Politics in Minutes (2016)

The rights of women

During the 18th century a new political philosophy, liberalism, emerged promoting the idea of human rights. It found its greatest expression in the French Revolution with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Promoted by Tom Paine in his influential book Rights of Man (1791), this philosophy completely failed to include the rights of women, however, who at this time had no political or legal rights at all.

French revolutionary Olympe de Gouges had issued a Declaration of the Rights of Women in 1791 in an attempt to force the revolutionary Assembly to include women in its calls for citizens’ rights, but it failed. So it fell to Englishwoman Mary Wollstonecraft (pictured) to put women’s rights on the political agenda for the first time. Countering Paine, in 1792 she published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in which she protested the ‘domestic tyranny’ that kept women dependent on men, and called for them to have equal rights in work, education and politics.