I was wondering the same thing Debbie. I just KNOW she has to be kidding. Here's a couple of articles about gaining political power in regions of the world where, traditionally, women have NOT been an integral part of the political system until now. If they can do it, I certainly see no reason why first-world women cannot do it.
From the June 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 6)
The Second Sex Comes to the Fore
Rodney Mac-Johnson, Gemini News Service (news agency), London, England, April 12, 2002
Sierra Leone's future is hers, too: A refugee and her baby in Loungi, Sierra Leone return home (Photo: AFP).
The women trooped to the National Elections Office in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, and 12 other district offices in the country's interior on April 2--nomination day--chanting, "Here we come!" and "This is the day!" They had one aim in mind: to end male dominance of politics in this West African nation.
"This time we are going to give these male politicians a good run for their money and make them realize that we are a force to reckon with," says Nemata Eshun-Baiden, the vibrant founder of the 50/50 Group. The group was formed to seek an equal share of power between the sexes in the country's political system, which has been dominated by men for more than 40 years. It aims for at least one-third female representation in Sierra Leone's enlarged 124-seat legislature.
With parliamentary and presidential elections set for May 14--the first since 1996--the 50/50 Group hopes for change when the country's 2.27 million voters go to the polls. Eshun-Baiden calls the women's turnout on April 2 "a striking and encouraging success," but adds, "there is still much more to be done.
Months before nomination day, we have been able to wrest commitments from leaders of 11 political parties to have at least 50-percent representation of women in their party list. Some even went as far as to assure us of using the system of one man, one woman."
Sixty women are running as political candidates this election in a bid to capture a seat in Parliament or as the next president. "Past parliaments in Sierra Leone have shown dismal figures for women representatives," says Beresford Cummings, a retired parliamentary record clerk. "The last Parliament, which became defunct on March 28 , had only 10 women among the 75 male parliamentarians with two senior ministers of government and two deputies."
Economic Development Minister Kadie Sesay, one of the two most senior women Cabinet ministers, believes that "what women want is meaningful and equitable partnership with our menfolk in the furtherance of development of the country."
Raju Bendre of the British Council in Sierra Leone adds: "Women in Sierra Leone have shown a lot of knowledge and are capable of scoring remarkable political success. Lack of full opportunity for women to participate in representative government is one of the most serious problems facing the country." That is what drives parliamentary aspirant Satta Amara. "I am contesting the election to help change the ills that [have] plagued the nation for many years," she said.
Despite this, women have made few inroads in Sierra Leone's presidential race. In the nomination exercise, only one female presidential candidate has come forward, while two other women have been chosen as presidential running mates.
The only woman seeking the presidency, former human rights activist Zainab Bangura, heads the Movement for Progress Party (MOPP). She chose another woman, Debora Salam, as her running mate. MOPP'S political structure is half women, and women top the list of its parliamentary candidates. United National People's Party (UNPP) leader John Karefa-Smart chose woman candidate Memunatu Conteh as his running mate.
The 50/50 Group says it is drawing on the "success of Commonwealth countries like Mozambique and New Zealand." Mozambique tops the list of African countries with 30-percent female parliamentarians, while New Zealand has 30.8. Sweden remains the world leader with 42.7 percent of its parliamentarians women.
"We are continuing the political education among grassroots women," Eshun-Baiden says. "We have also extended the group to the student population of 10 tertiary institutions in the country, and we are developing a women's manifesto on women's concerns."
Although many women say in the coming election they would "no longer keep their heads low but raise them high," others dismiss the 50/50 idea as "a political gimmick by women of intellectual caliber to hoodwink their less-favored kin." "Give them your vote and they turn out to be worse than the men," says market-woman Titi Turay. Her colleague Binti Fofanah adds: "They just want to quench their political thirst [by getting into] Parliament."
But for Yeabu Sesay, the 50/50 Group's demands "may be a good idea for my children. My own role for now remains in the home to take care of the family."
Others show varying levels of support. "Let them go ahead without me. I wish them luck," library assistant Sarah Peters says, while hairdresser Fatu Koroma is so zealous about the idea that she says: "I agree with the 50/50 percent idea 300 percent."
The weekly New Citizen newspaper, traditionally a stout defender of women's rights, has strong support for equal representation. "We have argued time and again that we should not reduce our womenfolk to mere cooks and dancers to hail male politicians when it comes to political participation," the newspaper stated. "Our women are bona fide citizens who are also protected by the state constitution. They have a right to hold even the highest public office and to contest elections."
Others anticipate women's success in Sierra Leone's political future. "Women surely will have faltering steps in the beginning," veteran politician Benjamin Jackson says, "but they certainly will make a huge impact on the voting population."
Political analyst Patrick Lewis shares a similar view. "Voters will definitely have reason to make a change," he said. "Men have been on the political scene since independence [in 1961], and all voters have for it are mismanagement, corruption, tribalism, and war. The rebel war was male-dominat-ed, and the warring factions were headed by men."
Sierra Leone has been wracked by civil war since 1991, when rebels took up arms to try and topple the government. The decade-long conflict devastated the country, leaving thousands maimed, displaced, or dead, before the government and the rebels finally agreed to a cease-fire in May 2001.
"The women can use this as a trump card to appeal to the electorate to make a change," Lewis concludes.
Sisters in Power
Men hog the thrones around the world, but a measure of equality is being felt in a region not known for it's sexual fair play. Nonetheless, more women are coming to power in Asia than anywhere else in the world
By Ron Gluckman/in Jakarta, Colombo, Manila and Hong Kong
WOMEN CAN'T GET A GRIP ON POWER. That's the story around the world. But in Asia, of all places, there's a funny twist to the tale. Here, in this bastion of male dominance, sisters are sure doing it for themselves.
Sri Lanka produced the world's first democratically-elected leader in 1960, when the post was filled by Sirimavo Bandaranaike, mother of current Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Bandaranaike assumed power after the assassination of her husband. She has served as prime minister three separate times.
In contrast, western societies didn't produce their first female head of state for almost two decades more, until 1979, when Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Great Britain. That same year, Simone Weil of France became the first president of the European Union.
The balance of power shifted greatly in the 1980s, when women took power in Iceland, Norway and Yugoslavia, and, in the 1990s, in Turkey, Ireland, Nicaragua, Panama and Poland.
Yet, three quarters of a century after winning the right to vote, women in America still haven't had the choice of a single female candidate for president from any of the major parties.
Meanwhile, Asia continues to turn to numerous female rulers. Indira Gandhi was twice prime minister of India, and Benazir Bhutto has twice served the same role in Pakistan, becoming the first woman to head a Muslim state. When Sheik Hasina Wazed took over as prime minister of Bangladesh, she succeeded another woman, Khaleda Zia.
True, most female leaders in Asia assume power by way of tragedy and bloodshed, after fathers or husbands are assassinated. That's been the case with President Kumaratunga, Bandaranaike, Bhutto, Corazon Aquino in the Philippines, and many others.
But Asia isn't alone in selecting survivors to replace leaders whose term has been cut short. In Israel, Golda Meir was prime minister in the 1950s when few women held high offices anywhere. The first female head of state in the Americas was Juan Peron's widow, Isabel, in Argentina. A half century before any major American city could claim a female mayor, several states had women governors; all succeeded husbands who died in office.
Here's a look at some of Asia's leading ladies:
- Corazon Aquino, Former President of the Philippines: Two and one half years after her husband's assassination on August 21, 1983, the widow of exiled Senator Aquino spearheaded the People's Power movement that toppled Marcos from power. She was burdened with the unflattering tag of "First Housewife" throughout her term.
- Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition leader in Burma: The only child of independence hero Bogyoke Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947, she lived abroad but returned to Burma in 1988. Suu Kyi led her the opposition party to a landslide victory in elections in 1990, but the military regime refused to relinquish power. Instead, they have kept the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in house arrest.
- Sirimavo Bandaranaike, former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka: She succeeded her husband as Premier in 1960 after he was assassinated by a Buddhist monk. But she rose to the role. Ruthless and determined, she dominated the island's politics for nearly three decades.
- Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan: Nine years after a military regime executed her father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, this graduate of Harvard and Oxford was elected to his former post. A decidedly liberal leader in a Muslim republic, she restored democracy to Pakistan in 1988, but her rule was tainted by corruption, and she was twice ousted by presidential decree.
- Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India: Chosen by Congress party bosses in 1966 as a prime minister they thought they could control, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru built a mass following, split the party and established herself as supreme leader. She was assassinated in 1984 by bodyguards.
- Sonia Gandhi, Congress party leader: Italian-born wife of Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded his mother as Prime Minister and was himself assassinated in 1991, she stayed out of politics until recently, when party leaders turned to yet another Gandi to try and produce a miracle at the polls.
- Chandrika Kumaratunga, President of Sri Lanka: She shrugged off the political assassinations of both her father and husband, then battled her brother for control of the family party, which she took to victory in 1994.
- Indonesia's Megawati Sukarnoputri, presidential candidate: Daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia's first President, she saw her party outpoll all others in the June election, the country's first free elections since her father was ousted in a 1965 coup. She is likely to head a new government as president by the end of the year.
- Sheik Hasina Wazed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh: Her father President Sheik Mujibur Rahman, her mother and three brothers were murdered during a 1975 military coup. Abroad at the time, Sheik Hasina Wazed returned home in 1981 to take over her father's party and won a 1996 election.
- Khaleda Zia, former Prime Minister of Bangladesh: Widow of assassinated President Ziaur Rahman, she took over her husband's party in 1982 and won office in 1991. She has been in political battles with arch-rival Hasina Wazed ever since.
Ron Gluckman is an American reporter who is based in Hong Kong, but who roams around Asia for a number of publications, such as MSNBC, which ran this story as a sidebar to his profile of Megawati Sukarnoputri during the Indonesian elections in late 1999. He has also written about women in power in Asia for the Wall Street Journal, Asia Magazine and the San Francisco Examiner.