The male monopoly on leadership is fracturing but advances in some countries are being reversed

Women and power
the global gains and losses
February - 

Is a woman in the White House too dizzying a prospect for the US?
Female leaders remain scarce worldwide and it looks as if Clinton may not join their ranks
Anne Perkins
There is a just a shred of comfort for everyone who wanted to see a woman in the White House. Hillary Clinton’s slide in recent primaries does not seem to have been gender-related. Discussion about what a female presidency would be like was never encouraged and the idea remained an unwritten script: a dizzying prospect. But everybody seems to have been afraid of dizziness until Barack Obama showed that it could inspire. The excitement that Obama generates, compared with the familiarity of Hillary Clinton, and her husband, Bill, has been the most decisive factor to his advantage and her disadvantage. Older women have remained among her most loyal supporters; they have been moved by Clinton’s pride in the fact that her mother, who was born before women in the US had the vote, has been around to see her campaigning to be president. Clinton’s successes and failures have been a lesson to aspirant women politicians — but that lesson is not that women cannot win. Women are scarce in US politics, with only 16% of seats in Congress. Although more than 90% of voters say they would vote for a woman, barely half believe the US is ready for a woman president. So the Clinton team (which had a strong representation of women, including her recently dismissed campaign manager) chose to project her as one of the boys. The Nobel peace prize winner Betty Williams, who made women a force for peace through the Northern Ireland Peace Movement, criticised her early in the campaign: “I’d love to see a woman in office in the United States of America. However, the term woman comes first . . . I think Hillary has to remove herself from being one of the boys.” The serious problem is that the model of female leadership in the West remains Boudicca or Catherine the Great, warrior queen or mother of the nation, although it is beginning to look as if voters want neither. Clinton went into her campaign most concerned about the commander in chief question — the accusation that she would not be tough enough to be the leader of the nation. But the Democratic electorate responded to her most over such issues as health. And the most memorable moments in her campaign were the eight seconds in a coffee shop when she allowed the world to see why she wanted the job. Clinton could not even have entered the presidential race were there not a global social, economic and political transformation under way. Over the West’s decade-long economic summer, political concerns have converged on the environment, schools and family, which were once regarded as women’s territory. And politics is slowly becoming less gendered. But women’s progress towards power is patchy. There are just six female prime ministers, plus a few presidents, in all of Europe and Australasia. Worldwide only one in five elected representatives is female and they have to conform to certain expectations. The failed bid for the French presidency last year by the

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The previous year. ‘Angela Merkel’s role can be seen as feminist. Ségolène Royal. or her predecessor. She came from the old East Germany and had no local party power base. Women have won power because they have come to stand for change. where Chile and Argentina now have women presidents. She made a bold attempt to campaign on a progressive feminist agenda and her failure was seen as women’s failure. not the product of the party machine. A similar search for a different way of doing business is behind the small surge of women in Africa. Vladimir Putin. after three consecutive terms. as did her Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet. She is now a visiting fellow at the Centre for Gender Studies at Oxford University and has a book on Negev bedouin women’s experiences at university in Israel out this year.000 Negev bedouins in 1987 — half of whom were thought to be female — but no Negev bedouin woman was at Ben-Gurion University. women compromise on their most important asset — their difference. was a member of an informal international club of women in similar posts. The difference. Harriet Harman won the Labour deputy leadership with a campaign that put her in many major town centres. is a factor in the rise of Merkel. Now they are into a second generation. . After the Berlin wall fell. squeezing agreement out of the G8 on carbon emissions and salvaging the European Union’s Lisbon treaty. By puberty many families who had not already done so removed their daughters from school. is said to be tougher than her predecessor. where Mozambique and Liberia have women at the top. Today the education of Negev bedouin girls is being dramatically transformed — thanks in part to pioneering women like Nur. Helmut Kohl. Merkel was in the headlines after she berated Russia’s president. even if her politics are not’ Bedouins start to make the long journey to university Jessica Shepherd Nur knew that as a bedouin — an Arab nomad — living in poverty in Israel’s Negev desert. which is the nearest for them. There is a danger that in the search for power. They are not proxies for their husbands or dynastic shoo-ins. She came into politics. Nur now teaches people about the bedouin. She is to the left of her party — even when it veered right — effective and. The majority leader in the US Senate. graduated in medicine and the first of all bedouin woman. (Feminists have vainly argued that she and her strategy were flawed — too blind to ordinary people’s concerns. Her tough. There is an international women leaders’ summit (membership limited to heads of government) preparing an initiative on global security. adroit handling of colleagues has allowed her Popular . Nur (a pseudonym) knew that she needed her father’s permission to go and that he had denied it. What she has most in common with Merkel is the perception that they are both their own people. Records from Adva. but unlike Clinton she had an independent political career first. Gerhard Schröder. where she can act with candour and treat failing colleagues with discreet ruthlessness. Nancy Pelosi. Both gained strength from electoral reform that introduced quotas for female representation. was awarded a PhD. Only when a lecturer from the university visited her father in their home — an encampment with no running water and electricity — did he change his mind. So the 18-yearold applied in secret to Ben-Gurion University — and was accepted. an Israeli policy analysis centre. the numbers finishing school and going on to university are now in their hundreds.08 3 Women and power Woman in the White House — too dizzying a prospect? ≤Continued from page 1 Socialist candidate. But she does conciliation as well as confrontation. uncharismatic tenacity. who pushed the boundaries of what tribal leaders deemed acceptable in the 70s and 80s. and offended Chinese sensibilities by entertaining the Dalai Lama. Germany’s first woman chancellor. Paraguay and even Brazil might follow. oligarch turned democratic favourite. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Both are pioneers of a new political elite. a Labour prime minister since 1999. Clare Short. Rania al-Oqbi. made obvious in a break with a dubious past. she is a symbol of the self-confident exercise of power. Yet even as those who have succeeded have to satisfy the expectations of commentators. is married to the ex-president. Merkel might be rightwing and uninterested in a feminist agenda. Abu-Rabia-Queder predicts that the number of Negev bedouin women at university will more than double by the end of the next decade. Her nearest equivalent is New Zealand’s Clark. Back in the 1980s many Negev bedouin girls were taken out of school at the age of 12 to help their mothers at home. Although this ‘University education has given me a lot of power and knowledge’ Sarab AbuRabia-Queder still goes on. more popular than her government.02. The “Helen Clark is a man” jibe has given way to the double-edged “she’s a good Kiwi bloke”. Margaret Thatcher. and in Latin America. Their successors are New Zealand’s Helen Clark and Germany’s Angela Merkel. By 2007 almost 250 bedouin women were on degree or teacher-training courses. the likelihood of going to university was remote. Tom DeLay. was preceded by Golda Meir (“the only man in the Israeli cabinet”). contacts and connections that circumvent the boys’ world that used to define and protect the male monopoly of power. like Nur and herself.” . It will be interesting if her attempt to reach those unrepresented in mainstream politics is overwhelmed by a man who successfully trades on his difference.) Successful women still need to be seen as being as tough as the female political pioneers.The Guardian Weekly 22. Non-governmental organisations and Ben-Gurion University have also played a critical role in encouraging bedouin women to go to university. That was 20 years ago. . For a woman it was almost impossible. Argentina’s new Peronist president. which first became evident in the old Soviet bloc countries. as Britain’s development secretary. They are women with long years of political grind behind them who have tapped in to a yearning for real change and lasting social reform. too lacking in leadership. She is the antithesis of her flashy Social Democrat rival. The most famous Iron Lady. She says their embrace of higher education is down to women. accessible and approachable. There is the extraordinary Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine. Like Thatcher. There is an appetite for a reinvented politics and a new political elite. but she has made a virtue of rational. prime minister and — if she survives in the murky world of politics there — president in waiting. Clinton’s critics claim she was always compromised by being the Democratic insider in the race. “I feel a university education has given me a lot of power and knowledge about the outside world. nothing needed to be the same again and there could be a new class of politicians: women would be leaders without communist baggage. show that there were an estimated 160. Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder. mired in financial scandal. Nur became one of the first women of the 16-centuries-old Negev bedouin to go to university. to oppose military dictatorship. for his disregard of human rights. was a warning not to go outside the familiar. women leaders are discreetly building female power bases. On a smaller UK scale. the public likes Helen Clark better than her government Getty to create her own space. the first bedouin woman from the Negev.

In Irbil. have removed these provisions for leniency from the code — but the killings continue to mount. family disputes are increasingly settled not in state courts but by local tribal or religious authorities. They held important positions in business. education and the public sector and their rights were protected by a statutory family law that was the envy of women’s activists in neighbouring countries. but the family doesn’t listen. A UN human rights officer has relayed to me the words of one judicial investigator in Irbil: “The woman is unhappy. confirming that 255 women had been killed in the first six months of 2007. She tells me of a man from Kirkuk who accused his sister of adultery. burnings and murders have become a daily occurrence Mark Lattimer They lie in the Sulaimaniyah hospital morgue in Iraqi Kurdistan. brother or another relative will kill her to restore their “honour”. “It is getting worse. he won’t be.” says Khanim. .” In a nondescript building on a busy road in the north I visit one of the few . But this is far from the case. “In many cases the woman is accused of adultery. The Iraqi penal code prescribes leniency for those who commit such crimes for “honourable motives”. Some are killed. “When we asked him why he wanted to kill his sister.” Lack of electricity means that every house has a plentiful supply of oil. handing me the morgue photographs of one young woman after another.” Activists. the systematic use of rape by Saddam’s former regime to dishonour families has ended”. the manager of Asuda. An earlier Unami report cited 366 burns cases in Dohuk in 2006. When questioned.02. In March 2004 George Bush said that “the advance of freedom in the Middle East has given new rights and new hopes to women .” the earlier Unami report said.4 The Guardian Weekly 22. In much of the country women can only now move around with a male escort. to prevent revenge killings. he said. or the marriage is not sanctioned by the family. rapes. Rape is committed habitually by all the main armed groups. “but it is deteriorating. could almost be on the point of falling asleep. These women are not casualties of battle. or there is domestic abuse. it is hidden. says: “[Burnings take] place daily. some burn themselves. although their bodies often lie unclaimed by their families. an Iraqi organisation based in Kurdistan that works to combat violence against women. Yousif Aziz. So she does it because she wants to draw attention to herself. or of a relationship before she is married. suggested that they were self-inflicted.” This claim that some of these injuries are self-inflicted can be heard from different quarters in Iraq. In October the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (Unami) expressed serious concern over the rising incidence of so-called honour crimes in Iraqi Kurdistan. This may have given some people the impression that the American and British invasion of Iraq had helped to improve the lives of its women. Her husband. she says. Another women’s activist tells me why she refuses all media interviews: “The work has to be secret. set out on white-tiled slabs. disputes over such murders are resolved between families or tribes by the payment of a forfeit. however.” Khanim’s organisation sees cases from across Iraq.” But the man’s stupidity hid an important point: under the new system of government developing in Iraq.08 Women and power Iraqi women count the cost of freedom they have lost Since the invasion.” Khanim says. And in most cases. But since the 2003 invasion. women in Iraq — including in semi-autonomous Kurdistan — were widely recognised as among the most liberated in the Middle East. or the gift of another woman. a lock of hair falling across her half-closed eyes. we would just be attacked. a representative from the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq has told the BBC.’ He thought that democracy meant he could do whatever he wanted. but most have been burned. Women are being murdered throughout Iraq in unprecedented numbers. three-quarters of them by burning. including those linked to the government. “The authorities say such agreements are necessary for social stability. The body might be dumped miles away. The human rights minister in the Kurdistan regional government. “Just here in Sulaimaniyah there were 400 cases of the burning of women last year. The cause of death is generally recorded as “accidental”. up from 289 the year before. especially the burnings. and she accepts that some cases may be accidents. In just one month last year. In Kurdistan it is possible.” says Khanim. But the nature and scale of the injuries suggest that most were deliberate. resulting in 358 deaths. according to doctors. Aziz says. enabling some of the men involved to get off with no more than a fine. but in Baghdad we couldn’t open a shelter for women. “The politicians say the situation of women is all right with the new constitution in Iraq and new laws in Kurdistan. some beaten to death. A few have been shot or strangled. Burns have stretched the skin on another young woman’s face into a fixed look of surprise. Even under Saddam. Many of the bodies bear the unmistakable signs of having been subjected to intense heat. the emergency management centre had reported 576 burns cases since 2003.” says Khanim Rahim Latif. One girl. if he is important. say that if the wounds are self-inflicted it is because the women have been forced to do it. “If he is poor the man might be arrested.” In other cases. ‘Because it is now a democracy in Iraq. . although most were not fatal. The Kurdish authorities. “More than half of these women had sustained between 70%-100% burns which. Iraqi doctors have told UN investigators that many of these burnings are self-inflicted. 130 unclaimed women’s bodies were counted in the Baghdad morgue. advances that took 50 years to establish are crumbling away.

. Samira al-Musawi. I want to be with my children. The woman. and an Iraqi woman walks past mannequins in a Baghdad clothing store Sipa Press/Rex Features. They can’t protect me.” she says. a member of Iraq’s ruling Shia alliance and chair of the women’s committee in the Iraqi parliament. “You have to realise. This year four US soldiers were found guilty of the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza and three members of her family in Mahmoudiya. custody and inheritance will be determined according to the different religions and sects in Iraq. the women MPs file into the chamber beside their male counterparts. Zaynab. and today. In Baghdad we couldn’t open a shelter for women. I have no brothers.” Solaf can see that I still find it hard to accept that someone. under which the old statutory family law will be replaced with a system where marriage. The abuse of women has become both the vehicle and the justification for sectarian hatred in Iraq. in an attack the US military had at first blamed on Sunni insurgents. some in headscarves.) With nowhere else for the women to go. Solaf.” Many meetings for MPs are now held outside the country. fears that what it has to say about the family may have had the opposite effect in the home. The most recent arrivals are a woman and her two children from the local area. A pile of thin mattresses show that up to 20 women can stay here at any one time. (Her name. But. divorce. a drunk. “We want the old law back.” At the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad. is used to receiving threats herself. Some kill themselves. a handful with heads uncovered. she dismissed the concerns over article 41 and said that “only one or two” members of her committee wanted it changed. Most of all they fear an explosion in violence against women as traditional tribal codes take hold. People watch you come in. the young manager of the shelter. “Sometimes the family burns their daughter or wife. where she heard about the shelter. “that the family just locks the girl into a room until she does it. They may leave her a knife. a few in the full-length abaya or the Iranian-style chador. because no one can tell. Rapes carried out against Shia or Christian women have been justified by insurgent groups as revenge for what was done to women in Abu Ghraib.” Claims of rape being used as a weapon of war to humiliate and terrify communities are now frequently made against all the main parties in the conflict. would commit suicide by burning herself alive. but he has refused. but it is hard to kill yourself with a knife. They say in the hospital it was an accident.02. At another table. Since 2003 US forces have denied numerous allegations that soldiers have raped and abused female detainees or held them as bargaining chips in the hunt for family members wanted as insurgents. In one way. . But the Pentagon’s Taguba report into abuse at Abu Ghraib prison confirmed that US military police had photographed and videotaped naked women prisoners and referred to a guard “having sex with a female detainee”. because now we are a democracy and we can discuss these issues together. says she wants to divorce her abusive husband. has been changed for this article. the militia found out she had helped the man. “Women now know more about human rights. you do not know who your persecutor is. “I love my children. just my mother and my little sister. A committee reviewing the constitution is due to present its final amendments to parliament and an alliance of women’s organisations has been lobbying for the removal of article 41. But only two of the committee’s 27 members are women and many of the women MPs represent the more conservative religious parties. says some groups target women — through kidnapping or sexual assault — “to make a family weak”. smiling.” I ask about the burnings. was shot dead on her doorstep. a Baghdad economics professor who survived an assassination attempt last year (and also asked not to be named). but now it is much more pronounced. but the Shia prevent it. A cabinet minister in Baghdad tells me: “The Islamisation had already started under Saddam. during Saddam’s regime. “My father is dead. Then there was only one criminal — Saddam — but now they are everywhere. secret shelters in Iraq for women fleeing violence. as one MP reminds me: “Even getting here is dangerous. It turned out he was being tortured by a militia group. an Arab Sunni MP in a white headscarf disagreed pointedly over article 41. Saddam was a dictator but at least then we had the freedom to go out. My family wanted me to marry again but I don’t want to marry anyone. Hadi Mizban/Getty. You want to know what the situation of women is? How many widows are there now?” The coordinator of a women’s organisation in Baghdad. Lamia Abed Khadouri. south of Baghdad. One evening I joined a group of women MPs in Amman who were attending a UN gathering on women’s rights. A broom-cupboard door is unlocked to reveal a hidden staircase leading to a two-room apartment where the morning sunshine and the hum of traffic filter through high-set windows. clockwise from below left: students at the University of Baghdad in 1976.” Nur is here because she helped someone on impulse. She had gone to live with her mother but he had come to threaten her. Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty the highest in the world. we and the Kurds. it is easier with fire. sometimes threatening to take them to court. Near her home in Diyala she heard the screams of a man locked in a compound and helped him escape.” In 2005 one female MP. arguing. Campaigners argue that this would strengthen the control of religious institutions and give “constitutional legitimacy to sectarianism”. but the men and the culture don’t allow it. not just Iraqi forces.The Guardian Weekly 22. making the level of female representation among ‘Our work has to be secret. said: “We are making progress. we would be attacked’ . Later. One of them.” She fled north to Kirkuk. even under duress. Under the new constitution a quarter of the 275 seats are reserved for women. “A girl was raped and returned to her family but she committed suicide rather than face the shame. Some are escorted everywhere by their husbands. who asked not to be named. like those of Nur and Zaynab. she tries to negotiate with their families to see if they can be reconciled.” Her faced framed in black.08 5 Changing times . Although the new constitution has empowered women in parliament.

” women into the paid labour market for the first time. Plan’s director. is ironic.” says Harvey. of course. . According to women’s groups. Grassroots movements calling for equal rights and an end to discrimination against women have been slowly building momentum worldwide. In Bangladesh the growth of a garment industry for export has brought Open doors policy . There are an estimated 40 million refugees worldwide and 80% of them are women and children. Although progress has been made in countries that have enabled women to participate in social. according to international law. Last November Maryam Hosseinkhah and Jelveh Javaheri. in the workplace and at a national and international level. “In primary education the spotlight was put on . Guatemala. is going to be the only way that we combat poverty and hunger. but women also produce between 60% and 80% of food in most developing countries. Belinda Calaguas. which. economic and political power — in Rwanda there are now equal numbers of women and men in government — only 17. Hosseinkhah and Javaheri began to campaign for better conditions for their fellow inmates. “There has been a recognition that a rights-based approach. Republic of Congo. especially sub-Saharan Africa. . another question. Sudan and Nepal. In Africa 75% of young people living with HIV/Aids are female. They are part of the “million signitures” campaign. Nicaragua. women are still being hung out to dry by governments across the world.” But the fight is far from won. “The frustrating thing is that where governments have focused their attention with targeted investment in reducing poverty we can see the results. Burma.The Guardian Weekly 22. Colombia. “It is indisputable that tackling discrimination and working on the empowerment of women in the home. who are leading women’s rights activists in Iran. The response of our government seems to be ‘this is democracy’. “Now. more than 135 million women are victims of genital mutilation and 700.000 are trafficked for sex work. women provide 70% of agricultural labour but are not represented in budget deliberations. no state and no man can say. In 1993 groups including Amnesty International successfully lobbied for gender violence to be included in international human rights law for the first time and pushed for a clarification in the UN’s Convention of the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women to make it explicit that the state has the obligation to educate and to challenge and end any practices that convene the rights of women. the director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid UK.” Harvey says that although the grassroots movements are fighting hard for empowerment. were arrested and jailed for refusing to stop campaigning for more rights for women and for changes to Iran’s discriminatory legal system. Bosnia. which focuses on the fundamental right for women to participate equally in the economic. One of the most neglected areas is maternal care and sexual health. as 10 million more girls than boys are out of primary school and two thirds of illiterate young people are women. which the women say will reverse the few legal rights they have.” says Marie Staunton. a senior policy officer at the UK development agency Womankind Worldwide. “In the West the natural reaction is to think of women slaving away in garment factories as victims. On their release last month the prison inspector where they had been jailed said their presence had been a “blessing” and asked them to continue to lobby for improvements. but 10 years ago you didn’t see women on the streets of Bangladesh and the garment industry has meant a massive change in the profile of women as paid workers. “Preoccupation Iraq had one of the most developed codes about women and family in the Middle East. social and political power structures of whatever country they live in. and one that if properly supported could do more than western development agencies could dream of achieving. More than 70% of the poor are women. but it’s a start. development agency Plan says that if women farmers had as much access to resources as the men in their communities then agricultural productivity would increase by more than 20%. says it is clear that governments and international donors are still failing to address the root causes of discrimination and repression of women.” Campaigners for women’s rights say that the global pandemic of violence against women is an enormous barrier to real progress towards equal rights and civil participation.08 7 Women and power Battle is joined in the fight for equality Victories in the struggle for rights are marred by a pandemic of violence Annie Kelly Demanding equal power for women is dangerous in many countries. Afghanistan. And once you’ve given this kind of power to women it’s difficult to take it back. But there is still a long way to go.5% of all parliamentarians worldwide are women. According to the World Economic Forum. International figures show women continue to die of pregnancy-related causes at the rate of one a minute worldwide. Over the past 20 years female leaders in its growing trade union movement have been winning battles for better conditions and pay for millions of female factory workers. For decades development agencies have been arguing that empowering women economically is essential to tackling global poverty. a professor at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex. Sierra Leone. seeing as women’s rights were cited as one of the reasons for occupation in the first place. “And we all have the responsibility to make sure that this is not the future of the world for the millions of girls growing up being told they are second-class citizens.” says Calaguas.02. Each year. it is ‘Ending inequality is the only way we can combat poverty and hunger’ only just beginning. In Burkina Faso. There have been small successes. but women’s groups are now saying the new code being tabled by the present government will put their rights back 20 years. While imprisoned. is a great force for change. a petition launched by equal rights activists in Iran to protest at its parliament’s attempts to push through Family Law legislation. Sexual violence against women has been both the weapon and one of the spoils of war in Rwanda.” says Ceri Hayes.” says Naila Kabeer.” Harvey also says that we should look at the impact that the British government’s actions have had on the position of women in Iraq. “The trade union movement in Bangladesh has risen up from the factory floor and has seen women redefining themselves as earners. East Timor. in some regions. prepared to use the labour courts and go out on the streets demanding better pay. “Whether this actually prevents behaviour in practice is. Bangladeshi activists take part in a rally in Dhaka calling for equal political rights for women Abir Abdullah/EPA women and girls and since 1990 the share of girls who are not in school has fallen. ‘but this is our culture’ when it comes to harming or repressing women or justifying abuses like genital mutilation or child marriages.

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