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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Women in Politics

One of the major current international stories is the resignation of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The resignation seemed to come as a shock to all. Indeed, anyone in a failing European economy is likely to be aware of the mass emigration to the supposed greener pastures of Australia. And while the country has of course not been immune from the recession the economy is unlikely to continue to suffer for as long as its European counterparts.

But the fact remains, after a number of notable U-turns particularly on climate change, Welsh born Julia Gillard has emerged as the Labor Party's new leader after the party voted to oust their Prime Minister of 3 years. It appears to have been a good decision. Gillard is clear favourite in the polls to keep her position at the time of the country's next general election. It would make her one of the few female leaders of Goverment in our world. So I thought for today's post Id take a look at the role of women in politics worldwide and why so few of them rise to the highest echelon in their chosen careers.

Now I could tell you that there are currently 29 heads of State according to the site Guide to Women However this significant figure would be thoroughly misleading in my opinion. For example, this list includes the President of my own country Ireland, Mary Mc Aleese. Her job is to travel the world and represent Ireland abroad. She also has the power to sign bills into law. However, her role is as completely inrelated to politics as another woman on the list, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain.  So therefore I cannot truely profess to  believe that the sight of our President shaking hands with rugby players before a big game and traveling the world in an expensive jet will inspire the women of Ireland to take a stance on political issues.

So I looked solely at the idea of women as heads of Government. Currently, there are 11 women serving in this post, 5 of whom were elected in the last 3 months. The longest serbing female head of Government is Angela Merkel of Germany. A year later Africa got its first ever elected female leader in Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia. Of course the statistics highlight the gross lack of female political leaders.

Of all of the worlds nations it seems as though it is Scandinavia who is blazing the trail for the world to follow. Currently in both Finland and beleaguered Iceland women serve as head of Government. In 1995 Sweden became the worlds first country to have equal amounts of women and men in ministerial posts and it has since gone on to have a majority female cabinet.  In 2005 4 of the top 5 spots on the list of percentages of women in Parliament were taken by Scandinavian states. Interestingly, the country that topped the list and remains so to this day is in fact Rwanda.

But is it that women simply aren't as engaged with politics as their male counterparts or do does the tide of sexism prevent them from ever reaching positions of meaningful power. I believe one feeds into the other.

Remember the last Presidential elections when Hilary Clinton was running for Democratic nominee and Palin was running for Republican Vice President on John MC Cain's ticket. We saw Clinton being derided oftentimes for being overly masculine and not showing enough emotion. Remember when she had that teary moment in the run up to the caucases in New Hampshire or Iowa (cant remember) and her poll ratings spiked. Contrast this to the criticisms of Sarah Palin. She was labled as too feminie weak in her stances and lacking the strength and grit (amongst natural ability or a hint of intelligence) necessary to be President.

So what can be gleamed from all of this. Well, all around the globe in places like Liberia, Australia, Iceland, Bangladesh and now Australia women hold meaningful positions of power but yet remain firmly in the minority. How can this issue be resolved. Well, the times are indeed changing and female representation becomes greater with each passing decade and as more and more women join the fold more will be inspired to do so. Just like all discrimination, attitudes will only change with exposure. For those of us who already pursue equality we may only hope the changing of the tide isn't to far away.

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