I borrowed this title from Zied Limam's blog
on Afrique Magazine. I was interested to see how he drew a list of women in power, a hot topic that was triggered, again, with Ellen Sirleaf's recent election for Liberia's presidency. I also come to realise that women who rise to power are still regarded as exceptions, particularly in the developing world, and more stereotypically in muslim countries. And yet, women have historically been more prone to take power in those very countries which carry the heavy stigma of religious extremism, illetracy and/or poverty.
Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Gloria Arroyo, Bangladesh's Khaleda Zia, and Sri Lanka's Chandrika Kumaratunga were all elected by their people to take power- not honorary presidency positions, not number2/advisor/chancellor positions- but genuine credentials to decide and enact under constitutional systems that precisely do not cater for women's rights. Obviously views can differ as to how efficient they were in carrying out those duties, but they all have in common the rise to power in societies which, a priori
, would never allow a woman to challenge established patriarchal systems.
Also women in my country, which is muslim and developing, have been exercising their full rights (including voting, abortion, parliamentary representation, spousal independance) since 1956, that is well before many, many advanced countries and old democracies.
Now if we look at the developed world's side: democracy should also, a priori
, allow women to have equal chances to take power, because they are educated, have easier access to the job market, are independant, live in constitutional systems that (almost fully) protect their rights etc. Could you count for me the number of European female leaders in the past 50 years? Thatcher, okay...who else...ehmm...the Latvian President, alright....Finland?...true... and very, very recently, Germany. Nothing that would fill more than a few pages in a history book really, isn't it?
My point therefore is that the status of women does not depend on political systems, nor is it linked to education, culture, religion or economic development. It is simply an issue of access to the political arena, access that is usually hampered by the natural (conscious or not, expressed or implicit) men's need for constant oversight. Urgent homework for all countries of the world is then to think of ways in which gender equality may become an ideology, rather than a mere legal principle.