Saturday, November 12, 2005

First African Woman Elected Head of State

As is often the case with "firsts" I approach the announcement with a a mix of excitement and dread. For as is often the case, look for many to view any ordinary missteps she may make as a sign of the inappropriateness of women for the job of president. She's in a particularly tricky spot, as Liberia is one of those "war-torn" African nations -- difficult for anybody to lead well.

Anyway, here's how the New York Times reported the historic news:

DAKAR, Senegal, Nov. 11 - Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist and former World Bank official who waged a fierce presidential campaign against the soccer star George Weah, emerged victorious on Friday in her quest to lead war-torn Liberia and become the first woman elected head of state in modern African history.


"There are so many capable women," said Yassine Fall, a Senegalese economist and feminist working on women's rights in Africa. "But they just don't get the chance to lead."


The impact of her victory went well beyond Liberia, a nation still trying to recover from more than a decade of civil war.

The history of the continent rings with the names of heroes like Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela and Jomo Kenyatta, fathers of the modern African states they helped form, and villains like Mobutu Sese Seko, Idi Amin and Sani Abacha, the despotic "big men" who ruled ruthlessly over their subjects, enriching themselves along the way.

Despite the large role women played in many national struggles for independence, they were largely relegated to the sidelines in the post-colonial era. The most ambitious women often went abroad, and some, like Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf, rose to prominence in international organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank.

But in recent years, African women have gained power and visibility. In 2004 a Kenyan environmentalist, Wangari Muta Maathai, won the Nobel Peace Prize, while Nigeria's finance minister and feared corruption fighter, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has emerged as one of that country's most respected officials.

Women have also made gains at the ballot box. The prime minister of Mozambique, LuĂ­sa Dias Diogo, is widely seen as a likely future president. In Rwanda, there is a greater proportion of women serving in Parliament than in any other nation; they occupy nearly half the seats.

Indeed, Africa leads the developing world in the percentage of women in legislative positions, at about 16 percent, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organization of parliamentary bodies worldwide.

Yet having more women leaders does not necessarily bring decisions that benefit women. While women generally make decisions that favor women and children, they often gain political power as an embattled minority that feels it must follow men's lead in order to maintain power, said Geeta Rao Gupta, president of the International Center for Research on Women, a Washington-based research group.


At 10:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



Post a Comment