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13 Moments That Changed Women’s History Forever

In honour of International Women's Day on March 8, we're celebrating those moments in history when, for women, doors of opportunity suddenly flung open.

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Women's rights are human rightsPhoto: Shutterstock

The future is female, thanks to these moments in the past

We probably think of women’s history in terms of several major milestones, but the truth is that these milestones have all been hard-won by years of back-breaking, often unrecognized labor by scores of activists and ordinary women. While these major moments, from the United States to Australia to Saudi Arabia and beyond, are incredible and should be celebrated, they’re all steps along the path to equality, and we have a long way to go.

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Chicago, Around 1915 -- The Earliest Beginnings Of Women's Participation In Government. Five Women Learning How To Use A Voting Machine In ChicagoPhoto: Nara Archives/Shutterstock

1895: South Australia gives women the right to vote

Who knew that Australia was so ahead of the times in allowing women to cast their ballots in national elections? The South Australian Parliament passed a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote in December of 1894, which meant women could vote in the following year’s elections. The battle was hard-won. Women had reportedly fought for a decade to make this historical event happen. According to The National Museum of Australia, South Australia became the first electorate in the world to grant equal political rights to men and women.

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National League of Women Voters hold up signs reading, 'VOTE', Sept. 17, 1924. Millions of women voted in 1920 and 1924, but in a lower proportion than men.Photo: Everett Historical/Shutterstock

1920: The United States ratifies 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote

It’s hard to believe that it was just over 100 years ago that women were first permitted to vote in the United States. That’s what happened on August 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, thanks to the tireless efforts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. Organizing for women’s suffrage dated back to 1848, at the historic Seneca Falls Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, the first women’s rights conference in the United States.

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President Kennedy passes out pens, at the White House after signing a bill to provide equal pay for women. From left: Ethlyn Christensen of the YWCA; Rep. Leonor Sullivan, D-MO; Mrs. Joseph Willen of the National Council of Jewish Women; Rep. Edna Kelly, D-NY; Margaret Mealey, foreground, checkered dress, of the National Council of Catholic Women; Rep. Edith Green, D-OR; and Mrs. Carolyn Davis of the United Auto WorkersPhoto: Harvey Georges/Shutterstock

1963: Equal Pay Act passed in the United States

Former President John F. Kennedy backed amending the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act—as part of his New Frontier Program—so that women could be paid the same wages as men performing the same job. This act aimed to put a stop to sex-based wage discrimination, though to this day, women earn substantially less than men on average, according to Catalyst, a global nonprofit.

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg Listens to Us President Bush During a Swearing in Ceremony in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the Department of State in Washington Dc Friday 28 January 2005 Secretary Rice Who is the Second Woman and the First Black Woman to Become Secretary of State Was Sworn in by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card Wednesday Evening Hours After the Senate Confirmed Her by a Vote of 85 to 13 in a Private Ceremony at the White HousePhoto: Shawn Thew/Shutterstock

1971: Reed v. Reed

Up until the early 1970s, if a relative in the United States died, the job of administering the estate was automatically given to the male relative, not the female. Obviously, this created some major family friction. In Reed v. Reed, the Supreme Court ruled that this violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, according to this ACLU summary. Note: this was the same year the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg established the Women’s Rights Project.

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Thousands rallied at the Wesley Bolin Plaza on the State Capitol grounds in Phoenix, Ariz., after a march for abortion on the day before the anniversary decision of Roe v. WadePhoto: Larry Woodall/Shutterstock

1973: Roe v. Wade

Probably one of the most contentious U.S. court rulings regarding women’s rights over the last 75 years, Roe v. Wade handed the difficult decision of whether to end a pregnancy over to the woman who is pregnant. Courts, doctors, politicians, and other individuals could no longer make that decision for them, according to this Supreme Court ruling.

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WAEHLER Lisbon residents vote in a polling station, as Portugal goes to the polls in a general election to pass judgement on 10 years of Social Democrat rule. Opinion polls showing the Socialist have a slight leadPhoto: GUILHERME VENANCIO/Shutterstock

1976: Portugal grants women the right to vote

Before the 1960s, women living in Portugal had few rights, especially when compared with North America and other European nations. They couldn’t get a Portuguese passport or travel to another country without their husband’s consent. The year 1976 was a major year to be a woman living in Portugal because that’s when the country’s constitution was amended to give women the same voting rights as men.

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Man proposing to his girlfriendPhoto: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

1980: New Marriage Law passed in China

China’s New Marriage Law in 1980 granted certain rights to women during the legal contract of marriage: Women needed to be 18 years or older to marry, both parties had to consent, and the courts could reject marriages with ulterior motives (such as human trafficking and arranged marriages). Under the New Marriage Law, divorce proceedings started to consider women’s rights, including child custody and division of property.

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Japan's new Defense Minister Tomomi Inada inspects a honor guard on her first day at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, . Inada, a woman with revisionist views of World War II history, has been named Japan's defense minister in a Cabinet reshuffle. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe changed more than half of the 19-member Cabinet on Wednesday in a bid to support his economic, security and other policy goals