s Days –, women’s contribution to the war economies, and revolutionary worker’s movements around the world, many national parliaments adopted universal suffrage during or following the war.
One of the first women ever elected to a national parliament was Peri-Khan Sofieva, a Muslim woman who became an independent member of the first National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in March 1919. Several months earlier, Sofieva had been elected town councilor in local elections in her village. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia had seceded from Russia, first as a part of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic and then as its own sovereign republic on May 26, 1918.
Little is known about Peri-Khan Sofieva, her life, and political activities. In an excellent piece, William Dunbar traces the history of Sofieva in her hometown of Karajala, a settlement populated by Muslim Azerbaijanis that stretched southeast between Tbilisi and Georgia’s border with Azerbaijan:
The significance of her election was not lost on the Georgian media in 1918. Sakhalkho Sakme, the main newspaper of Georgia’s opposition Socialist Federalist party, the party defeated by Sofieva in Karajala, celebrated her victory: “We should mark one joyful moment: In the list of elected representatives there is a Muslim woman – Peri-Khan Sofieva.”
“The press was saying that it’s such a great event that we have a Muslim woman elected. It was a measure of the level of democracy and the culture of the elections,” says Khvadagiani. But it was a great event that was forgotten almost immediately, even in Sofieva’s native village, as the democratic potential of 1918 faded against the memory of the horrors that followed.
Read the full article here.