Women who lead around the world

Lesotho Times - - International -

LON­DON — Hillary Clin­ton got closer than any Amer­i­can woman to the na­tion’s top job, but her loss this week has thrown a spot­light back on the ques­tion: Why has the United States lagged be­hind so many coun­tries around the world in choos­ing a fe­male leader?

Tiny Sri Lanka be­came the first to shat­ter the po­lit­i­cal gen­der bar­rier more than a half-cen­tury ago, when that is­land na­tion was known as Cey­lon. Its gi­ant neigh­bor, India, fol­lowed a few years later. Since then women have at­tained top lead­er­ship posts — pres­i­dent, prime min­is­ter or its equiv­a­lent — in more than 70 coun­tries in Europe, Latin Amer­ica and the Asia-pa­cific. Today, women run two of Europe’s most pow­er­ful na­tions, An­gela Merkel in Ger­many and Theresa May in Bri­tain. So why not the United States?

His­to­ri­ans have of­fered a range of rea­sons. Many of the ear­lier women’s path­ways were eased be­cause their hus­bands or fa­thers were au­to­cratic or charis­matic lead­ers first. Some were cho­sen via par­lia­men­tary deal­mak­ing, not di­rect elec­tions. Oth­ers were tapped as tem­po­rary lead­ers. Some schol­ars say that Euro­pean democ­ra­cies may view women as more suited to high po­lit­i­cal of­fice be­cause their gov­ern­ments are known for gen­er­ous so­cial-wel­fare pro­grams, some­thing that seems ma­ter­nal. In con­trast, the pres­i­dent of the United States is pri­mar­ily seen as com­man­der in chief, which is a frame more dif­fi­cult for women to fit into.

“Amer­ica is still seen as the po­lice­man of the world, the guardian of the world and we still have a very gen­dered ver­sion of what lead­er­ship means,” said Laura Lis­wood, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the United Na­tions Foun­da­tion’s Coun­cil of Women World Lead­ers, a net­work of cur­rent and for­mer fe­male prime min­is­ters and pres­i­dents. “Not only do we have to be liked, we also have to be tough.”

Sue Thomas, a se­nior re­search sci­en­tist at the Pa­cific In­sti­tute for Re­search and Eval­u­a­tion in Santa Cruz, Cal­i­for­nia, said that un­like po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship posts else­where, the Amer­i­can pres­i­dency “is seen as a very mas­cu­line in­sti­tu­tion that for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons is ex­tremely hard for a fe­male to ap­proach.”

Gen­der was never far from the sur­face in the pro­tracted pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, but ex­perts cau­tioned against see­ing the elec­tion as merely a ref­er­en­dum on the idea of a fe­male pres­i­dent.

“It’s hard to build a gen­er­al­iza­tion about women can­di­dates based on Hillary Clin­ton,” said Ti­mothy Gar­ton Ash, pro­fes­sor of Euro­pean stud­ies at Oxford Univer­sity. “She is such a spe­cial case and unique fig­ure, hav­ing been around for so long. Did peo­ple vote against her be­cause she was a woman or be­cause her name is Clin­ton? Of course, it could be both.”

Still, many ex­perts see an un­der­ly­ing bias that has dis­cour­aged Amer­i­can women from seek­ing po­lit­i­cal of­fice, im­ped­ing the flow of po­ten­tial fe­male pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. Even af­ter the rat­i­fi­ca­tion in 1920 of the 19th Amend­ment, which granted women the right to vote, some states re­stricted their right to be can­di­dates; Ok­la­homa did not al­low women to seek ex­ec­u­tive of­fice un­til 1942. “What we have in the United States is a pipe­line prob­lem,” said Kath­leen Dolan, chair­woman of the de­part­ment of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin at Mil­wau­kee. “Not enough women in the high-vis­i­bil­ity, high-cred­i­bil­ity of­fices. Not enough women run­ning for school boards, county coun­cils.”

Shauna Shames, au­thor of “Out of the Run­ning,” a forth­com­ing book about why rel­a­tively few mil­len­ni­als — es­pe­cially fe­male ones — want to run for of­fice in the United States, said many women are put off by the fund-rais­ing that can eat up to 70 per­cent of a can­di­date’s cam­paign time, and the me­dia scru­tiny. Her re­search showed many women ex­pected to face dis­crim­i­na­tion in what is still very much seen as a man’s world.

“They think they won’t get a fair shot and so many don’t try,” Ms Shames said.

The United States ranks 97th among 193 na­tions world­wide in the per­cent­age of women in the lower house of Congress, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by the In­ter-par­lia­men­tary Union. Six of the 50 state gover­nors are women, as are 20 of 100 United States sen­a­tors.

Su­san J. Car­roll, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Rut­gers Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Women and Pol­i­tics, noted that other coun­tries have quo­tas for the pro­por­tion of women who serve in of­fice, which both fills the pipe­line and gets vot­ers used to see­ing women on bal­lots. Rwanda, for ex­am­ple, added a 30 per­cent fe­male quota with other con­sti­tu­tional changes in 2003, and it now has women fill­ing two-thirds of the seats in the lower house — the high­est per­cent­age world­wide.

The ear­li­est ex­am­ples of fe­male lead­ers in mod­ern pol­i­tics abroad — as in the United States — de­rived from fam­ily re­la­tion­ships.

Take Sir­i­mavo Ban­daranaike, that pi­o­neer leader of the Sri Lanka Free­dom Party. She got into pol­i­tics af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of her hus­band, and not only be­came the world’s first fe­male head of state in 1960 but also served two more times, from 1970 to 1977 and 1994 to 2000. (She is also the mother of Sri Lanka’s only fe­male pres­i­dent, Chan­drika Ku­maratunga, who served from 1994 to 2005.)

In 1966, Indira Gandhi be­came the first fe­male prime min­is­ter of India, the world’s largest democ­racy. She was, of course, the daugh­ter of India’s first prime min­is­ter, Jawa­har­lal Nehru. She held the of­fice un­til 1977 and then again from 1980 to 1984, when she was as­sas­si­nated by her body­guards. Four years later in neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan, Be­nazir Bhutto, another daugh­ter of a for­mer prime min­is­ter, be­came the first woman to head a Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity coun­try.

Mrs. Gandhi’s as­cent is widely re­garded as a sem­i­nal event in the history of women in pol­i­tics. She dis­played tough­ness in war, order­ing the in­va­sion of Pak­istan in sup­port of the creation of Bangladesh, and de­creed mar­tial law when un­rest and charges of cor­rup­tion threat­ened to top­ple her ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Another stereo­type-de­fy­ing woman leader was Golda Meir, who was prime min­is­ter of Is­rael when war erupted in 1973. She was known for pithy quotes about women in pol­i­tics. “Women’s lib­er­a­tion is a just a lot of fool­ish­ness,” she once said. “It’s the men who are dis­crim­i­nated against. They can’t bear chil­dren.”

Per­haps the best known mod­ern fe­male wartime leader was Mar­garet Thatcher, Bri­tain’s prime min­is­ter, who was known as “the Iron Lady.” Europe’s first elected head of gov­ern­ment, Mrs. Thatcher or­dered Bri­tain’s mil­i­tary into war against Argentina in 1982 over is­lands that Bri­tain called the Falk­lands and Argentina the Malv­inas.

While Mrs. Thatcher was re­viled among Bri­tain’s work­ing classes for her eco­nomic aus­ter­ity and con­ser­vatism, she was ad­mired for her tenac­ity in the Falk­lands war, which the Bri­tish won.

Fe­male lead­ers fol­lowed across Europe, in­clud­ing Ice­land in 1980, Nor­way in 1981, Malta in 1982, Lithua­nia and Ire­land in 1990, France in 1991, Poland in 1992, Switzer­land and Latvia in 1999, Fin­land in 2000, Mace­do­nia in 2004, Ukraine and Ger­many in 2005, Croa­tia in 2009, Slo­vakia in 2010, and Den­mark in 2011.

In Africa, women have as­cended po­lit­i­cally as peace­mak­ers. The most prom­i­nent ex­am­ple is Ellen John­son Sir­leaf of Liberia, who shared the No­bel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work in heal­ing that coun­try from civil war wrought by her pre­de­ces­sor.

Al­though fe­male lead­ers abroad are no longer rar­i­ties, men still far out­pace women in pol­i­tics: 22.8 per­cent of the world’s par­lia­men­tar­i­ans were women as of June 2016, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, up from 11.3 per­cent two decades ago.

Among the 193 mem­ber states of the United Na­tions, 18 women now serve in the top lead­er­ship po­si­tions. “Ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions are the hard­est for women to crack,” said Ms. Thomas, of the Pa­cific In­sti­tute for Re­search and Eval­u­a­tion. “That’s true in busi­ness, true in pol­i­tics.”

Tues­day’s elec­tion not only failed to break the glass ceil­ing and put a woman in the Oval Of­fice, but it el­e­vated to that throne a man ac­cused of mul­ti­ple sex­ual as­saults who has made de­grad­ing com­ments about women. Other male lead­ers, too, are seen as misog­y­nists.

Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan of Turkey has de­scribed women who choose not to have chil­dren as “de­fi­cient.”

Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte of the Philip­pines has joked about rape. Pres­i­dent Vladimir V. Putin of Rus­sia once tried to in­tim­i­date Ms. Merkel with his Labrador re­triever.

“We have this cu­ri­ous gen­der po­lar­iza­tion in pol­i­tics where one part of the world is mov­ing in the di­rec­tion of fe­male or fem­i­nine lead­er­ship, and the other part of the world is yearn­ing for ma­cho lead­er­ship,” said Niall Fer­gu­son, a his­to­rian and se­nior fel­low at Stan­ford Univer­sity. – NY Times

LIBERIAN Pres­i­dent Ellen John­son Sir­leaf and then US Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clin­ton in 2011.

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