Why it's important for America to elect its first woman president

Hillary Clinton's presidency would put an end to an almost 230-year streak of men at the top position in the US.

 |  5-minute read |   22-10-2016
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Will long list of female world leaders get Hillary Clinton's name?

America may join a rising group of nations that have had a woman at the helm.

There is great euphoria among people in the US ever since the final debate between the two presidential nominees got over. The elections are round the corner, and if Democrat Hillary Clinton wins on November 8, she will be the first woman president elected in the oldest democracy.

There is another entanglement that is Clinton's gender, as she moves towards the Oval Office. We all know she is a "she", as no presidential nominee for a major party has been before. What will she be referred as, since there are no neutral terms for a woman, especially in the US.

Clinton has often been referred to as a lady, a woman and a girl. Addressing her as a former First Lady is but natural because that is the title of the post - it is for describing one who helps head the country, as the very first ladies headed households. Yet the people are divided for America's first woman president.

In a recent survey, 62.2 per cent preferred to call her "female president", 36.9 per cent as "woman president" and only 0.8 per cent like the term "lady president". Although there is a consensus that she will take office more equipped on national security and military matters than any White House male occupant.

While that is American's verbal choice, the fact of the matter is that if Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton wins the election; she would be the 45th president of world's oldest, still existing democracy and the first female head of state.

Moreover, her presidency would put an end to an almost 230-year streak of men at the top position. And America would join a rising group of nations that have had a woman at the helm.

There have been more than 75 women as prime ministers and presidents in the world. When the world was still considering women in the task force and other important positions, a small nation in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka elected Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the world's first female head of state in 1960, and soon after India joined by electing Indira Gandhi as head of state in 1966.

Bandaranaike served three terms successfully as head of state from 1960 to 1965, 1970 to 1977 and 1994 to 2000. Then India elected its first female head of government in 1966; Indira Gandhi was PM from 1966 to 1977 and 1980 to 1984 (until her assassination). She was the daughter of newly independent India's first PM Jawaharlal Nehru (1947-64).

The graph and duration of these female leaders' tenure have varied greatly, as have the powers they have held. Some women were in office only for a few days or held mainly ceremonial roles, while others carried out a defining role in their country's history.

Though most female leaders have been part of a greater shift towards equality in a global political system, that is not the real representation of women in the general sense. Some leaders have been inspiring and others have been deplored.

Many member countries listed in the United Nations are still far away from working democracies. The US and India are considered the oldest and largest democracies in the world, respectively; while India has had a female head of state, the US hasn't - yet.

2016-06-09t215643z_2_102216082600.jpg Hillary Clinton with outgoing US President Barack Obama. (Reuters)

Even the smallest nations on the world map have had women heads of states, some quite successful in their endeavours, even surpassing their male predecessors in leadership. They have shown courage and conviction in war and troubled times.

In the west, Margaret Thatcher as head of the UK government was applauded for handling Falkland's issues daringly and in the east, Indira Gandhi was commended for galvanising forces to gain independence for Bangladesh. Thatcher was the PM of the UK from 1979 to 1990.

Golda Meïr was the third elected female head of state of Israel from 1969 to 1974. Born in Russia as Golda Mabovic, she immigrated to the US and then Israel. Isabel Perón of Argentina became the first woman president there in 1974, following her husband Juan Peron.

Other dynamic world leaders include Germany's federal chancellor Angela Merkel, since 2005, who is also the most influential European leader; Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, PM Sheikh Hasina Wajed in Bangladesh, president Dalia Grybauskaite in Lithuania, PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Trinidad, president Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark, PM Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica and more recently, PM Theresa May of the UK.

Although women in the US have come a long way, they were not even allowed to vote until 1924. With their constant struggle, they have since then successfully shattered the glass ceiling in the corporate world, and many other fields. There is a good chance the country will elect its first female leader soon.

A native of the Chicago area and a graduate from Yale law school, Hillary Clinton has had a successful career, first as the First Lady of Arkansas, then of the US.

She began her independent political career as senator from New York from 2001 to 2009, after John Jr Kennedy was killed in a plane crash. She served under current president Barack Obama as the 67th secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

It is always fascinating to see elections around the world, wherever they are viable. It is probably true that they galvanise people, societies and nations with a new bout of energy and even provide challenges and tests for new governance.

Now the world is waiting for the US to choose its first woman leader.

Also read - Is America ready for its first female head of state?

Writer

Surekha Vijh Surekha Vijh

The writer is a photographer and poet based in America.

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