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Global issue 20

Global Insight Women admiration,” says Aini Lund, a student at the University of Cumbria, UK, who was born in Karachi, Pakistan. “I think in places where the majority of people’s rights are unheard, the public will turn to anyone that will hear them, even if it’s a woman. Also, I think it’s because a lot of politics carry on within families. You have dynasties, such as the Gandhi dynasty in India, or the Bhutto dynasty in Pakistan. So women in those families are given more opportunities to come forward.” Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, the third Prime Minister of India and a central figure of the Indian National Congress party, was India’s second longest serving prime minister and the only woman to hold the post. Like Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (see pages 14-15 and 66-67), Gandhi was the daughter of a prominent politician – Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Serving as his administration’s Chief of Staff from 1947-64, she gained popularity within the government and was elected congress president before being offered the opportunity to succeed her father as prime minister. She declined, instead choosing to become a minister in the country’s cabinet before finally consenting to succeed Lal Bahadur Shastri as prime minister in 1966. But this was no mere ceremonial position. Gandhi went on to wage war on Pakistan in support of the independence movement, the victory resulting in the growth of India’s influence in South Asia and the creation of Bangladesh; she ruled through a state of emergency and made permanent changes to the constitution. And her popularity didn’t end with her assassination: in 2001 Gandhi was voted India’s Greatest Prime Minister in a poll run by India Today, and Woman of the Millennium in another poll by the BBC in 1999. “I don’t think you can say that developing countries have more women in power, excluding situations in which their families are heavily involved in politics, like Bhutto or Gandhi,” says Julian, an Italian PhD student at the University of Cambridge, UK. “I think that Margaret Thatcher, regardless of our opinion of her, was still more representative, also given that she was in power for 11 years. The same is true of most other northern European and Anglo-Saxon countries: I’m thinking of Germany, Denmark, Norway... A female leader sounds like a great idea, provided it is not Mrs Lepen, who is valuing patriotism over women’s rights and dignity. Yes to female leaders, but not at any price while Switzerland has adopted a proposal to co-ordinate sittings with school holidays. While women presidents and prime ministers have emerged in some unexpected contexts, such as Pakistan, Malawi and Kyrgyzstan, given the inequality women generally face in these countries, other countries have been less surprising, for example Norway, Finland and Denmark. Iceland, more predictably, was the first country in the world to directly elect a female had of state when, in 1980, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was voted in as president to serve as such until her retirement in 1996. The country vaulted another hurdle in 2009 when it became the first in the world to have an openly gay head of government with the election of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir as Prime Minister. So why is it that countries that offer women fewer political, economic and social opportunities – like India – have had more women as political leaders than countries – for instance Sweden – that generally offer them more? “When women have fewer opportunities in places, the ones who fight for them are strong. They want their rights and then fight for them. In addition, they recognise people who are marginalised in society, can relate to them better and end up winning public “You then have Bachelet in Chile – perhaps a bit special; Roussef in Brazil, people like her because of Lula having been in power before; and Kirchner – her husband was in power before her. I don’t think that there’s an institutional explanation necessarily. In developing countries, at times, they happen to be some politician’s wife.” This doesn’t necessarily imply that these women aren’t qualified for their roles, but that if it wasn’t for their personal and often familial connections they would not have had the opportunity to gain power. Farida Jalalzai’s research seems to echo this point: “The progress women have made in attaining executive office worldwide is a bit limited because nearly all women exercising dominant powers as presidents AND elected by popular vote hail from political families. But women’s reliance on the family in Latin America has subsided, with women like Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica being excellent examples of broadening paths, although Bachelet in Chile only to lesser extent.” Women leaders worldwide Presidents Argentina – Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Brazil – Dilma Rousseff Central African Republic – Catherine Samba-Panza Chile – Michelle Bachelet Kosovo – Atifete Jahjaga Liberia – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Lithuania – Dalia Grybauskaite Malta – Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca South Korea – Park Geun-hye Prime ministers Bangladesh – Sheikh Hasina Denmark – Helle Thorning-Schmidt Germany – Angela Merkel Jamaica – Portia Simpson-Miller Latvia – Laimdota Straujuma Norway – Erna Solberg Peru – Ana Jara Velásquez Poland – Ewa Kopacz Trinidad and Tobago – Kamla Persad-Bissessar Governors-general The Bahamas – Dame Marguerite Pindling Grenada – Dame Cécile La Grenade Saint Lucia – Dame Pearlette Louisy October 2014 20 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2015 global


Global issue 20
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