So it’s all done and dusted. Theresa May has become the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. And if Donald Trump keeps up his gaffe-a-day performance, Hillary Clinton is a dead cert for the White House. If you take in the fact that Germany already has a female Chancellor in Angela Merkel, this will be the first time in history that we see a triumvirate of powerful women ruling the world (well, vast swathes of it, at any rate) at the same time.
At the risk of sounding sexist, I have to confess that I find this a rather thrilling prospect. A female US President, a female UK Prime Minister and a female German Chancellor. What are the odds of this ever happening again – at least in my lifetime? So, even though I can see some of you (mostly those with that Y chromosome) shaking your heads and tut-tutting at my naïveté, I refuse to curb my enthusiasm.
Whenever I express these views – both in real life and in social media – there are a few stock responses that are invariably thrown at me. How does it matter if these leaders are women? Surely, leaders should be chosen for their abilities and not their gender? And why do I assume that having women in positions of power will be good for other women?
Well, first of all, none of these women is in pole position because of her gender. All of them have proven track records in politics and have come through the same hurly-burly (or rugby scrum, to use a more recent analogy) that their male colleagues have failed to negotiate successfully. So, they are not women politicians. They are politicians who happen to be women. Or even women who happen to be politicians.
And yes, leaders should be chosen for their abilities and not their gender. But I am sure that even their most committed rivals would grant that Clinton, May and Merkel have more than proved their political chops during their careers. So, when it comes to ability and talent, they are easily the equals of their male counterparts (though, frankly, it is farcical to compare Hillary Clinton to the abomination that is Donald Trump).
So then, we come to that old chestnut: are women leaders any good for other women? Do they stand by the sisterhood? Is the feminist cause better served by having a female in a position of power?
Well, by way of answer, all I have for you are two words: Barack Obama.
As Obama nears the end of his two terms as America’s first African-American President (well, okay, mixed race, if you want to get all pedantic about it), race relations in the USA are at an all-time low. Just over the last week, we had two young Black men – Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota – shot and killed by police in circumstances that would have earned most White folk a ticket or a caution at the most. And they were just the latest in a long roll call of Black men who have died at the hands of the police.
Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, was killed by a police officer in Ferguson. Trayvon Martin, another unarmed teenager, was killed by a neighbourhood watch volunteer in Florida. Eric Garner, who was put in a choke hold by NYPD officers, was heard saying ‘I can’t breathe’ over and over again before he died. His dying words became a rallying cry for those protesting police violence against Blacks.
According to The Guardian, which runs a project to track police killings in America, at least 136 people have been killed by the police in 2016 alone. And The Washington Post estimates that 258 Black people have died at the hands of the police in 2015. Not surprisingly then, last week saw countrywide demonstrations in the USA against police brutality against Blacks (#BlackLivesMatter). And in Dallas, the police force itself became the target of an African-American sniper, who shot at a protest rally and killed five cops and injured many others.
All this, while the first Black President of America was still in the White House.
So, if the presence of an African-American at the helm of affairs can’t make things better for Black people, why should we imagine that the presence of a female leader will make things better for women?
The simple answer is that it is not so simple at all. Electing a Black President or a female Prime Minister does not mean that the problems of those sections of the community will magically disappear. No, that magic wand does not exist, so nobody – whatever their sex, colour, ethnicity – can wield it to make our problems vanish.
Let’s take an example closer home. The BSP leader, Mayawati, who styles herself as ‘Dalit ki beti’ has been the chief minister of UP four times over. But Dalit women continue to be raped and Dalit men killed if they overstep the bounds set out for them.
But that doesn’t negate the symbolic value of having a Dalit woman at the helm of affairs. By her sheer presence, she serves as a beacon of hope, sending out glimmers of possibility to every Dalit girl studying in a remote primary school that one day she too can attain those heights.
And it is that message that will hit home for young girls everywhere when women do – quite literally – take over the world. And I, for one, can’t wait to see that happen.
From HT Brunch, July 17, 2016
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