Pinky Khoabane asks if women leaders advance the women’s agenda? Will Hillary Clinton be any different from an Obama or husband Bill, Bush or any of the litany of men who rule the world?
If Hillary Clinton wins the US presidency, she will make history as the first woman US president. She’s a former first lady and she voted this morning with her husband, former president, Bill, standing behind her.
If she wins she will join a group of other women as heads of state. She joins Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as Theresa May who just recently found herself thrust into the role of prime minister of Britain following the Brexit saga.
Closer to home, it is rumoured that Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma will be leaving the African Union in January to campaign as presidential candidate.
Other women leaders are Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Doris Leuthard, Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, Simonetta Sommaruga of Switzerland, Park Geun-hye of South Korea, Michelle Blachelet of Chile, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca of Malta, Kolinda Graba-Kitarovich of Croatia, Ameena Gurib of Mauritius, Bidhya Devi Bhandari of Nepal, Hilda Heine of Marshall Islands, Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, and Doris Bures of Austria.
These women have managed to crack the glass ceiling and as much as progress has been made in advancing women’s participation in development and democratic processes, they represent a fraction of the percentage of women around the world.
The UN says the number of women in Parliament globally has doubled in the last 20 years. This translates to 22% of parliamentary seats going to women. Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration, women participation in leadership has only increased by 10%.
The former first lady, senator and secretary of state told the cheering crowds when she was nominated as the Democrat presidential candidate that she may have been the first but she’s paved the way for young girls. “If there are any young girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say I may become the first woman president. But one of you is next.”
Her message is one that goes to the heart of the impact the ascension of women into previously male-dominated fields has on young girls. In today’s society, careers are still seen in gender terms and the young girls of today who are mapping their careers will have these women as role models. Unlike in the past, when girls aspired to be nurses and teachers only, they have greater opportunities today.
Women are encouragingly finding a voice simply from seeing women like Clinton.
The rise in the leadership of women comes at a time when the global feminism movement is on the decline while on the other hand, there’s a rise in fundamentalism such as seen in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan where girls are denied an education.
It is this fundamentalism that has brought the world’s attention to advocates for education such as Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai.
It has been argued that the decline of feminism may be attributed to the fact that many of the issues for which gender activists fought have now been included in the laws and policies of many countries.
But do women who come into an environment of partriarchal hegemony manage to advance the women’s agenda or are they just tokens placed in these positions to advance numbers?
These women come into a political environment where there are set global agendas and find themselves having to fit into the mould of men and implement the specific agenda.
They also find themselves facing patriarchal dominance which they struggle to break and most find they have to fit in with the crowd or be left out.
When Clinton took the office of secretary of state, for example, she inherited the war on terror as US foreign policy. Although research has found women are socialised to be more caring and generally averse to war, she has been intrinsically involved in some of the US’ wars including the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Nato’s attack on Lybia in 2011.
Margaret Thatcher is another example of how women get into leadership positions and mould themselves in the image of men. She was not called the Iron Lady for nothing. She took the reins during the cold war and had to be seen as tough and able to be a warmonger like men.
Women are often vilified for being their own worst enemies. They are often accused of advancing the “pull her down” syndrome whereby they sabotage the other women around them.
This is an unfair criticism as this applies to any minority who join a hegemony. Black men who find themselves in the white corporate field where they are in the minority are also accused of this phenomenon. They too find they have to join the white boys club and subvert transformation if they want to be accepted as part of the white leadership.
Unless women get into these positions supported by women’s groups, they will always find themselves pushing the agenda of patriarchy and fighting to break the barriers and factors that promote inequality.
The only way to ensure greater opportunities for women is for women to lead and become role models for the broader pool of girls and young women, but that alone is not the answer.
They need to rise to the top with the support of women and men who advocate for equality for the betterment of humanity.