Whatever title or office we may be privileged to hold, it is what we do that defines who we are … Each of us must decide what kind of person we want to be—what kind of legacy that we want to pass on. —Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan at The Women’s Conference
The idea of political patriarchy, that males hold primary leadership roles in politics is still an idea which haunts modern politics. The sentiment expressed by the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher “if you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing” is a great indication of the difficulties women leaders face in profession dominated by men. On the other hand, to say women have no representation in global politics would be gravely inaccurate. The Canadian Prime Minister’s reaction to the fact his cabinet has equal representation of men and women (“Because it’s 2015!”) is a good example of how the idea of women participation in politics has been widely accepted and celebrated internationally. For the laymen, one good indication of progress towards gender equality in politics is the presence of female political leaders in national office.
Indeed the possibility of the United States, arguably the most powerful country in the world, to elect its first female President in 2016 has been viewed as a groundbreaking political milestone by many of its citizens and the international community. Yet does her nomination mark the start of an era of female domination in world politics? Certainly the nomination of the former First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton has led to scrutiny of female politicians in the international arena and the whole topic of women in politics. But, to be fair, she is merely part of a growing trend in female political leadership. This is evident when looking at current list of powerful female politicians. This list includes German Chancellor Angela Markel, Theresa May the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tsai Ing-wen the President of Taiwan, Michelle Obama the current FLOTUS, Michelle Bachelet the President of Chile, and Park Geun-hye the President of South Korea. Many of these women are not merely political figureheads but actually hold political sway both nationally and internationally. This is most notably seen with the German Chancellor Angela Markel who not only influences Germany’s $3.3 trillion economy but also the $16.2 trillion European Union economy. Evidently if Hilary Clinton is appointed, it will not entail any significant breakthrough for female politicians on an international level.
On the contrary, this writer would consider that the appointment of Hilary Clinton would mark a throwback to an older structure, where the surge in the number of female political leaders could be linked to their families’ political connections. The first female prime minister in the world, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the leader of our country in 1960. This was after the death of her husband Solomon Bandaranaike, who was the previous Sri Lankan prime minister. Similarly, in the 1970’s, Isabel Perón of Argentina became the world’s first female President, because she assumed power after her husband’s death. This does not mean that there were no exceptions, which include Golda Meir, who came from no political background, yet became the first female President of Israel as well as Margaret Thatcher who came from a middle working class background. In fact, even if Hilary Clinton were to be elected, she would not be the first female American to become a President! Janet Jagan was the first female President of Guyana and she also happened to American. She too, gained power after her husband, the former President of Guyana. Thus as a whole, even after hereditary monarchies of power collapsed, it was evident that rise of female politicians during the later 20th century was remnants of such a system.
Hilary Clinton is no exception. Even after her spouse, former President Bill Clinton was impeached from office; Hilary Clinton has continued to be a prominent individual in the sphere of US and international politics. If she were to win the Presidential election next month, she will simply be part of a long established US political culture where more than one member of certain political families, gets the opportunity to become President. The fact that USA has not yet had a female President is more of a reflection of US political culture, than the global society as a whole. Many developing and developed countries including Liberia, Argentina, South Korea, Chile, Poland, India, Norway, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Finland, Peru, Ukraine, Australia, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, and Croatia have female Presidents/Prime Ministers currently in power or who were in power. Clearly, regardless of Hilary Clinton, the presence of female leaders in international politics will not be a revolutionary concept.
Moreover, it is important to realize that the number of female political leaders in the world is not a true reflection of gender equality in governance. According to the United Nations, only 22.8% of all national parliamentarians were women (as of June 2016), a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995. This is clearly not reflective of the demographics of the world population. Globally, as of June 2016, there are 38 States in which women account for less than 10% of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, including 4 chambers with no women at all. Another problem is that the global proportion of women elected to local government is currently unknown, constituting a major knowledge gap. If we look at Sri Lanka in particular, we can see that the general election 2015 had only nine percent female representation with 556 out of 6,151 candidates. Sri Lanka ranks 128th out of 140 countries in terms of female representation in government according to the Inter–Parliamentary Union.
Thus what are the lessons we can ultimately learn from this analysis? Firstly, as a country which is famous for having the first female political leader in the world, the fact our parliament clearly faces a huge gender disparity, indicates that having a female president or prime minister is only a minor step in political gender quality. In fact USA, which has never had a female President, can be seen to have a less gender inequality in their system of government. Regionally, the Americas continue to have the highest percentage of women ministers at 22.4%, and the highest number of women MPs at 26.4%.
Secondly, what should be kept in mind, especially with regard to the upcoming Presidential election, is that there should be less focus on fact Hilary Clinton is a female nominee. Instead more attention should go to the actual reform she intends to implement for women rights in America. Although that should be a topic for another article, it must be stated that Hilary Clinton’s record for the support of gender equality is indistinct and controversial. This writer would be extremely interested to see what changes she actually would implement, if she were to become POTUS.