Column: If Clinton wins, America would join a group of nations that have elected women as heads of state.
By Surekha Vijh
This is the election season in the United States and the long, invigorating campaign is in motion. Both Republican and Democratic parties are gearing towards anointing their nominee for the 45th president of the United States.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee, and if she wins the election in November, she would be the first female head of the world’s oldest democracy. Her presidency would put an end to an almost 230-year streak of male presidents, and America would join a rising group of nations that have had women at the helm.
There have been more than 75 women prime ministers and presidents in the world. When much of the world was still considering allowing women to be drafted in military and a number of key top private sector positions, a small nation in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, elected Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the world’s first female head of state in 1960. Six years later, India would elect Indira Gandhi as the female head of state.
Bandaranaike served three terms successfully as head of state: 1960-1965, 1970-1977 and 1994-2000. Gandhi was the prime minister from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 until her assassination in 1984. Gandhi was the daughter of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Benazir Bhutto, was the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and then from 1993 to 1996. A scion of the politically powerful Bhutto family, she was the eldest daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister himself who founded the centre-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). She was the first woman to become head of government of any Muslim nation and remains Pakistan’s first and only female prime minister.
The graph and the duration of these female leaders’ tenure have varied greatly, as have the powers that they have held. Some women were in office only for a few days, or held mainly ceremonial roles, while others carried out a defining role in their country’s history.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar was the 7th Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago from 2010 – 2015. She was the country’s first female prime minister. She was also the first woman to serve as Attorney General, acting Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition of Trinidad and Tobago. She became Political Leader of the United National Congress 2010 and then the prime minister.
Though most of the female leaders have been part of a greater shift towards equality in a global political system, it is not the real representation of women in the general sense. Some leaders have been inspiring and others have been deplored. Many member countries listed in the United Nations that have women leaders are still far away from working democracies.
Even the smallest nations on the world map have had women heads of states, some of them quite successful in their endeavors, even surpassing their male predecessors in leadership. They have shown courage and conviction in war and troubled times.
In the West, Margaret Thatcher as head of the UK government was applauded for handling Falklands War daringly and, in India, Prime Minister Gandhi was commended for galvanizing forces to gain independence for Bangladesh. Thatcher served as British Prime Minister from 1979-1990.
Two other noted women leaders of the 20th century are Golda Meïr and Isabel Perón. Meïr was the third elected female head of state of Israel from 1969 to 1974. Born in Russia as Golda Mabovic, she immigrated to USA and then to Israel. Perón became the first woman President of Argentina in 1974, following her husband Juan Peron.
There are many dynamic world leaders currently as heads of state. Among them are: Germany’s Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, since 2005, who is also the most influential European leader; Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia; President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentine; Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh; President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania; Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinandad; Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark; and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica.
Although women in the United States have come a long way, they were not even allowed to vote until 1924, but with their constant struggle now they have successfully broken the glass ceiling in the corporate world, and many other major fields. Now there is a real chance that the country could elect its first female leader.
A native of the Chicago area and a graduate of Yale law school, Clinton has had a successful career, first as the first lady of Arkansas, then of the United States. She began her independent political career as senator of New York from in 2001. She served as the 67th secretary of state of the United States from 2009 to 2013.
It is always fascinating to see elections around the world. It is probably true that the elections galvanize people, societies and the nations with a new bout of energy and even provide challenges and tests for new governance with new hopes. Now the world is watching whether the US is ready to choose its first woman leader.