Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 27th 2017 Contents APRIL 27 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG21
Modern history is showered with women
as political leaders and heads of govern-
ment. When women first emerged in
these roles, it was regarded as "breaking
a glass ceiling" -- a breakthrough for the
female gender in occupying high posi-
tions once regarded as the preserve of men. There was truth
in that sentiment at the beginning of that revolutionary trend,
but even though women leaders do still attract support from
some women---and the opposition of some men---purely on
the basis of gender, the human race has moved on from solely
Today, women as political leaders is not a gender issue. They
have to prove that they are every bit as capable as men.
Two events over the last few days brought this reality into
sharp focus. The first was Theresa May, the unelected Prime
Minister of Britain, calling a sudden general election for June 8,
and the other was the launch of a new political party in Antigua
and Barbuda by Joanne Massiah, a former elected member of
the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) who recent-
ly declared herself an independent member of the House of
In calling the British election, Theresa May brazenly broke a
pledge she had given to the British people not to call an election
before the Brexit negotiations with the European Union (EU)
She broke that pledge for many reasons, the primary one
being that the opposition Labour Party appears lacklustre and
unappealing under the present leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
Calling the election while there is no formidable challenger
from the main opposition party is an expedient decision. The
Labour Party was caught napping, unable to oust Corbyn for a
more dynamic and acceptable leader in time. In that context,
May has a chance of being the elected Prime Minister of a
Conservative government for the next five years.
Ironically, however, it is another woman that might upset her
cart and scatter her apples. Nicola Sturgeon, the feisty leader of
the Scottish National Party, is determined that Scotland should
eschew Brexit. The Scottish people voted overwhelmingly in
last June's referendum to stay in the EU. The battle between
these two women is now firmly joined on fundamental political
matters; gender has nothing to do with it.
Should the pro-EU Liberal Democratic Party do well at the
election with the backing of those voters in England, Wales and
Northern who want to remain in the EU, a coalition of forces
might yet topple May, having nothing to do with her gender.
Across the ocean in a much smaller island nation, Antigua
and Barbuda, a woman threw her hat in the ring for the second
time to become leader of a political party.
On the last occasion, on the rubble of a defeated UPP, she
sought the leadership in a contest against Harold Lovell. She
had won her seat in Parliament in the general election; Lovell
had not. Her decision to run for the leadership had nothing
to do with gender, and all to do with a belief that she was a
As it turned out, she may have been too trusting of a system
that she subsequently regarded as treacherous when Lovell
won the contest overwhelmingly, but as she saw it not fairly.
Eventually, bad blood between the two led to her expul-
sion from the UPP. Now, she has formed the Democratic Na-
its first woman
as the leader of
a political par-
ty, not because of gender but because she holds the view that
she has the capacity to lead the country.
The Caribbean's modern history has many such women,
among them Mia Mottley, the present leader of the Barbados
Labour Party. Then, there are those who made it to the office
of head of government: Eugenia Charles of Dominica; Janet
Jagan of Guyana; Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica and Kamla
Persad-Bissessar of T&T.
The essential ingredient was not their gender, but their read-
iness to take on the rough and tumble of politics. Appealing to
gender alone and the refrain of "time for a woman," does not
cut it in the world of real politics. Faint hearts do not make
leaders; courage, drive and political astuteness are the criteria
by which any leader is judged: man or woman.
There are fine examples of such women in other places at
this time and in former times. Altogether, 70 countries have
had women as heads of government.
History reminds us of the formidable Golda Meir of Isra-
el; the tough stewardship of Indira Gandhi of India; the two
Bandaranayke women presidents of Sri Lanka; Margaret
Thatcher of Britain; Isabel Martínez de Perón of Argentina;
Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan; Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway.
Today, the highly-regarded Angela Merkel is serving her 12th
year as Chancellor of Germany; Michelle Bachelet is in her
second term as President of Chile and Ellen Sirleaf has been
president of Liberia since 2006.
Margaret Thatcher is universally remembered as the Iron
lady. She caused the coining of that phrase when she said:
"If you lead a country like Britain, a strong country, a country
which has taken a lead in world affairs in good times and in
bad, a country that is always reliable, then you have to have a
touch of iron about you."
In reality her observation is true for running any country
however large or small. The women who led countries did so
not because of their gender, but because they had iron.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda's Ambassador to the United
States and the Organisation of American States. He is also
a senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies,
University of London and Massey College in the University of
Toronto. The views expressed are his own)
Not a gender issue
Women as political leaders:
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