Imagining a World with More Female Heads of State

   •    May 2, 2007

This article was originally published by The Christian Science Monitor.

On Sunday, millions of French men and women will determine whether a woman should become their president. Socialist Ségolène Royal is running against conservative Nicolas Sarkozy. Should she win, both France and Germany, two of the major countries in Europe, would be presided over by women. Angela Merkel is the German chancellor and currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Although the current political wisdom in France is that Mr. Sarkozy holds the lead, Ms. Royal’s campaign has captured international interest and draws attention anew to the role of women in politics and government. Other women of extraordinary talent, such as Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, India’s Indira Gandhi, and Israel’s Golda Meir have led their nations successfully, winning lasting praise in the history books. But they are in the minority.

Former ambassador to Austria and Harvard expert Swanee Hunt writes in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs that while women have made strides in most societies over the past century, they have eschewed politics and government for leadership roles as social reformers and entrepreneurs. In the US, there are only 16 women in the 100-member Senate and only 71 women in the 435-member House of Representatives. “[E]ven as the media spotlight falls on the 11 female heads of government around the world,” she writes, “[w]omen are much more likely to wield influence from a nongovernmental organization (NGO) than from public office.”

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