I voted today. As always, it felt important and solemn. Not least because the polling station I belong to is housed in a building from the 1700s. Outside, a couple of musicians dressed like the songwriter Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1795) and his muse, performed time typical songs, playing cittern and mouth harp. I felt very fortunate to be able to vote in this beautiful environment.
Not all the 6 264 polling stations in Sweden are as beautiful as this one, though the act of voting remains just as meaningful wherever you vote and whatever the outcome. Voting is essential when living in a democracy. In Sweden we take pride in having a high number of voters. In the last election, four years ago, 87,2 % voted.
When I walked up to the polling station, I thought about that – how voting in Sweden is facilitated in all kinds of ways in order to get as many as possible to vote. Early voting opened on the 24th of August, enabling voting in libraries, city halls or schools all over the country. For Swedes living abroad, postal voting opened as early as 28th of July. Swedish embassies and consulates all over the world offer voting possibilities – everything to lower the threshold to execute one’s democratic duty. In 2018 more than a third of all voters used the opportunity of early voting.
As a woman, I am also very happy to have this possibility. Something that was not an option for my great grandmothers Olga and Dagny until 1921. They grew up in a society where only men were allowed to vote – and not even all the men as there were different restrictions regarding income, military duty and so on.
Reading letters from Dagny and Olga, I seldom see anything political. They are very focused on their mission to spread Christian beliefs in China and the practicalities and challenges of being abroad. Living in China, they probably felt very far away from Swedish politics which must have added to the feeling that politics was not something for them.
My great grandfather Robert, on the other hand, was very interested in politics and had newspapers from Sweden sent to him in China. Of course, he could never be really up to date with the issues discussed in Sweden, as the newspapers took such a long time to arrive, but he was also very interested in Chinese politics, and some of his letters describe what was happening in China in detail. He writes about the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), the hatred towards missionaries and Christian Chinese and what political realities had to be dealt with depending on which missionary station he was working at. If the missionaries could manage to get protection from the local mandarin, they could feel pretty safe but otherwise it could be very perilous.
Both my great grandmothers came back to Sweden after their time in China was over. Most likely they would have used their voting rights at least from then on. Unfortunately, both my great grandfathers never got to spend their old age in Sweden, as they both died on the field in China. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to discuss politics with them and if they were for or against women’s right to vote. At least I know they shared the responsibilities at the mission stations with their wives, and their wives were strong women, who were missionaries in their own right. Perhaps further research into the many handwritten letters will give me a better idea.
For now, I am just very happy to have been able to exercise my right to vote – a right Swedish women fought so hard to obtain a hundred years ago.
Read more about the fight for women’s voting rights here: Persistence – the key to change – Thérèse Amnéus (wordpress.com)