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Finally, the upheavals and changes of the twentieth century resulted in really dramatic changes in women’s social, political, and economic roles. The integration and global connectedness of the world made access to education and political freedoms far more widespread, especially among the middle and upper classes. Change came more slowly to the lower and working classes, but still it came.

Politically, women gained the right to vote in many parts of the world by the first quarter of the twentieth century. By 1930, that right had been gained by women in much of Latin America, Indian, China, and Japan and most of Europe. After World War II, most of the newly independent African countries included women’s suffrage in their constitutions, and it is only in the most fundamentalist of the Middle Eastern countries that women still do not have the right to vote. However, having the right to vote differs significantly from having the education and opportunity to vote. In most Asian and African countries, female access to formal political power continues to be limited.

Contradictions also exist between theory and practice in communist and formerly communist countries. Under communism, everyone was equal, women played key roles in the Communist Revolutions in Russia, China and Cuba, and educational opportunities were opened especially in professions such as medicine. Women were also generally given equal legal rights including those of inheritance, divorce, and child-rearing. However, in reality, discrimination and gender issues continue. Almost all key positions within the Communist parties were and are held by men. In China, the one-child policy and mandatory sterilization disproportionately impact women and female children. State-sponsored sterilization was also common in Puerto Rico and India. Additionally, the end of communism and the loosening of economic restrictions, seems to present more opportunities for men than for women.

Family structure changed dramatically in the twentieth century, especially in the industrialized world. Birth rates dropped, birth control was widely available, and marriage rates declined as divorce and second marriages became more common. The twentieth century also saw dramatic changes in the role of women at work. Beginning with wage labor in factories during the World Wars, women’s presence in the workforce has become more widely accepted. A shift to profitable industries in chemicals, textiles and electronics, has provided further economic opportunities for women. By the mid-1980s, education and access in Westernized and industrialized countries allowed women to participate fully in the work force. But women in agricultural economies continued to have their labor under-enumerated and throughout the world, women’s pay has yet to fully equal that of her male counterparts, nor are women compensated for the time they spend on a “second shift” as primary caregivers of young children.

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